Thank U, Next: The Truth About Generation Swipe

I got ninety-nine problems and dating apps account for approximately 97% of them

Note: Names have been changed, not so much as to protect identities but because I’m going for a Greek tragedy vibe-

peep show image for dating article.jpg

“Well, didn’t you turn out to be a terrible bore.”

A pang of annoyance washed over me. It was Easter Sunday and while I am not the most pious of individuals, it is my favourite bank holiday, three words: four day weekend.

Milton’s poorly-timed message prompted a customary eye roll, a screenshot which almost did the rounds on social media (I’m a digital over-sharer with a habit for Instagram Stories) and a prompt dissection of this blatant attempt to pique my interest once more. News flash Milton, I may be a bore, but I am not desperate.

A novice for sure, I am relatively new to the world of internet dating having identified as a serial monogamist for almost a decade. Being perpetually coupled up was the safest place I knew, smugly watching from the sidelines as friends grappled with the convoluted rules of engagement that accompany the download, delete and repeat routine.

Image:  Mehmet Geren

That said, I could never quite shake off the feeling that one day my luck would run out and I too would find myself submitting, tail between my legs, equipped with only the selfies in my back pocket to the dating app gods. Sure enough, my reign came to an end.

Prior to my foray into the truly fascinating world of online courting, I cannot honestly remember the last time I went on an actual date. That’s right Jeramiah, chicken pasta pots a la Tesco scoffed in the local park do not count. I tend to skip that phase, falling into serious, long-term relationships with relative ease, some call it efficient, others naive; what can I say, I’m a hopeless romantic.

An adolescence characterised by the over-consumption of ‘90s rom-coms manifest in the idealized notion of love viewed through the lens of a secure and stable family unit, I have been fortunate not to have my rose-tinted perception of what constitutes a loving and enduring partnership shaken by the upheaval and acrimony of separation; unlike so many of my closest friends.

So, after far too long contemplating my navel, I threw my best selfies into the ring of fire and began swiping, blissfully unaware of the fate that awaited me. First observation: anyone who willingly endures the peaks and troughs of dating apps deserves a bloody medal; the faint-hearted need not apply. Second thought: I would like to design my own dating app entitled ‘cut to the chase’. A Scorpio through and through, I struggle with the nonsensical dallying and ingrained game-playing that so often afflicts interactions in the digital sphere, not to mention the overspill of these charades into the more personal territory of social media profiles.

Image:  Jackie Diedam

In the past, fleeting romances were allowed to be short-lived, allowing all parties involved to bid farewell to an ill-fated liaison, dust themselves off and move on. Today however, and as paradoxical as it seems, given the infinite choices presented through these mediums, it is increasingly common for ghosts of dating apps past to rear their fuckboy heads with just one click, swipe or dreaded DM. I should add that the term fuckboy affords these individuals far too much credit given the scarcity of effort applied in sending their prey into a tailspin every time they magically reappear.

I have mixed feelings about being followed on social media, the idea of someone continuing to keep tabs on you long after the flame has faded feels peculiar and a little creepy. IRL this would equate to someone setting up camp in your front garden, binoculars in hand, while you simultaneously feel the weight of societal pressure to present yourself as the poster child for ‘living your best life’. Been there, truly exhausting.

The promise of endless possibilities, infinite matches and unparalleled access to suitors whom you may not ordinarily have been paired with is, by intended design, wholly addictive. One of my friends is currently cashing in on her fair share of male models, all power to her (p.s, where are you finding them?), but with over 20 billion matches on Tinder alone since its launch just seven years ago, is this not just all just a game of aesthetics and potluck?

In the grand scheme of things, online dating is still in its infancy, burst on to the scene back in 1995 and it wasn’t until 2009 that smartphone apps for dating really went mainstream. When Hinge was launched in 2017 it was billed as the go-to “for people that missed out on the dating app craze”, which speaks volumes about attitudes towards these platforms, a cultural marker of the zeitgeist, to be used and abused at our will, before the next gamified or bespoke service sweeps us off our feet, promising to satisfy our deepest desires. Honestly, an adult conversation would suffice.

The throwaway nature of these platforms, note Hinge’s current tagline - ‘designed to be deleted’, undoubtedly shapes our behaviours, even the most considerate of individuals have kicked the rules of decorum to the curb, to engage with matches in the most cavalier of fashion. It is a stark reminder that just like the app itself, we too are totally disposable.  

The idea that we are all replaceable (Plenty of Fish were really on to something there), increases the stakes and the need to dazzle our matches from the first swipe. Personally, Hinge seemed like my best bet, I had three chances to set my stall out, from two truths and a lie to disclosing my weirdest crush; I have an unhealthy obsession with Louis Theroux, I found the instantaneous responses intensified the pressure to be witty, woke and just the right amount aloof. One mistimed admission about my extensive snow globe collection has often sealed my fate but fair play to Bartholomew who rolled with it and sought to psychoanalyze my childhood with a fine tooth comb; and they say romance is dead.

Perhaps it is because digital foreplay can be hard to recapture in the real world that we think it is acceptable to ghost, bench or breadcrumb unsuspecting flings. Coupled with the limited tools for retaliation should an old flame like your post or happen upon your latest Instagram story, it is human nature to want to save face, to present ourselves as unaffected by acts of orbiting or haunting, when in actual fact these lackluster attempts at adult communication only add to the confusion and despair felt by many taking the leap of faith into the murky depths of online dating.

Let’s be straight here, If someone is sending you subliminal hints or messages via social media, common sense would deduce that they are either a commitment-phobe or have a limited command of the English language and would prefer to play pictionary that to be upfront with you. In my case, a former conquest rather ominously posted his current Spotify playlist to stories and the song ‘my bad’ featured, I know, don’t say it, I should have seen it coming.

As a true romantic though, and I am not alone in this, 53% of 25-to-34 year olds say they do use apps in the search for love, we continue to use online dating because deep down we all want to feel desired, to feel attractive, may I dare even say it, dateable. So, in order to navigate the landscape of modern dating perhaps it is best, whatever stage you are at, to treat them as little more than a gateway. Messaging someone does not need to hold the promise of a life of eternal bliss, nor does it guarantee a happily ever after, it can just be a connection, a way to whittle away the Sunday scaries, to remind yourself that you are funny, charming and probably a little bit weird. As far as apps are concerned, take back control, let it be whatever you want it to be and remember, as Bobby Brown so rightly prophesied, two can play that game.

What dating apps have taught me so far:

  • I am an acquired taste, I collect snow globes - that should tell you everything you need to know

  • People are misguided or lying when they say that they want a strong, feisty and/or independent woman; can’t stand the heat, get out the kitchen mate

  • Emojis should be used sparingly

  • Choice is the antithesis of romance

  • The ‘basic boy’ does exist

  • No one else is collecting snow globes

A playlist to swipe to:

As part of my own writing process I often curate a musical selection to reflect the tone and my feelings towards the subject matter, so on this occasion I will share said playlist because if we’re totally frank, the skeletons remaining in my closet are few and far between.