Monday 26 September 2016

Love me Tinder: The unstoppable rise of dating apps have upped dating game

With one in 10 Irish people now using their phones to find love, Lorraine Courtney asks if technology is bringing us closer together - or driving us further apart

Lorraine Courtney

Published 17/07/2015 | 02:30

Danielle Stephens at home in Ballinteer
Danielle Stephens at home in Ballinteer

Tinder is probably the biggest thing to happen to sex in Ireland since the Late Late. And if you are single in 2014, then you've probably tried it, frantically swiping 'yes' or 'no' to profiles to find your match.

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Dating apps might seem like an odd phenomenon, but they're just a natural evolution of what the dating scene for the millennial generation already looks like. The once stigma-ridden world of finding love online has been completely revived, becoming more the bastion of busy 20-somethings in demanding entry-level jobs than that of their bashful, divorced middle-aged parents.

And where once online dating was seen as the last refuge of the romance-hunter too shy to get out into the real world, now it's much more common - and accurate - to assume that they are simply too busy working 12-hour days in poorly-paid internships to waste night after night searching for their soulmate in bars and clubs.

Apps are convenient and easily accessible on your phone - that's the appeal for millenials. They exploit location tracking, the frictionless snap-and-send of smartphone photography and the always-on bantering of messaging software.

Thats why 91 million of us worldwide have Tinder downloaded on our iPhone, and more than one in 10 Irish people are currently registered with the app.

The primary user base of Tinder is 18 to 24-year-olds, followed by those aged 25 to 44. So for the unitiated, just how does Tinder work? It's basically an instantaneous matchmaking service that links to your Facebook account. It's free, and a few slots of basic information and four carefully chosen photos are all you need to get going.

The app registers your current location, asks who you'd like to meet (male or female, distance, age) then begins to flash up random photos of potential matches. Swipe right for a 'like' and when someone 'likes' you back, you're matched and an instant messaging box pops up so you can arrange a date.

Naturally, Tinder imitators are always popping up. There's Bristlr for hipsters with beards and the women who love them, 3nder for threesomes and Tindog for dog owners.

The French app Happn is one of the new kids on the block. Its slick premise is that our lives are filled with "near misses" so all your matches will be within a very close 250-metre radius. Leo Rossetti heard about it from a workmate, and decided to give it a go.

"[I was told ] it was like Tinder but there would be no more swiping for hours without knowing who was around you, and actively looking for a date too. Also, you would be able to access the records of people you crossed paths with, so that if you had a doubt about a person being really the person you thought it was, you could always go back and check," says the 31-year-old technology worker. He decided to give it a whirl.

There is no denying that the pursuit of love in the 21st century is littered with digital landmines. Psychologist and psychotherapist Karina Melvin works with many clients who regularly use dating apps and come to her Sandymount clinic seeking help and advice.

"In my experience it absolutely depends on who is using these apps and how they are used. Dating apps open up the possibility to make a genuine connection with someone. The whole point of these apps is to create an opportunity to meet people in person and this is what many users do.

"There are numerous sites, apps and forums on the internet where the aim is to develop and maintain a 'virtual' relationship, but with dating apps the interest is precisely because you can actually meet the people you are talking to."

Karina feels that the apps are just reflecting how technology has enhanced our lives. "They offer another opportunity to meet people and make a genuine connection," she says.

"But again it depends on how people use them and what they want to achieve from using them. This mirrors what goes on 'in reality' in a pub or club on any given night - some people are looking to form a relationship and some people are looking for a casual sexual encounter."

Apps tend to be based on looks, at least at first. So, it's a lot like the traditional dating scene of meeting someone in a bar or at a party, as opposed to traditional online dating sites that require filling out lengthy profiles, or often have psychological profiling and compatibility tests.

Radio journalist Danielle Stephens (23) first downloaded Tinder because three of her friends were already actively using it. She says she loves how it mimics sexual impulse.

"For the majority of us, people look for physical appearance first off so these apps are very much the online version of going out to a nightclub. Plus there's always the opportunity to message someone afterwards if they really take your fancy.

"I had the preconception that Tinder was full of idiots, who were just mean or up for one thing," she says. But she was pleasantly surprised: overall the guys she met on Tinder were genuine and date-worthy.

"I personally found that most of the guys on Tinder are quite nice and trying their best to find a witty way to start talking to you."

It's been a very positive experience for Leo too. "It's really cool to see these apps work as they're meant to. For example you spot a girl in a shop and then you can open up your app and bang, you see that person there, ready to play. It has happened to me a few times, even with friends, and I was mind-blown," he says.

"So it's basically a way of solving the classic problem of 'How can I ask this shop assistant out?' or 'Who was that nice girl queuing at the ticket office?' "

For older generations, it's easy to shudder at a world where love - or at the very least sex - is only a smartphone away. But the digital dating landscape is evolving so fast that people of all ages risk missing out if they don't join in. If your friends are married and rarely introduce you, what other option is there but the internet?

"We're very different to the Americans," Danielle says. "We're a much more cynical people in comparison to their Disney outlook on romance, but I do think we're getting more on board with the idea.

"I also think we're quite shy when it comes to approaching people. Like alcohol, Tinder and apps help us be brave - with few repercussions if we're rejected."

And as Karina Melvin points out, we didn't even have a dating culture in Ireland before apps arrived. "I think these apps are especially helpful for people who don't drink alcohol or suffer from social anxiety. Now people have the opportunity to connect with someone they find attractive, spend a bit of time getting to know them 'virtually' and then meet them in reality.

"I work with lots of people who struggle with confidence issues and these apps provide a comfortable starting off point for meeting someone."

Apps can spark genuine connections too. Leo fell head over heels for a girl he met while holidaying in Malta. "I was there recently for a weekend and met a fascinating girl, a lawyer with outstanding international experience.

"We went out for drinks and ended up talking all night. We've kept in touch although we haven't had a chance to meet up again… yet."

A date with technology: how the most popular apps work

Tinder, iOS and Android

The key to Tinder's meteoric rise is ease of use. Log in via Facebook and you can start swiping yay or nay to a never-ending supply of possible matches generated by your GPS position and age preferences. Works best in urban areas where there are more users.

OkCupid, iOS and Android

OKCupid admits that it experiments on users by deliberately putting the "wrong" people together. Their claim is that "when we tell people they are a good match, they act as if they are, even when they should be wrong for each other." Nevertheless, it's one of the most popular dating apps, with 30 million users and over 1 million daily logins. When you first join the app, you are asked a selection of multiple choice questions and matches are made, based on your answers.

Happn, iOS and Android

This is the new kid on the block and differentiates itself by being highly location-specific. It works pretty much like Tinder but only shows matches within 250-metres of your location.

Hinge, iOS and Android

Hinge's USP is that it's a "classier" version of Tinder. You see you can only talk to people that you're friends with, or friends of friends.

Bumble, iOS and Android

Bumble's the feminist one. It's run by girls, and guys can't send the first message to women, so it eliminates multiple unsolicited messages from men. Same-sex relationships allow anyone to message anybody else. It also gives more info on users, like education and work details.

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