I turned 18 near the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and was finished with high school and unemployed. I may not have been legal to drink or smoke, but I was legal to seek love on the internet.
Like many, I regarded dating apps with a mix of cynicism and morbid curiosity. I didn’t really expect anything out of them, and in the beginning, stuck at home with my parents, it was just a nice way to find new people to talk to. For someone with virtually zero romantic experiences, online dating felt like a pretty radical step. I was sure that my cynicism and unfriendly resting face (to quote Fran Leibowitz, ‘Do I look approachable?”) would be enough to keep me safe from any egregious harm. About that, at least, I was correct. I learned that there is an overwhelming surplus of very bland, boring straight men out there. Speaking to some of them felt like I was back in middle school French: ‘What do you do in your free time?’ ‘Do you have any siblings?’ ‘Do you play any sports?’
Soon enough, I started throwing in questions out of left field, just to mix it up a bit:
'Favourite texture?’ ‘If you were forced to imitate one animal for the rest of your life with no other dialogue, which would you choose?’ ‘What do you think was the most important catalyst of the First World War?’ and so on…
It feels like there’s a whole set of rules with online dating that nobody really explains to you. Mind you, even if I had known them I probably wouldn’t have abided by them, but it did feel like I was in alien territory. How candid are you meant to be with online dating? The general direction of intentions are usually pretty clear, there’s an indication of at least a little bit of interest from both parties, so what’s the method? I don’t believe in playing hard to get in the first place, but playing it with online dating feels even more futile. Not saying you need to throw yourself at them, there’s a balance you can strike, but there seems to be a whole new roster of etiquette for online dating. You’re pimping yourself out, essentially, marketing yourself so others can weigh your pros and cons: ‘I’m under 5’9, I know the difference between ‘who’ and ‘whom’ and live near Line 2. Any takers?’
The people you meet via online dating kind of fall into their own little social category, untethered to any other area of your life. People have friends from school, university, work or any other extracurriculars they partake in, and then there’s the people you met online. As with any new social situation there’s a temptation to forge a new identity for yourself because they have no clue what you’re really like, you could just reinvent yourself. Of course this kind of goes against the whole spirit of it but hey, the temptation was certainly there. It’s a weird kind of freedom, but also an off putting sense of ‘this person could be making everything up, I don’t really know them at all.’ For the first little while, there’s a sense of volatility: this person could just cease communication with you at any time and you’d probably never see them again. You wouldn’t run into them at work or school and probably not at a mutual friend’s party. They could just up and leave and there’s nothing you can do about it. Not to mention the fear that they could be a murderer waiting to skin you and leave your body in a skip to be featured on some daytime TV crime show. Most likely, however, the worst you’ll get is a thorough ghosting and general sense of inadequacy.
I started with Bumble as its marketing and image made it seem the least intimidating. I met a few vaguely interesting people (I actually ended up meeting a good friend on Bumble; half a year later we’re both dating different people whom we also managed to meet online), became proficient enough in the realm of first date smalltalk and enjoyed a number of free caffeinated beverages. I dabbled on Tinder a little but was quickly scared off by the less than subtle innuendos and suggestions I found there and deleted it for a while, suitably scarred.
However you can’t keep an optimist (or a narcissist) down, and so I eventually decided to give Hinge a try. Clearly I’m as susceptible to marketing as the next consumerist, and found its sleek minimalism appealing. For those who have managed to escape the clutches of online dating, Hinge is marketed as the ‘dating app designed to be deleted’ and aims for more long term, serious relationships. It's supposed to be less superficial than other dating apps, facilitating actual conversation and trying to avoid the lull of mindless swiping. In their defense, it seems to have worked for me as I managed to make yet another friend there. I seemed to be quite good at forming and sustaining platonic relationships via dating apps, and in a way I suppose I was beating the system. However in the end the matchmaking Gods of Hinge were appeased and I made contact with my current boyfriend. We’re a Hinge poster couple, essentially: young, artsy, biracial and good looking enough to be palatable but not intimidating. I think Hinge should actually start paying for our dates.
In many ways I’m quite old fashioned, and so I couldn’t help but feel like there was something a little sleazy about revealing the fact that we met online. There’s nothing sleazy about him, I’d like to clarify, he didn’t roll up on our first date and turn out to be some forty year old in a third owner Mustang drenched in cologne, yet ‘we met online’ is not exactly a meet-cute. Perhaps it’s just the lack of story I disliked; It’s a pedestrian meeting. Saying ‘an algorithm put us in alignment’ is a testimony of how astute the algorithm is, rather than the providence of fate or coincidence.
However, as weird as I may have found it initially, I was forced to recognise the fact that while the internet played a crucial part in us meeting, it didn’t facilitate the relationship beyond that. It served only to get us in touch and the rest was up to our capabilities as human beings. Hinge was just a plot device, a means to an end.
Meeting online may actually be the new normal. After all, nearly everything else has moved online with Covid, so why not this as well? A 2017 study revealed that 39% of adult heterosexual couples reported meeting online, versus 22% in 2009. Pete Buttigieg, the current US secretary of Transportation, met his husband on Hinge in 2015 and I guess what’s good enough for Pete is good enough for me.
I can’t really complain about online dating. If anything, I’m grateful for it as it worked out so well for me in the end. A positive way of looking at dating apps is that they broaden your social circle and have the potential to expose you to new experiences and really, what more can you ask for? Like the lack of speech indicators in literary fiction, I think this is just a facet of modern life that is here to stay.