Has Online Dating Killed True Romance?

More people are meeting online than ever before, but is that really a good thing? Younger generations don’t seem to think so.

By Ella Carroll-Smith4 min read
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About a decade ago, it was considered out of the ordinary to meet your boyfriend or girlfriend online, but the rise of dating apps quickly changed that. Dating apps are more than just socially acceptable now – many people consider them the norm. So much so that now Gen Zers and millennials are wondering whether it’s still possible to meet someone out in the “real world.” They long for the bygone days of bumping into your future spouse while waiting in line at the grocery store, at a mutual friend’s party, or in the office breakroom. 

Not everyone meets their significant other online, so it’s certainly still possible to meet your future boyfriend in the wild as opposed to swiping right. But it is proving more difficult for millennials and Gen Z. According to recent studies, a whopping “74% of millennials and Gen Zers use dating apps.”

In theory, dating apps are supposed to make dating easier because they expand the dating pool. But if that's true, why are so many Americans frustrated with them? According to Pew Research, "Americans who have used a dating site or app in the past year say the experience left them feeling more frustrated (45%) than hopeful (28%)." 

A Daily Mail poll found that “59% of young adults aged 18-24 want to meet potential partners in more traditional ways – on a train or at a pub like their parents did.” This frustration with dating apps (along with the toxicity of our current dating pool) might help explain why more young Americans today are choosing to abstain from sex and dating altogether. Dating apps are more widespread than ever before, yet love seems harder to find. Have dating apps killed true romance?

online dating cesspool of deceit

More Matches Don’t Always Mean More Romance

Online dating has made it easier for people to meet than ever before. With all of the built-in filters the apps provide, you can even narrow your choices down to people with similar beliefs and lifestyles, and you can meet people you would never have met offline. That’s a good thing, but it does make dating more complicated. 

It’s very easy to get overwhelmed when you’re faced with seemingly limitless options. It also makes us more likely to focus on the less important things, like looks. When you’re scrolling through an app, you can’t tell if someone is funny or charismatic or if you have natural chemistry, but you can tell if they’re attractive. Prioritizing the wrong things is only one of the ways in which dating apps actually make dating more difficult. 

The Paradox of Choice

One of the other reasons that online dating feels so exhausting is because of the “Paradox of Choice.” You might think that being presented with limitless options makes it easier to choose one that you’ll be happy with because more options mean you’re increasing the likelihood you’ll get what we want. Having an abundance of options, however, requires a lot of effort on the part of the decision-maker and can leave you feeling unsatisfied in the end. 

You’ll always wonder if you made the wrong choice or if there was something better out there for you. Conversely, if you’re presented with a small set of choices to pick from, far fewer mental gymnastics are required, and you’ll be happier with your choice in the end. 

Before dating apps, people didn’t go on nearly as many dates because their choices were limited to their immediate social circles. Limited choices actually made it easier to choose a mate. This exhaustion brought on by the paradox of choice is one of the reasons why younger generations are longing for the pre-app days when dating was simpler. 

doomed to wander planet alone forever

The Rise of Hookup Culture

Dating apps are not solely responsible for the rise of hookup culture, but they have added fuel to the fire. The rise of hookup culture means that women are now encouraged to take a pill that circumvents their fertility and have “sex like a man.” Men are all too eager to take them up on that offer, and dating apps make it easier to meet a random person to hook up with. 

The rise in hookup culture also makes it harder for those people on dating apps who are looking for something serious because the entire dating pool has been tainted. Some men (and women!) on apps are only using it for sex, while others are using it to try and find a serious relationship. It’s harder to suss out whether someone is a good match for you when you’re unsure if you can trust that they have good intentions. This results in everyone having to tread more carefully and many people choosing to avoid dating altogether because it’s just one more frustrating and exhausting issue to navigate.   

Giving Up Too Easily

When you meet someone online and go on a date with them, there’s minimal investment required on your part. Sure, maybe you text back and forth a bit before the date and you might spend a few bucks on a glass of wine or dinner, but there’s zero emotional investment required, which makes it much easier to simply cast this person aside if you don’t feel a spark within the first 30 seconds of meeting them. 

Before dating apps, it took a lot more effort to set up a date. You had to be vulnerable and work up the nerve to approach a person in public and ask them out. Before texting, you might even have to call a person if you wanted to talk to them and ask them on a date. There was also a good chance you knew them through a friend or work or because you frequented the same places. 

friends phoebe stop the madness

All of this means that there was more investment before the first date, so people appreciated it more. We take dates for granted nowadays because we know that more choices are only a swipe away, so we never give emotions the room they need to grow. “The spark” is a myth and the likelihood that you’re going to “just know” this person is the one on the first date is practically nonexistent – but that doesn’t mean they’re not a good match for you! 

Feelings take time to develop, and you can’t really know a person after spending just an hour with them. Dating apps have gamified dating so that people aren’t investing at all anymore, they’re simply moving on after a date on their continuous search for a spark that doesn’t exist, and leaving so many great relationship prospects in their wake. 

Demonizing “The Old Fashioned Way”

Another issue that dating apps have contributed to, but aren’t solely responsible for, is the fact that we now demonize men who approach women in public. Remember all those viral videos of women who set up tripods in the gym while they worked out, then publicly shamed the men who dared to even glance at them?

Men approaching women in public used to be the only way that they could ask women out, and if younger generations want to bring that trend back then our culture needs to contend with the fact that traditional masculinity is not toxic. It’s something that should be celebrated. Women want more Mr. Darcy and less Mr. DM.

mr darcy pride and prejudice you have bewitched me body soul

That’s not to say that there aren’t men out there who are bad – of course there are and always will be. But it’s not wrong for a man to approach a woman in public as long as it’s done respectfully and with good intentions. And criticizing any man who does this by plastering videos of him across social media only makes the dating world more polarizing and toxic. 

Closing Thoughts

So, is it still possible to find love online? Despite all the evidence I’ve presented to the contrary, it’s still very possible – though it’s not always easy. It’s not the dating apps themselves that are bad, it’s the way some people go about using them. If you’re looking for a real connection online, then you need to be more intentional. Instead of swiping aimlessly through profiles and only accepting likes from uber-attractive guys, focus instead on things like shared values, a sense of humor, and whether or not this potential match is looking for the same thing as you. Big muscles and a chiseled jawline are great, but they won’t get you very far if you’re looking for a real connection.

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