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Devil's Advocate: Are Dating Apps A Good Thing?

Updated: Mar 9, 2022

Yes: Amelia Perry (56%)

For some reason, I vividly remember the first time I saw an advert for a dating site on television and, at the time, feeling sorry for those beings deemed so unlovable they had to resort to finding love online. Indeed, just that week, I’d been busy fighting with a fellow year one girl over who would be fortunate enough to marry some poor boy named Thomas. Needless to say, I was convinced relationships––more specifically, finding someone to be in one with––were that easy. I think it’s safe to say, however, that we’ve come a long way since the days when PlentyOfFish, and eHarmony were your best bet for finding a partner online, and indeed, since the days when it was socially acceptable to get engaged to someone in your class after the brief courtship of a thirty-minute maths lesson. From Tinder to Hinge, and of course, Tatler’s personal favourite, Toffee, there are more options than ever and there’s absolutely no reason for dating apps to have the bad reputation that they still do.

Among the most common complaints against dating apps are that you get ghosted, they turn out to be a total creep, or they have absolutely terrible chat and as a result everything just… fizzles out (seriously though, anyone who still unironically uses the term “Netflix and Chill ;)” in 2022 deserves to be blocked, immediately). Contrary to popular opinion, however, these aren’t phenomena that only exist on Tinder. That ever so slightly questionable post-601 Wednesday night hook up who promised they’d message you to grab a coffee the next morning but never did? You’ve been ghosted, my friend. I hate to break it to you, but that special someone you seem to see around every second of every day? Maybe that’s not the universe telling you you’re destined to be together, maybe they’re a creep. And people with terrible chat, much to our collective disappointment, walk among us every day.

“But what about cat-fishing?” I hear you say. Obviously, I’m not here counting the cases where, as if straight out of a primary school PSHE lesson, a middle-aged man shows up after pretending to be Saffron, 19, online for three weeks. I’m referring to the times where your date shows up and because their profile may have ever so slightly misleadingly given you the impression that they looked like one of those men from the Hollister bags in 2010, you’re a little underwhelmed. All is not lost, however, because the chances are, you’ve inadvertently done the same thing. The whole point of a dating app profile is to allow you to put your best foot forward, and I don’t honestly believe that anyone thinks for a second that the handful of photos you select for your profile are a truly accurate representation of how you choose to present yourself to the world on any given day. Speak for yourself, but I personally haven’t met anyone who was born with perfectly winged eyeliner or permanently gold eyelids.

Speaking of putting your best foot forward, for the more socially awkward among us, one of the perks of dating apps is the total inability to mortify yourself before you’ve even had the chance to make a halfway decent first impression. If, like myself, you are a constant trip-hazard waiting to happen, the prospect of meeting your new paramour by chance in Tesco’s is particularly daunting. I might be wrong, but locking eyes with someone in aisle 4, sprawled at their feet after tripping on a slightly uneven bump in the floor doesn’t exactly scream ‘How I Met Your Mother’ does it? On the other hand, my Hinge profile can conveniently omit my clumsiness, and keep up the façade of being the epitome of grace, elegance, and femininity for just a little longer.

Of course, there’s also the benefit of being able to pre-vet potential suitors, far quicker than you can in person. The app alone has a huge bearing on who you'll find. If you firmly believe that couples who gym together stay together, apparently there’s a dating app for that. Refuse to go out with a bacon hater? There’s a dating app for that as well (yes really). In a world where, for better or worse, we’re increasingly reliant on technology and, more specifically, algorithms, to do everything else for us, why shouldn’t we trust the numbers with helping us to find a partner, too? I appreciate it doesn’t necessarily sound overly romantic, but if an algorithm determined where I’d end up at university, why can’t it help me find a boyfriend? I know, I know, pre-arranging an inevitably slightly awkward coffee with Alex from Bumble doesn’t exactly sound like a meet-cute, but let’s be honest, what’s the worst that can happen? And anyway, how many couples do you actually know who serendipitously met after one of them stumbled into a travel book shop in Notting Hill?

