Dating apps promised a quick and convenient way to find love, but for millennials, hooking up online is already over.
I met my boyfriend the old-fashioned way. We had a one-night stand; I woke up one day with him in my bed and two years later I still can’t get him out. In the age of Tinder, Happn, Bumble and Hinge, it seems strangely old-fashioned for a millennial not to meet through a dating app, but as 2016 ends, we seem to be getting sick of them. Tinder peaked at no 12 on the download chart on the iPhone in November 2014 two years after it launched; now it’s at no 71. My friends on the dating front line are saying the same thing: we’re tired of Tinder, we’ve reached peak swipe. Could 2017 be the year we finally start searching for love IRL again?
As my friend Sophie, 29, and still single after years of swiping, puts it: “I don’t regret meeting any of my dates from apps, but I certainly don’t feel like they’re the answer to all my love problems as I did a few years back.” Or as Abid, 31, another friend, put it more succinctly, as he headed off on a date with a woman he had met at work: “Dating apps? Over them.” Perhaps it’s telling that in America, more people now have Pokémon Go on their Android phone than Tinder.
I remember the buzz of possibilities when I first tried Tinder. It seemed like playing Hot or Not with real boys; if you wanted you could go on a date every night. It wasn’t so thrilling after I’d spent a few years actually doing that. I went on dates with psychos and cheapskates, like the guy whose idea of a date was buying a six-pack of beer for us to drink in Trafalgar Square and then cracking rape jokes. I went on a date with someone so geeky and deathly boring, he spent the whole night telling me about different typefaces. I went on dates with footballers I had nothing in common with and journalists who stole my stories. I got so into the idea I could meet anyone, I dated endless people I had nothing in common with: I went on a date with a cheerful goth and a miserable comedian, and someone who turned out to be married.
The original appeal of dating apps was the promise of a quick way to find love. Now, after a few years of using them, we know that’s a lie. I found just keeping up with the texts was like a part-time job. My gay best friend, Martin, 35, moans that he faces the same thing on Grindr: “Trawling through all the Grindees, endless chat, swapping dick pics and bod pics, chatting about who’s a top and bottom. It’s all just so exhausting.”
In the years we’ve been using dating apps we’ve wised up to other things about them. We’ve learnt that the way they’ve gamified dating, which seemed fun at first, now means endless matching with people who we’ll never even talk to let alone date. Recent stats showed that only 7% of men and 21% of women sent a message after matching. We’ve also learnt that you never really know how you feel about someone until you’re face to face. I have turned up for endless dates that, as soon as I arrived, I knew it wouldn’t work: with guys who were 19 pretending to be 25, or 5ft 6in and pretending to be 6ft, or who’d managed to be funny by text but in real life had no game. I once arrived at a date to find someone who looked so unlike their profile, and who I fancied so little, that I suggested we leave before we had even ordered drinks.
Martin hates the way things like accents don’t translate into text. “Not hearing your date’s voice until you meet is so irritating,” he says. “If you’re looking to spend the rest of your life with someone, you’ll at least need to like the tone, pitch and accent of future contenders.” Abid agrees: “The biggest thing that made me lose interest in dating apps is that anyone could turn up. The valuable filter you have in real life, when potential dates are effectively ‘screened’ by being in a similar friendship group to you and having a similar outlook or culture, doesn’t exist. You might get fewer dates in real life, but generally they are much better quality.”
There is also the problem of how lazily we treat those we meet online. I’m as guilty as anyone of matching with people I can’t then be bothered to speak to or ghosting someone as soon as I’m bored. When there are no repercussions, why not? As Sophie says: “You’re going on a date with someone who is a complete stranger. That means after a few weeks they can start acting erratically and then completely disappear, and you are none the wiser as you have no context, mutual friends or history for that person.”
Martin says more optimistically: “I think we’re all still in a learning curve with apps. We don’t yet know how to use them. We live in a world where everything is immediately disposable, which allows us to consciously discard stuff. At the moment apps seem to encourage us to also do that with people.”