Smart Phone, Dumb Dating
Words by Maddy Adams, Illustrations by Flora Brodie
Published in the January 2017 issue of Link Magazine
I’m at that age where more and more of my friends are getting engaged. With all the elaborate surprise proposals sprinkled throughout my social feeds and wedding hashtags littering every post, it started getting to me: ‘Why am I single. What’s wrong with me?’ I’d come out of a long-term relationship earlier in the year and decided to enter into the dating world again, but it can be very difficult to meet people while studying at BCIT. Joining a dating service had started to seem like a viable option. Online dating held such a negative reputation to me, though. Wasn’t it reserved for the desperate and unlovable? Or is finding romance online the new status quo? Wide-eyed and innocent, I entered this new scene feeling like Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City stepping off the New York subway for the first time — only a little less Manolo Blahnik, and a bit more Sketchers.
My first venture into online dating started at a friend’s birthday party. Most of my friends were already online or had at least tried it, so after a couple of beers, three of them hijacked my phone and downloaded a dating app. As a team, we swiped and swiped and swiped, through an endless stream of profiles. I’d half-expected to find only mutants online—the desperate and unlovable leftovers of Metro Vancouver — but I was wrong. Most of my matches seemed really interesting, well-educated, attractive and relatively normal. The problem for me though wasn’t with the people on there, it was the environment in which we were interacting. After chatting with some guys, I started to notice how impersonal and quick the interactions were. Am I boring? Did I say something wrong? I quickly realized that getting a match didn’t mean very much, as I was probably one of 50 other matches they were chatting with. I felt like most people were simply collecting matches like trophies, without any intention to meet or talk to them. I suddenly felt the pressure to really upsell myself, and I started to overanalyze my speech. Should I add an emoji? Should I respond with “haha” or “lol”? Do I portray the best, most enhanced version of myself, or do I present my completely organized, gets-eight-hours-of-sleep, human self? I was in the midst of an identity crisis.
I took some time to think over this new world and came to this conclusion: being a Millennial changes the way we date, especially online.
We Millennials just love to give our personal elevator pitch, quick to rattle off our list of diverse interests, jobs and the social causes we believe in. I think the Millennial generation was raised to believe that we can have whatever we dream of, and that we are deserving of any of our desires. Our Gen-X parents are often described as the cheerleading generation, showering their Millennial children with compliments and an abundance of support along the way. This has created a generation of young adults who are more open-minded to possibilities than generations before them, and who have developed a mind-set of: “Why can’t I have what I want?” This open-mindedness to change and progress can be great for shortcuts, creativity and efficiency, but it’s also screwing up the Millennial’s perception of relationships.
Online dating platforms emphasize the discovery of people, not developing strong, committed, and lasting relationships. In the traditional dating method, you’d meet all potential partners face-to-face. Relationship building and strengthening occurs naturally when you are spending time and investing effort in one another. This has given way to the modern user experience of online dating, where there is an endless pursuit to discover the “perfect” partner. Online dating platforms are designed to keep users swiping and browsing. This abundance of choice mixed with the belief that Millennials can have whatever they want in an easy-to-use mobile app, keeps us on the hamster wheel, swiping endlessly through profiles.
One of the first dates I went on with someone that I’d met online was with a gentleman I’ll call Mr. L. After a few exchanges online, Mr. L asked me out for a drink. I’d had a busy week , so I hadn’t thought much about the date until I was on my way to meet him. I remember sitting on the bus and thinking to myself: What the hell am I doing? I barely know anything about this guy. Why did I agree to an evening to him? We met at a trendy brewery in Mount Pleasant, and as we drank craft beer, surrounded by succulents, I quickly realized that we did not have much in common. I scolded myself in my head; I should have screened him more before agreeing to a date. He gushed to me about his love of red meat, and teased me for being a vegetarian. He laughed as he told me how much he loved travelling through Spain, and “how entertaining it would be to watch a Picador kill a bull.” Being a vegetarian, I tried not to look too disturbed by this, calmly trying to explain how terrible I thought killing animals for entertainment was, seeing if I could evoke some empathy from him. He chuckled like I had told him an adorable anecdote. Afterwards, I had plans to meet my friends and he offered to give me a lift. As we pulled up, I was so preoccupied looking for the entrance to my friend’s apartment that I didn’t notice him leaning towards me. I turned, surprised, as he went in for a kiss. My response? I somehow ended up petting his head awkwardly. We were both mortified, and I hurriedly jumped out of the car. We never spoke again.
Is this online dating? Meeting strangers and seeing if you get along? Throwing a dart and seeing what sticks? I thought the whole experience was unnatural, spending time with near-strangers to see if anything sparks. Had Mr. L really felt chemistry between us, or was he just as lost as I in this whole online dating world?
I think I should have spent more time getting to know Mr. L before agreeing to an evening with him. We didn’t put any effort into laying the groundwork and getting to know one another. If you meet someone traditionally, you would chat for a bit, then only if you get along and have some things in common, would you agree to spend more time together. When meeting online, a lot of the pre-screening takes more effort, and I think is often skipped or minimized. I got caught up in the online dating race, talking to and meeting many people in quick pursuit. But in reality, Mr. L and I didn’t know anything about each other, we didn’t have anything in common, and we didn’t put effort into getting to know each other. We swiped, met at a bar, and moved on. Granted, many dates will never make it past the first, however I think minimizing the shopping aspect would reduce the amount of disappointing first dates, and increase the quality of people you meet, with more chemistry and more common interests.
Of course, online dating is not all bad, or at least it doesn’t have to be. For certain personality types, or smaller communities of people it can be a huge benefit. For instance, online dating has been found to be more successful for middle-aged people, marginalized groups in the LGBTQ community, or those with niche interests/kinks who may have smaller dating pools. Having control over your profile, who you meet, and who you interact with gives you a lot of control in your romantic life, which can be really radical for someone who may be tired of waiting to meet someone “organically.” Being in full control of how you portray and market yourself also allows you to meet people you may have never crossed paths with traditionally. Online dating can be a great advantage for people who are shy, or have a hard time meeting people in person. With less self-awareness involved compared to in-person communication, you can get to know each other more comfortably, quickly, and form deeper connections faster than you would have traditionally.
I think if you keep the inherent flaws of the online social environment in mind while using these apps, you can adjust your expectations, or maybe even your attitude while swiping. Everyone knows a success story (and everyone knows a horror story). So, flaunt those sketchers while you step off your comfort curb, and ask yourself this: why not find a romantic partner online?