Love On The Apps: When Did Dating Become So Political?
I’m swiping away on a well-known dating app when I come across a guy, let’s call him Matt. Matt is fairly tall, doesn’t smoke, wants kids – tick, tick, tick. Then, I come across this answer: “My most controversial opinion is… I voted to leave the EU.” It’s an instant left-swipe from me.
This isn’t the first time I’ve given an immediate ‘no’ to someone. I swiped left on a guy recently because he said that Beyoncé was overrated. Another because he didn’t seem to know how to correctly use ‘there’, ‘their’ and ‘they’re’. And I really, truly just cannot see myself being with someone who runs 5km every Saturday morning for ‘fun’.
Welcome to the world of dating apps in 2024. One wrong move, and you’re out.
Call me flippant, call me picky. Say this might be why I’m still single and there’s a high chance you could be right. But I’m not the only one – on ‘the apps’ this culture of instant judgement is endemic.
There are, of course, the golden relationship stories you hear on the singleton’s grapevine – the friend who met the love of their life in a bar when she wasn’t even looking, or the pal who reconnected with someone from university and they’re now married with a baby on the way. But for the majority of daters, apps such as Hinge, Tinder, Bumble, Grindr, Her, Raya, Scruff and Feeld – to name just a few – are the only viable path to love. The routine of swiping, matching and messaging might sound simple but, in reality, it’s a minefield of uncertainty, clouded by doubt and anchored in issues of self-esteem and a desire to be wanted.
Think about it: you’re given a handful of photos, questions and the occasional voice prompt to convince potential matches you might just be The One. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a profile. The issue is, dating apps have to be this formulaic. Real-life interactions allow you to suss out potential matches quickly with ease; research has shown that it can take just three seconds for you to decide if you’re attracted to someone upon meeting. The app format, meanwhile, detaches us from the experience, as we mindlessly swipe left and right to pass the time while commuting or watching TV.
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With an estimated 337 million people using dating apps globally, even if you narrow your pool down to those in your desired age range and radius, there just isn’t enough time to consider the potential of every person who appears on your screen. And in a bid to sift through users as quickly as possible, one thing has become clear: we’re getting pickier.
“Singles are becoming more specific because they are resistant to taking risks, happenstance or leaving [it] to chance,” says dating coach and matchmaker Sarah Louise Ryan. The truth is, we’re tired – swiping with no indication of when, or even if, you’re going to find someone you might click with is exhausting. “We are definitely seeing a more candid approach to dating on the apps, with people getting fatigued from having their time wasted, sometimes over months and years – so the earlier we reveal our values, the better,” says dating and relationship coach Kate Mansfield.
This is where the politics come into play – and we’re becoming increasingly polarised. Dating apps actively invite users to categorise potential matches according to arbitrary questions, completely missing any nuance we’d pick up on in real life. They encourage us to declare everything from our political and religious beliefs to whether we smoke, drink or take drugs – and even how often we do so. Not to mention what kind of relationship we’re looking for (serious or casual; monogamous or open) and family plans (do you have children; do you want them in the future?).
“For as long as I can remember, I’ve never wanted kids,” says Katy, 29. “If someone selects ‘wants children’ on a dating app, I don’t think they’re messing around and doubt either of us is going to change our stance. I wouldn’t want to rob anyone of that experience, so I’ll simply swipe the other way, no matter how much I like their profile. Being on the same page is key.”
But while relationship and sexuality expert Courtney Boyer agrees that it’s “helpful to have a set of standards and expectations about what you’re looking for,” dismissing matches because of comments they make or activities they say they enjoy is potentially diminishing your chances of finding a connection. “Many singles get in their own way,” says Ryan. “They are dating on the backfoot by outlining what they don’t want.” After all, just because someone won’t join you in watching football on the weekends doesn’t mean that they can’t still be a great partner.
“It’s good to be clear about the kind of relationship you want, as opposed to the kind of person. Often a partner with different traits can be a great match and can balance us out,” adds Mansfield.
Essentially, it comes down to views (a person’s likes and dislikes) versus values (their beliefs and principles). “I call them non-negotiables – the things you’re not willing to compromise on – and the nice-to-have – things you enjoy doing and would really like a partner to join with,” says Boyer. “Specificity can hinder search results, which is why I encourage people to prioritise their non-negotiables and be open to preferences.”
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As someone who was staunchly anti-Brexit, I did choose to swipe left on the person who voted for the UK to leave the EU, as I felt that our principles wouldn’t align. However, as Ryan explains, “If we are seeking to date someone ‘just like us’ then the ‘oneness’ dims desire and conversational stimulation. Difference is good, alongside aligned values.”
I have seen relationships where both parties have different values, yet it still just works. While Lucy, 33, does not prescribe to any religion, her boyfriend is committed to his faith. “While it might seem like we were too different, our principles still aligned: we both are very family-oriented and placed great importance on friendships. I respect his faith and he respects my opinions too, and that means our opposing beliefs can co-exist in our relationship.”
As I open my dating app once again, I decide to slow down the speed of my swiping and really consider what my views are, versus my values. I stop myself from instantly swiping left on a vegan, even though I’m in a committed relationship with dairy. I immediately say ‘no’ to someone who doesn’t want children, as I’m certain this is one of my non-negotiables. And, for the first time, I swipe right on someone who dedicates their Saturday mornings to the dreaded Parkrun – just because they want to indulge in exercise before brunch, doesn’t mean I have to.
Will this make me more likely to find love? I’m not sure. But it’s resulting in more matches, more conversation and a far more positive experience. Perhaps when you apply method to the madness and look beyond the politics, the apps aren’t so bad, after all.
Olivia McCrea-Hedley is Copy Editor at Service95