No: Rosie Miller (44%)

Another day, another choice reappropriation of a once innocuous piece of the British lexicon. Gone are the days in which one could associate ‘Bumble’ with the innocence of delicately buzzing bees; past the time when the only sojourn of “Tinder” into mainstream vocabulary lay in its capacity to generate bonfires; relegated to distant memory the age in which hopes of romance ‘Hinge’-d on––dare I say it––an in-person interaction. In fact, so ingrained is the influence of dating apps, (some claim they are used by some third of 18–44-year-olds), that even the most vocally adverse relations have resigned to the fact that, much like kombucha, The Apprentice, and Michael Gove, online dating is a modern evil that––for now, at least––is here to stay.

Dating-app defenders cite the platforms as indispensable resources in modern romantic life: “but where, if not on my handheld screen, shall I unearth my next, [delete as appropriate], shag/significant other/person of dubious romantic status?”, they cry. Admittedly, it’s probably not going to be 601. Or Tesco. Or the charity fashion show––unless you happen to be Kate Middleton, of course. Essentially, finding compatible partners in modern society––not least in this most isolated of Scottish towns––is a notoriously agonising endeavour.

The perpetrator? Ironically, dating apps. What began as a valiant exercise in encouraging so-called ‘compatible’ romantic associations, has deteriorated into an embarrassingly unironic re-enactment of some of the more painful Take Me Out episodes of the early 2000s; against all reasonable odds, the excruciating phraseology of, “no likey, no lighty”, has permeated the realms of acceptable human behaviour in the form of swiping left or right. Maybe I’m misremembering, but I don’t recall that many trips to the notorious ‘Isle of Fernando’s’ ended in anything but disappointment: the notion that dating apps could somehow perform differently seems optimistic to the point of naivety.

First and foremost, initiating contact remotely dooms the leap ‘from database to date’ to disappointment. If, by some happy turn of fate, your chosen partner is of even vague resemblance to their virtual counterpart, a crucial issue remains: viewed in the cold, unfiltered light of North-East Fife, the majority of us mere mortals are not perfectly toned, chiselled, or miraculously blemish-free. I’d be the first to admit that, upon exiting the library after an all-nighter shift, when battling the all-too-familiar Thursday-morning hangover, (or, let’s face it, when I just haven’t bothered to change out of my pyjamas that morning), my visage is far from that what any self-respecting profile picture of mine would have you believe. Call me a hopeless romantic, but I don’t particularly fancy my date’s initial reaction to be one of, (being kind), discomposure or, (being realistic), unmitigated horror.

Moreover, in-app chat features have warped the language of romance beyond all recognition. What could once meaningfully be termed courtship now closer resembles the script of a budget “50 Shades” spin-off. Unless you plan on parading around town with an ostentatiously positioned aubergine on your chest, winking significantly at potential date candidates, and opening conversations with a crudely drawn innuendo, you’re unlikely to get further than an awkwardly returned smile.

And let’s not forget that, fundamentally, these platforms are online. Thanks to COVID-19, the adjective has cemented itself as a viable prefix to practically any once-enjoyable activity; its influence soon relegated the likes of pub quizzes, personal training sessions, and live performances to the depths of human despair. In fact, given the, (well-founded), uproar surrounding the uni’s ongoing adherence to ‘dual delivery’ teaching methods, the relentless proclivity of certain students towards dating apps seems to demonstrate a certain degree of hypocrisy. Consistently, my peers have waged war against the impact of online learning on their screen times, not to mention the sheer gloom induced by reduced face-to-face interaction. Why, then, do we continue to glue ourselves to our screens, oblivious to the point of questionable sanity that––despite its many evils––coronavirus has not yet removed our capacity for meeting compatible partners in the flesh.

And ‘in the flesh’ they reside a-plenty. Sure, were we inhabiting some arcane, far-flung outpost of human society, I would be willing to forgive––if not wholly agree with––the attraction of dating apps. However, the simple fact of the matter is that, were Fife a David Attenborough documentary, St Andrews would be the watering hole: a host of people, broadly aligned in age and intelligence, many of whom might just have interests that, (gasp), preclude them from cultivating an online dating presence. In indulging these money-making platforms, we are not only warping our romantic expectations and behaviourisms beyond all possible hope of romantic fulfilment, we are blindfolding ourselves to the distinct possibility that many eligible partners might actually exist beyond the narrow parameters of the online dating landscape. Spoiler alert: morally reprehensible puns might not even form the basis of their interactions.

Image: Unsplash, Mika Baumeister

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