It is no secret that Americans are in love with the idea of love. Television programs such as Millionaire Matchmaker and The Bachelor enthrall the masses and bring viewers to tears. While not everyone can find true love on a reality show, singles still have a wide variety of options when looking to meet new people. From speed dating, to dimly lit bars, to church functions, people seek out love in all corners of their lives. One of the most common forms of courtship, however, has been exponentially gaining momentum and criticism in recent years: dating apps. The less-than-stellar reputation that dating apps have obtained largely centers around the idea that they have “killed romance”, an assertation that has been made by a variety of news sources and public figures over the past decade. While these critiques make catchy headlines, they could not be further from the truth. Dating apps are not hindering true love, but rather helping to share it with millions in a more efficient way than ever before by allowing for new types of romantic expression, allowing more personality-driven dating, and by creating connections between kindred souls who may have otherwise never even met.
It is near impossible to discuss the consequences that dating apps have had on romance without analyzing the way that culture traditionally views romantic love in the first place. In the western world most people’s main exposure to romantic ideals is through media such as movies, books, diamond commercials, and even advertisements for marriage counseling. This kind of media exposure has an important impact on the way that individuals perceive themselves and others. The content that people ingest can be so influential that the American Psychological Association created a division in the late 1980’s centered around media psychology in order to study the effects that the media consumption has on human brains and behavior (Society).
While romance is an incredibly popular and diverse genre, similar themes continuously appear in romantic media that the public takes in. Couples often meet as strangers, or at least re-meet after a period of separation, and the main content of the story frequently centers around a shy or quirky woman handling, or sometimes even rejecting, the advances and spontaneous acts of devotion performed by her male counterpart. Such stories are usually filled to the brim with dramatic tension, heart-fluttering passion, or hilariously cute antics which enthrall viewers and flood them with envy and oxytocin alike. These movies and books have glamorized the spur-of-the-moment meeting at a cute coffee shop or in the workplace elevator for years, creating scenes that have become socially ubiquitous and infiltrated the daydreams of millions of men and women alike.
Of course, most people are very aware that entertainment is not reality, but a consistent body of research has shown that people normalize the content that they consume. These internalized expectations create an idea of what love looks like, which stands in contrast to the less traditional dating apps and paints them in a negative light. The lack of cute meetings and sweaty palms, replaced instead with glowing screens and expressive emojis, creates an image of romance that is unfamiliar to many people and leads to much of the discomfort and distaste that surrounds dating apps. While there is nothing wrong with enjoying a good rom-com or a theatrical love story, spontaneity alone does not make romance, and love comes in a variety of forms that are not always equally represented in popular media. Online dating, despite its rough reputation, excels at encouraging those less-visible kinds of love.
In courtship and in all things, different types of individuals flourish in different types of environments. While an extrovert might thrive off an adorable run-in at a local café, an already overloaded introvert might find such an introduction less-than ideal and potentially uncomfortable. Herein lies the great romantic value of dating apps, as they are excellent tools that allow for more reserved individuals to tailor their amorous experiences to their own needs instead of being forced to fit into a socially predetermined system. Some might say that looking at algorithms and carefully curated profiles takes the magic out of the dating process, but millions would disagree with this as nearly 38 percent of modern singles use dating apps, and over half of the population reported to Pew Research that they believe dating apps and online dating are acceptable ways to meet new people (Smith).
Dating apps are not mandatory in modern courtship, but rather they act as an added option for those who prefer to avoid the sphere of traditional dating. They do not inherently infringe on the ability of the general population to meet potential partners in person, as evidenced by the fact that over 60 percent of singles still choose to date that way (Smith), but they merely provide an alternative option for the overworked and short on time, the more reserved, and the technologically-inclined among the population. Dating apps haven’t killed romance at all, they have only opened doors for people who would prefer to experience love as a slow and comfortable burn, rather than a roller coaster of bubbling nerves and excitement. For many such people, romance can be found in easy compatibility and in the quiet and comfortable moments that are cultivated through familiarity and an enduring intellectual connection.
