The Dominance of Dating Apps
Once (still?) a source of shame, now the primary option.
My wife and I are friends with a handful of young, single people and people who are no longer single but are only newly married. As a result, we’ve had many conversations with people the last few years about the prevalence of online dating, these days primarily through a handful of popular dating apps like Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, and others.
A Necessary Evil?
Not too long ago meeting a significant other online was a source of shame for some. Even today, as the vast majority of single young adults acknowledge they use dating apps in an effort to find a significant other, many sort of cringe at the thought of beginning a life-long relationship with someone within a phone app.
Let me be clear up front: I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with using datings apps. Of course dating apps can easily be used for self-seeking personal pleasure that preys on other users, and they often are used in this way. But I have talked with plenty of people who use the apps with the intent to find a spouse. I have concerns about romance relying on screen-mediated experiences, to be sure, and I may mention those toward the end of this piece, but as a whole I don’t think dating apps are inherently bad or anything anyone should be ashamed about using.
On a personal note, I cannot express how grateful I am to have not had to endure the present romantic climate. If I had to rely on an algorithm and a few flattering pictures of myself to find a girlfriend and eventually a wife, I likely would have given up on marriage pretty early in the process and just hoped to stumble across someone eventually. It is tough for me to listen to friends talk about their experiences with dating apps, as they are often quite frustrating and negative. Even if their use of the app ended in a marriage, they often bemoan the process that it took to get there.
Among the people I’ve talked with about using dating apps, all of whom are Christians, there is a sort of resentment toward the apps, while simultaneously feeling like no other viable options to find a significant other exist. I have heard the term “necessary evil” used a number of times in regard to these platforms.
The first rebuttal you may conjure is, “Well, can’t a young Christian find a significant other in the local church?” In certain contexts, like megachurches or in churches burgeoning with the young people who flock to these apps, perhaps. But given that megachurches are falling out of favor and more young people are skipping church these days, it isn’t as easy as it maybe once was for a 20-something Christian to find a possible partner among the pews.
Let’s Look at the Numbers
Today, given that yesterday was Valentine’s Day, I wanted to write about the dominance of these dating apps. So it would be appropriate to look at some of the stats around them. Back in 2020, the Pew Research Center published some data on dating apps.1 Here are some key stats:
30% of all adults have used dating sites/apps
Only 12% have ever ended up having a committed relationship or marriage because of the apps.
48% of adults ages 18-29 have used dating sites/apps.
57% of online daters said they have had an overall positive experience on the platforms.
45% of current or recent dating app users say using the apps make them feel frustrated
28% of current or recent users feel hopeful when using the apps.
57% of men who have used online dating apps in the last five years say they have received too few messages.
30% of women say they have received too many messages.
46% of women who use dating apps have had someone send them a sexually explicit message or image they didn’t ask for (compared to just 26% of men).
You can find the full report on these stats here, but those are some that stood out to me. Dating apps do seem to dominate the romantic scene these days in conversations I have had, but many of the usage stats above weren’t as high as I expected them to be. For instance, Pew reports that just 48% of 18-29-year-olds have used the apps—I would have expected that number to be closer to 60% or so. Part of me wonders if the users are underreported because some don’t want to admit to using the apps, even though the taboo of finding love online has waned.
Finding Love on Social Media
You may not think of apps like Tinder or Bumble as social media, but they most definitely are. They are social media platforms that exist for the purpose of connecting romantic partners. They are governed by algorithms and rely on vast troves of user data and app activity to create unique experiences for their users. They are social media platforms through and through, and they seem to have a stranglehold on the romantic experiences of anyone over the age of 18.
We ought to be concerned about the commodification of attraction, not to mention love, that inherently flows downstream of a dating environment defined by absent-minded swipes and impersonal messages.
Again, this isn’t to say anyone should feel ashamed or bad about using these apps—they’re one of the most practical ways to meet other single people today, and can be used well!—but they should be handled with utmost care. Broader social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram and Twitter are precarious enough when we use them passively and without much careful thought. Even more so, if we use apps that are predicated upon sharing personal information and exposing our hearts to a bit of vulnerability, we should be even more careful.
“Keep your heart with all vigilance,
for from it flow the springs of life.” - Proverbs 4:23
It should be noted that this data was published before the pandemic began, and it would be fair to assume the numbers today would show even stronger use of these platforms, but I found few recent studies with relevant data.