By Connie McCool Duncan
Nancy Jo Sales’ Vanity Fair article, quoted Justin Garcia, a research scientist at Indiana University, who explained that there have been “two major transitions” in heterosexual mating “in the last four million years”. The first, he claimed, was “the agricultural revolution” which took place “around 10,000 to 15,000 years ago” and which, through the introduction of a more settled society, led to the “establishment of marriage as a cultural contract”. The “second major transition” was, for him, “the rise of the Internet”. The article’s notion of the ‘dating apocalypse’ was linked to the fact that, given access to an incalculable number of potential partners online, we are now unable to settle for one person.
That said, while the rise of the Internet and the corresponding development of dating apps have made it easier to pursue casual relationships, ‘hook-up culture’ is not a 21st century phenomenon. Throughout history the only barriers to casual sex have been the threats of unwanted pregnancy and/or societal punishment. These obstacles began to be undone in the 1960s with the invention of the pill and they were further eroded by the profound societal change that has occurred since its introduction. The Internet and dating apps have given us access to a wider dating pool but their impact cannot be compared with, let alone considered greater than, that of this earlier sexual revolution.
The Vanity Fair article presented the changing state of modern dating in an almost comically negative light. However, to rile against an accessible and relaxed attitude to dating is to mourn the loss of an undesirable societal template whereby men and women are exposed to few potential partners, married young, and discouraged from leaving an unhappy marriage. In Vogue Karley Sciortino rightly called out the misogyny of Sales’ attitude. By reinforcing the idea that men have no feelings and women are always victims being used for sex, such articles only serve to resuscitate a stereotype that women have been fighting to bury since female virginity was first prized by the patriarchy.
The superficial image-centric nature of many dating apps is often used to justify disdain. Yet few users will swipe right in the belief that they’ve spotted their soul mate; unlike previous incarnations of online dating, in which complex algorithms were deployed to match potentially perfect partners, tinder does not provide false expectations of compatibility. You simply see someone you like the look of and you decide whether you want to talk to him or her. Funnily enough, unlike the elaborate machinations of the less-derided Match.com, this concept is actually pretty close to the traditional method of starting a conversation with someone you find attractive.
Furthermore, beyond being offensive, the perception that Tinder users only want one-night-stands is also wrong. Sean Rad, Chief Executive of Tinder, shared the results of a survey of over 300,000 users, which found that “over 80% of people on Tinder are there to find a long-term relationship”. As Natasha Lunn observed in Red, dating apps are “actually just a way to open another possibility, another window, another door to somewhere you haven't been to yet”. They provide those who are interested with a way of meeting someone that they might not have come across in daily life, they facilitate the awkward process of starting a conversation with a stranger, and they help those with busy lives make a human connection, be it for the night or for life. Granted, there are men and women on dating apps who behave badly but there are men and women who would behave badly in any dating scenario.
The negative response to the rise of dating apps is by no means universal but the resistance to them in some quarters highlights that we are not yet the equal, liberated society that we should want to be. It’s time we stopped judging apps like tinder and started celebrating them.