The beauty of online dating apps is that they often provide metrics that assess a variety of traits in their users, such as personal beliefs, personality type, and assumed compatibility scores. Users analyze this data, or at the very least read a potential date’s profile, and obtain insight into individuals who would otherwise be little more than pretty faces. For those who experience their deepest connection through friendship and an easy rapport, dating apps and the information they provide can be a god-send. Opponents to dating apps often argue that the users of such apps don’t care about these things and are only online for quick hook-ups, but research from the University of Chicago indicates that “more than a third of marriages between 2005 and 2012 began online” (Harms) and that these unions are less likely to break up or suffer from significant marital issues (Harms). In contrast to commonly espoused stereotypes, many of those who turn to dating apps are clearly looking for more than a fling. The relationships that are initiated online are not only serious, but appear to last longer than more traditionally formed partnerships, and at the end of the day what is more romantic than the idea of spending the rest of your life with the person that you love?
Dating apps evidently function as powerful tools for forging strong relationships, but perhaps the most beautiful thing about them is that they allow people to transcend the real-world hurdles of distance, social groups, and pure luck in order to meet partners who they otherwise may have never encountered in their day to day lives. These apps not only account for more than 70 percent of all new LGBT relationships (Burns), thus bringing together a group that can be spread out very thinly in some regions, but they also have played a significant role in the growing amount of interracial marriages since the turn of the century (Burns). Despite the steps forward that society is continually making, people so often find themselves self-segregated in their daily lives due to a variety of social and geographic factors, but app-based dating is opening doors that allow for increased diversity and understanding in the dating sphere.
Online dating rarely organizes search results by race and this leads to heightened exposure between groups when compared to the everyday life of many singles. Researchers have expressed confidence, both by looking at the results of online dating compared to traditional dating and by looking at overarching cultural correlations, that the popularity of dating apps has been a significant factor in the near doubling of interracial marriages in the past two decades (Mitchell). This is no surprise, as the focus on the written word and personal descriptions that most dating apps require allows for individuals to look beyond any stereotypes that they may have held about different groups of people and more objectively assess the content of their potential match’s character. More diverse forms of love are flourishing at a higher rate than ever before on dating apps, thus allowing for relationships to be objects of love that lead to the merging of two hearts, rather than objects of convenience and proximity that exist primarily to reduce loneliness. These relationships, the ones forged in the face of demographic differences and social hurdles, are opening doors for society and paving the way for a more inclusive future. They too are the types of romances that deserve to be the stuff of books and movies, that empower and open people’s hearts, and that drive humanity forward.
In the virtual dating arena there are thousands of potential mates that any given user will be exposed to. While some argue that this availability has left daters jaded and led to dating apps killing the last vestiges of romance that have survived into 2018, the data on the topic suggests that this diversity has turned out to be an incredibly positive thing. The ability to know more about a person than the quality of their clothing, the fitness of their figure, and the confidence of their gait empowers singles to make more deeply informed decisions about who they want to spend their time with. So much of romance surrounds the idea of feeling as though one is deeply special to another person, and the fact that these couples who meet online have diligently hand-picked their partners over masses of other available singles is a beautiful manifestation of this ideal. Dating apps, when all is said and done, function as devices that enable romance, not as devices that inhibit it. After all, what could be more romantic than knowing that your partner chose you out of a pool of thousands of others and never looked back?
Burns, Janet. “There’s Now Evidence That Online Dating Causes Stronger, More Diverse Marriages.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 17 Feb. 2018, www.forbes.com/sites/janetwburns/2017/10/25/theres-now-evidence-that-online-dating-causes-stronger-more-diverse-relationships/#a6aefbe58bdf.
Harms, William. “Meeting Online Leads to Happier, More Enduring Marriages.” University of Chicago News, University of Chicago, 3 June 2013, news.uchicago.edu/story/meeting-online-leads-happier-more-enduring-marriages.
Mitchell, Travis. “1. Trends and Patterns in Intermarriage.” Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends Project, Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends Project, 18 May 2017, www.pewsocialtrends.org/2017/05/18/1-trends-and-patterns-in-intermarriage/.
Smith, Aaron. “Online Dating & Relationships.” Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech, Pew Research Center, 24 May 2018, www.pewinternet.org/2013/10/21/online-dating-relationships/.
“Society for Media Psychology and Technology (Division 46).” Http://www.apadivisions.org, American Psychological Association, 2018, www.apadivisions.org/division-46/index?_ga=2.54849579.1696775663.1545628299-293442034.1545628299.