From Bumble to Tinder, there's a whole host of dating apps at our fingertips. But with so much choice on offer, are they helping or hindering us in our quest to find The One? Writer Josh Glancy explores digital dating dilemmas
I was on holiday in Mexico recently with a beautiful, and perennially single, female friend; let’s call her Lauren. We drank Coronas, ate emulsified ants, and visited Mescal distilleries nestled in the hills above Oaxaca. It was a joyous week.
One thing bothered me, though. At every stop, Lauren insisted on having her photo taken – by a cactus, with a donkey, making tortillas. The purpose was not to service her Instagram, but a quest for the perfect Bumble profile pic. This quixotic obsession got me worrying about the effects of app dating and how it’s warping our romantic priorities. Lauren is one side of the coin, anxious and questing, but myself and many men are on the other. I’ve become convinced that dating apps are making many men miserable.
It seems counter-intuitive. What could possibly be wrong with having an endless supply of beautiful women available at the merest swipe of a thumb? Sex-infused dating is now more accessible than ever. We are no longer limited by the confines of our immediate social circle or what bar we happen to be in. I recently attended the wedding of a couple who would never have met without an algorithm to introduce them. Two people from utterly different worlds who now seem ideally matched. It was thrilling to behold. But by solving one problem, apps like Hinge, Bumble, Happn and Tinder have created another. Men are suffering from the complacency of easy access and the tyranny of endless choice.
At a men’s group I sometimes attend in Brooklyn, several guys have complained of how app dating is making them feel worthless. They describe their sex lives as a parade of unsatisfying mini-affairs, their bedposts filled with notches, their hearts empty of love.
What could possibly be wrong with having an endless supply of beautiful women available at the merest swipe of a thumb?
They spoke of being unable to resist the temptation to indulge their libido – which is now so effortless – but of feeling an emptiness during and after these affairs. A niggling fear that they’ve lost the art of finding or maintaining a meaningful relationship. ‘I don’t want to keep fucking different girls every week,’ one of them told me. ‘I just want someone I can be myself with.’
Apps are encouraging men’s worst instincts. Why commit to one relationship when there are so many other potential mates out there? Why be monogamous when promiscuity is so damn easy? Why judge a girl on the deep facets of her personality when you can make a snap decision based on the symmetry of her face?
This was my experience of app dating, too, which I tried when I first came to New York. I could feel myself slipping into a superficial, acquisitive mindset, casually dismissing some girls and pining for others based simply on how much cleavage they showed in their profile picture. I hated it and deleted the apps, permanently. I preferred dating the old-fashioned way.
Women such as Lauren – and men, too – have internalised this reality. The shallow among us may enjoy this dynamic, but for many it is unsatisfying. While most men have a voice in their head urging them to sleep with as many women as possible, the truth is promiscuity isn’t for everyone. The most promiscuous periods of my life have often been the least happy.
I have nothing against promiscuity. If you want to shag till you drop, go for it. But now that dating apps are a permanent reality – transforming the way we meet and mate – it’s time we acknowledged this paradox: the more convenient finding love becomes, the more difficult it is to sustain. We’ll be much happier for it.