The day I deleted my dating apps for my current partner, my thumb jittered. I no longer had immediate access to the repetitive and comforting routine I had formed over the last few months: swipe right, left, right, right, left. I wasn’t prepared for the pang of loss from losing instant validation at my fingertips.
It was bizarre to realise the unexpected dynamic that had formed between me and my apps. Tinder and Bumble had become less about finding people to date and more like a game that you can’t put down. Seeing the matches come in was addictive and to my own private shame, I momentarily weighed up ways in which I could keep them and still be in a monogamous relationship. I decided against it, deleted them and went cold turkey.
That was over a year ago but I was recently reminded of my dating app addiction when a single friend expressed her bafflement at those who continued to secretly use dating apps despite being in year long, if not longer, relationships.
It was clear that most of the people she had spoken to had no desire to meet up with anyone. Instead the apps provided them with a way to engage in fantasies of being single without overstepping the boundary more implicit in face-to-face flirting. Or to garner proof they were attractive to someone other than their partner. For some it was just a way of knowing what else was out there.
Why is it necessary to search for “extras” when you’re happy in a relationship? Isn’t it selfish to want it all? After all aren’t singles supposed to be miserable? And dating apps supposedly so awful that the minute you get an out of the dating game you never look back?
And yet, these apps can make it feel like there are an endless number of people to meet and get excited about. Relinquishing that wonderful world of possibility of can be extremely difficult.
So when it comes to entering a relationship, no longer is the question simply “do I like someone?” It becomes “do I like someone enough to delete my dating apps?”, and to do so is to put an end to daydreams of what could be.
Often these can be a welcome detachment from real relationships that are trickier to navigate and involve a depth of feeling far beyond those expressed in blurry fantasies with indistinguishable people.
My friend Jordan told me that “chatting to new people, who aren’t necessarily the kind of people who’d be on your radar in real life, is kind of freeing”. She strongly believes there is no reason to “wait around anymore” as it’s such an exciting time to date.
On the other hand there are downsides.
One woman I spoke to, now happy with their partner, told me that leaving a very serious monogamous relationship two years ago meant her entrance into dating apps was “really exhilarating because I felt like I had the opportunity for life to go in any direction”.
She soon began dating someone “handsome, chiselled, successful, intelligent and insanely rich” and from the first time they met felt it was “like a window into a whole different universe”.However, the initial sparks settled into anxiety-induced questions over whether this was the version of whirlwind romance they wanted. The relationship fizzled out and she was thrust back into a cycle of meeting more similarly attractive, but completely different, people. Never before had she anticipated being in this scenario.
And then there is just the inability to replicate the ongoing streams of validation these apps can provide. One man tells me that if he hadn’t already grown wary of Tinder before meeting his current partner, he would likely have found it difficult to stop using it. Especially during the early days of seeing someone “it would be a bit intense to give someone the same amount of validation” countless strangers offered on these apps. It’s also a lot to ask for from anyone, let alone a new relationship.
With the increasing availability of people and heady compliments, a growing number are seemingly left even more confused and indecisive about their own feelings. What does it matter if you like someone when you could potentially find another?
Dating apps are undoubtedly liberating – there are so many possibilities with varying levels of expectations from the people you meet. The concern is that despite this freedom, there’s a insidious anxiety that can accompany them.