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Digital dating: love, lust and leisure at your fingertips

(Image via Pixabay)

The glow of the phone screen seemed to hypnotize Brock Mayhew. The swift movement of his thumb, swiping left or right, was the only indication he was exerting some effort in the task. Countless pictures of women smiling, hiking or posing in front of some famous landmark appeared or disappeared with the swipe of his thumb.

The sudden appearance of a photo featuring a woman provocatively posing in a bikini jolted him back into the present.

“I honestly only do this when I am bored,” Mayhew said with a laugh. “I am always surprised at what some girls are willing to post online.”

Mayhew was browsing dating profiles on a popular dating app; he’s just one of many American adults who have increasingly turned to online dating in order to meet romantic interests.

For many users, dating apps are a convenient way to search for and perform due diligence on potential partners. Dating apps also provide a sense of excitement and adventure and help reduce the emotional toll of rejection.

A recent study by Stanford University suggests that more Americans now meet through online dating than through traditional methods such as mutual friends, at a bar or restaurant or at school or church. Mobile phone dating apps have pushed these methods aside, and the trend continues to grow.

According to Frank Cardona, a technology writer for the online science and technology publication Visual Capitalist, the 2012 launch of Tinder turned online dating into a user-friendly game. First, Tinder did not require users to create a lengthy profile as older, desktop-based dating websites did. Second, Tinder was free to use. Third, instead of presenting a large group of potential matches at once, Tinder presented one user profile at a time.

Tinder also introduced the “swipe-right-to-like” approach to online matchmaking. The convenient, game-like “swipe-right-to-like” user experience attracted millions of millennial users who had ditched desktop hardware in favor of smartphones. It was also a perfect fit for users who were too busy to look for potential partners at the dance club, bar or college campus.

For dating app users like WSU graduate Andres Ramos, dating apps provide a convenient, time-saving way of meeting new people. They also allow users to perform due diligence on their matches.

“With work, grad school and other time commitments, it is harder to dedicate time to meet new people offline,” Ramos said. “It is very much a convenience and ease-of-use thing. I do not have to go to dances or parties.”

He also appreciates how dating apps are increasingly integrating themselves with other online services such as Instagram and Spotify. Ramos, and users like him, can quickly browse the Instagram posts or musical tastes of new matches to verify whether the person’s profile is accurate and to find common interests.

WSU student Kimberlee Brosius describes herself as an introvert who turned to online dating because it allows her to find people on her own terms.

“It gives you a variety of people who I do not think you would otherwise meet in daily life,” she said.

Brosius shared her experience of dating a Venezuelan-American man. She enjoyed getting to know him and the Venezuelan culture. Like Ramos, she also praised the convenience of online dating.

“With my busy schedule, it is so much easier to use a dating app for 10 minutes of swiping or a small conversation,” Brosius said.

However, not all dating app users are looking for a quick match up.

Former student Mathieu Foley turned to online dating because he was not having success in meeting women at school, work or church who met his dating preferences.

Foley’s initial success with online dating was limited. Although he had to cope with the frustration of “dating droughts” and failed relationships, Foley never thought about giving up on online dating.

“You have to know what you are getting into,” he said. “Unless you are looking for a one-night stand or a friend with benefits, you have to be willing to play the long game.”

Foley’s patience did eventually pay off; after about two years of online dating, he met the woman who would eventually become his wife.

For many dating app users, the excitement of receiving a new match notification and the adventure of meeting someone new provide the incentive to keep using dating apps.

“Whenever I get a new match, I feel this sort of excited nervousness because she is always pretty cute, and I know what I look like,” Mayhew said with a self-deprecating chuckle.

Mayhew believes that for him and others, online dating satisfies feelings of curiosity and even vanity. He is always curious to find out who has swiped right on his profile. Similarly, Ramos admitted that as his list of matches grew, so did his ego and self-confidence and dating app user Breanne Butler feels the same way.

“I feel like it almost becomes a self-confidence thing. You sometimes think, ‘I suck and maybe I am ugly and maybe no one would ever want me,’” Butler said. “And then I would match with these people. Therefore, clearly I must be attractive. I feel like it almost becomes this addictive confidence boost.”

Another WSU student, Allyssa Aponte, believes that online dating is popular because it forces users to take a risk and jump into the unknown.

For her, the online dating experience progressed quickly.

“I created my account, and shortly after, I matched with the man who would become my husband,” Aponte said. “We started messaging each other on that same day. A few days later, we met up. It was great because he made me laugh. I never anticipated this would happen.”

She invited users to overcome shyness and nervousness, and to send the first message.

“How many times has someone matched with someone else and never sent a message? What is the point?” Aponte said. “Look beyond the pictures on their profile, get to know the person and be honest with your intentions.”

Dating app users are not immune to disappointment and heartbreak. However, many users claim an implicit understanding exists that being “ghosted,” blocked or “unmatched” is fair and part of the experience.

Dating apps allow users to “unmatch” or simply ignore uninterested, uninteresting or offensive matches.

Ramos, Mayhew and Butler agreed with the idea that dating app users had no obligation to message or meet up with their matches. They also felt online dating has helped to soften the blow of giving and receiving rejection.

Mayhew tries to focus on one match at time, but if he does not receive responses to his messages, he will reevaluate his messaging style or simply continue swiping on other dating profiles.

Ramos believes that the volume of matches people may receive makes it impossible to message every person. He argues users should not take silence from the other party as a personal affront.

“A lot of times, I cannot even remember why I swiped right on somebody,” Ramos said. “I will admit that I do not message every girl who matches with me. That does not mean I dislike that person. Plenty of women do not message me. I do not take it personally.”

Butler feels that the ease of online dating may also contribute to its downfall. She believes it has removed most of the emotional investment required to form a meaningful relationship.

“After all, we just end up as another notification on your phone,” she said. “I think people are eventually going to want something deeper and more significant than that.”

Just as consumers have rejected eBooks in favor of the printed word and have returned to vinyl records for nostalgia’s sake, perhaps future matchmaking will turn from the glow of the mobile phone screen back to the glow of the lights of the bar or dance club.

In the meantime, singles keep swiping.

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