Dating apps seemed to be the perfect answer to our longing for love, connection, and attention in a culture that has become isolated, lonely, and chaotic. But are they really the answer to our problems, or is there a darker side to our incessant swiping?
Online dating, once an embarrassing last resort for hopeless, middle-aged singles, has taken the world by storm, one swipe at a time. The shameful aspect of turning to a screen in order to find a date has melted away and become a regular part of our daily routine. Just take a quick glance at almost any millennial’s phone and you’ll find how commonplace these apps have become.
Curating My Profile
Make no mistake: I am no stranger to dating apps. The first date I ever went on was from a dating app. A friend at the time encouraged me to try one after she bragged about meeting her boyfriend that way. A few years ago, I had four of them downloaded on my phone. Once a loner, gawky teen with bad skin, I was determined to prove to myself that I could be desirable.
I was determined to prove to myself that I could be desirable.
Alone in my room, on my bed covered in crumbs, I carefully curated a profile for myself. I googled witty things to say in my bio that would make me the perfect balance of adventurous, funny, and mysterious. I thoughtfully chose each photo, hoping to look fun and sexy, but also thoughtful and innocent. For the final touch, I edited any blemishes or imperfections that could crack the facade I was trying to make the world and myself believe was real.
With every new swipe, every new super like, and every new message reading "Hey beautiful," I craved more—it gave me the hit of attention my heart so desperately ached for and started to salve the insecurities and loneliness I’d lived with for so long. Could this be the answer I’d been hoping for?
I accepted date after date, meeting up in dingy bars, cheap restaurants, and barren studio apartments, each time holding out hope that maybe this night would be the magical answer to the yearning for connection. But after sparkless conversations, shallow interactions, and regrettable decisions, I’d find both my and their interest wouldn't last little more than a night, leaving me more lonely and desperate than I was before.
An Addiction I Didn't Actually Like
For their empty and fleeting glances in my direction, in hopes of feeling seen, I’d trade them my time, energy, and affection. I let myself believe the hollow compliments they'd hand out, the very same ones I'm sure they gave to the girl before me, and after me—who knows, maybe it was you. But with every morning I woke up with a slight headache, it became painfully obvious that this was not the answer I thought it would be.
The magic of the dating app started wearing off. It had begun to feel like an addiction, one that I didn't actually like, but I couldn't quit in my never-ending quest for validation. I was constantly being barraged with copy/paste messages from hungry men and constantly felt the need to engage to feel the high of being wanted, despite my subliminal knowledge of them being nothing more than a waste of time.
It had begun to feel like an addiction, one that I didn't actually like, but I couldn't quit in my never-ending quest for validation.
I didn't believe myself charming, special, or beautiful enough to meet someone the old-fashioned away, out in the real world. I was lonesome and in need of affection, and I thought this was my only hope of getting a date, and I'd come to accept it.
No Good Comes from a Relationship Born out of Desperation
There are old shipwreck tales about people getting lost at sea for weeks. Though it was well-known that saltwater has a poisonous effect when consumed, in their desperation and thirst, the sailors would eventually break down and drink the lethal saltwater, beginning the process that would lead to their deaths. In the same way, while knowing (sometimes subliminally) these meaningless rendezvous are slowly eroding our souls, we keep going back, because of this thirst we can’t quench.
Through my many mistakes and regrets, I've learned the hard way that dating apps (at least in the way they’re too often used) are perhaps the antithesis of what we’re actually looking for. They sell themselves as the answer to our problems for a low, low price. But in reality, they cost us more than we’ll ever know, and don’t actually deliver on the promises they gave or meet the needs we have. When a relationship is born out of desperation and capitulation, we’re essentially drinking saltwater to quench our thirst.
We’re stopping short in the pursuit of our desires, accepting cheap imitations of what we’re actually longing for.
Our ache and inclination to search for love and affection is not at all a bad thing—in the words of C. S. Lewis, “It would seem that…our desires are not too strong, but too weak…We are far too easily pleased.” Meaning, our craving for intimacy is something we needn’t be ashamed of, but celebrated; it’s woven into our very humanity. Though perhaps, we’re stopping short in the pursuit of our desires, accepting cheap imitations of what we’re actually longing for. We’re not asking for too much, but accepting far too little.
Finding substantive, authentic love is dependent upon believing ourselves worthy of it, trusting it still exists, and having the patience to wait for it. It will be harder than swiping right or answering a “you up?” text. It will take longer than a night. But this kind of relationship is one worth fighting and waiting for, and will be the only one that will ultimately answer what we’ve been looking for all along.