When you open up your dating app of choice, what does your feed look like? Mostly full of people you’ve already met? Chats that have gone on for pages and ended up in number swaps or Facebook adds? Or hundreds of matches with only a couple half-baked conversations that never led to anything?
No surprises if the latter camp is the largest. While 75 per cent of 18-24 year-olds use Tinder, Esquire’s big sex study found that 63 per cent of respondents only log on out of boredom.
So, how many people in the pile of profiles you swipe through on a Sunday night are actually looking to date? And why would people use dating apps if they had no intention of meeting people? I chatted to millennial swipers who used apps, but didn’t want romance or hookups, in the hopes of finding out what the heck is going on.
1) A Sense Of Validation.
At a guess, the number one reason someone might download Tinder (or its equivalent) while not being on the lookout for sex or love would be for a bit of validation. Most of us know the guilt-tinged dopamine rush of seeing those three little words pop up in cursive: ‘It’s a Match!’
Lisa*, 23, who is in an open relationship with her partner, says dating apps keep her self-esteem topped up. “This is equal parts banter and insecurity, but I use dating apps without meaning to hook up with people to boost my ego,” she said. “Specifically because I’m in an open relationship and bae is having far more sex with other people than I am.”
For some in non-monogamous relationships, navigating validation can be a different task altogether, and Lisa definitely feels that apps can help in this regard. “I have personally only hooked up with one other person, and use the rest of my matches to remind myself I’m buff.”
Everyone wants to be liked and swiping is basically the equivalent of being told that someone fancies you, except instead of someone, it’s lots of people, with plenty more where they came from, especially if you’re living in a big city.
Dan*, a 20-year-old student, is in the game for similar reasons to Lisa. “I think it is a bit like window shopping,” he says. “We can look at things we want – but that we would never or at least aren’t going to buy – and imagine we had them, imagine our lives made better by that item.”
Scrolling profiles offer something similar, he says: “the quick and easy validation of someone matching with you on Tinder or messaging you on Grindr is enough to sort of satisfy some sort of insecurity.”
Dans uses dating apps in equal parts through curiosity and for a sense of self-assurance. “It’s more for the feeling that people find me attractive than to talk and develop a relationship.”
2) A Feeling Of Connection.
Billie*, 31, said she has turned to apps to feel good about herself, but also when she has needed some human interaction. “I have used them as it makes me feel connected to others when I’m actually feeling really isolated,” she explains.
“It’s an easy way to get that sense of connection without having to spend time and effort of going out. It’s a confidence boost.”
Not long ago, Billie had a difficult break-up from an emotionally abusive partner, which knocked her back a lot. Using dating apps on the aftermath became a means of getting some much-needed human connection and attention. “I was feeling kinda low in confidence, so then to talk with people who are clearly interested in you makes you feel like you’re still a human being that is wanted, and that you’re interesting,” she says.
Billie points out that at your most vulnerable, when IRL interaction feels either overwhelming or energetically draining, dating apps offer a means to ‘meet’ new people virtually. “Rather than having to instigate a conversation out in the real world you can do it in the comfort of your own home, but still get that sense of connectedness that we as social beings crave.”
Kate, a 37-year-old writer, has used apps to connect – but more in a quest for solidarity. She identifies as queer and is a self-described “late bloomer” in this regard, but as a single mum in her 30s living in a tiny rural village, she says it was difficult to connect with LGBT+ communities. HER, an app geared towards lesbian, queer, and bisexual women, helped her do this.
“After trying Tinder, and finding it really unwelcoming for anyone not looking for a threesome and hoping to score someone queer to help them with that, I turned to HER,” she said. “It felt like stepping into myself... It never felt predatory and we often talked back and forth for weeks without mentioning dates. It was a good place to connect.”
3). A Source Of Entertainment.
Parvati, a 22-year-old recent graduate, says that after experiencing one too many overly forward men and uncomfortable opening lines on Tinder, she now only uses the app out of boredom and for a bit of entertainment.
“Basically I guess I know that these Tinder bois aren’t legit interested,” she says. “They message every girl the same thing or whatever in hopes for a bang.”
This might seem cynical to the inexperienced app-user, but is Parvati’s pessimism simply realism? We’ve all encountered cheesy one-liners online or in life, and some Tinder users are known to deploy the same lines to everyone.
With 57 per cent of women report being harassed on online dating platforms, and many of us no stranger to first or second-experiences of misogyny on apps, it seems plausible that some women users might feel disillusioned with the way men were approaching them and no longer use apps seriously.
4) Climbing The Ladder.
For Urszula, a 24-year-old actress, fashion blogger and stylist based in New York, using Bumble has been useful for expanding her professional network.
“I ignore and unmatch men looking for hookups,” she says, explaining that she’s not interested in meeting people for romance or sex through the app.
Instead, she’s sought out work opportunities and says many of them have been invaluable. “I’ve shot with photographers [from the app], and have met cool men who work in fashion,” she says. “It’s given me access to other events and to meet other great and successful talented individuals.”
As a journalist, part of a profession that sees Twitter as the ideal tool for networking and collaborating, I’d never thought dating apps could be career enhancing. But as long as the people Urszula meets are aware of her intentions (which would put them ahead of most people dating online), what’s the harm?
Are these the four horse-people of the apocalypse for dating apps? I think not. While I wouldn’t use an app just for the laughs like Parvati, I do identify with the idea of using different platforms to find a sense of community as a minority.
Who’s to say that we can’t invent creative new ways to repurpose platforms that may have been invented for one thing, but also work perfectly well for another?]
“I find talking to people on dating apps unendingly boring,” says Dan. And I don’t think he’s wrong. For some people, the primary purpose of these apps may not be a draw, so who’s to say you can’t find other ways to use them?
But where does this leave those who are looking for romantic or physical connection on these apps? Is it flooding the market with blanks, and in turn, making the process more difficult? Maybe. But there are get-arounds thatcan help make communication around expectations clear from the outset.
Take Bumble, which gives Urszula the option to choose networking instead of Bumble Date or Bumble BFF. “I just become friendly and usually initiate in conversations,” she says. Other platforms give you the chance to communicate what you’re looking for in your bio or over chat. Perhaps Bumble identified a gap in the market – people were using dating apps differently so they made a function to cater to that group.
The way that we use apps is evolving and changing. And that seems to be okay – they’ll undoubtedly evolve and change with us.
*Some names have been changed