Monday 21 May 2018

Why a generation is looking for love on the screen of a smartphone

While some claim the Tinder dating app heralds in the 'dating apocalypse', Rachel Lavin argues it might actually signify a return to traditional romance in Ireland

'Tinder has all the trappings of traditional online dating made easy through a smartphone app. Taken with a pinch of salt, most people began it as a laugh but then it just became normal'
'Tinder has all the trappings of traditional online dating made easy through a smartphone app. Taken with a pinch of salt, most people began it as a laugh but then it just became normal'

Rachel Lavin

So, why are you on Tinder?" was the first question a Tinder date ever asked me, and with that I felt like crawling into the antique leather couch of the hip bar we had met in. Why am I on Tinder? The dizzying question of the moment for both me and my generation.

After initially feeling shame, "Why AM I on Tinder? Why aren't men falling over themselves asking me on dates every day in the real world in cute meet circumstances, like bumping into each other as we run for a bus or picking up the files I dropped?" - I remember he is on Tinder too, ergo the date.

And hey, so is half my generation, but that's the bigger question, isn't it? Why are we, generation Y, looking for love through the screens of our smartphones?

First of all, the fact Irish people are proactively looking for love seems to be shocking enough. Older generations seem to wax lyrical over the romance of the olden days. But in reality, we don't exactly come from a long line of openly passionate people, romantic nationalists, yes, romancers, I somehow doubt it.

When Fred Astaire was ballroom dancing while singing Making Love to Ginger Rogers, Irish men and women were being told by the local priest to keep six inches apart and make room for the 'holy spirit' as they danced in the local dancehall.

And when America and Britain were in the throes of sexual revolution in the 1960s, the Irish public were getting all hot and bothered under the collar about a woman who said she didn't wear a nightie on her wedding night on The Late Late Show. Traditional Irish romance was less about eloping to Paris with your forbidden love and more about fulfilling the weight of social and family expectation for practical and economic gain.

For that reason we don't seem to have a strong 'dating' culture. Rather, romance in Ireland has always been something we feel desperately shy or shamefully embarrassed about. As a result, it has evolved with the one thing Irish people can always rely on for a crutch - alcohol. Coppers is the manifestation of all that is wrong with Irish romance and yet for a long time, it was all we had.

But young people today want more than 'we met in a nightclub' or months of bargaining through mutual friends. They want dates! But of course, we're still too romantically stunted to just approach someone on the street and just, well... ask. So, how can we meet this desire without suffering the mortification and bittersweet stinging of public rejection?

Enter Tinder.

Tinder has all the trappings of traditional online dating made easy through a smartphone app. Taken with a pinch of salt, most people began it as a laugh but then it just became normal. Before we knew it, "we met on Tinder" was no longer whispered in embarrassment but proudly declared and now, years later, we are having our first Tinder weddings with Tinder babies on the way.

Cue the moral panic. In recent months, it seems older generations finally copped what generation Y were doing and reacted with horror, realising their niece Eve didn't really meet her fiance Adam in the supermarket. Online dating has always had a somewhat cynical reception and what, with this combining that social panic with 'young people today', smartphones and suspected promiscuity -well, a full scale over-reaction was the least we could have expected.

My favourite 'end of days' prophecy was from Nancy Jo Sales in Vanity Fair who titled her article 'Tinder and the Dawn of the Dating Apocalypse'. She wrote: "As the polar ice caps melt and the earth churns through the Sixth Extinction, another unprecedented phenomenon is taking place, in the realm of sex. Hookup culture, which has been percolating for about a hundred years, has collided with dating apps, which have acted like a wayward meteor on the now dinosaur-like rituals of courtship."

I would argue the opposite. Rather than killing dating, at least in Ireland, Tinder has reinvented it, made it trendy and novel again and also, crucially, less embarrassing. In my experience, most people, especially guys on Tinder, are actually looking for a significant other. It seems Tinder is actually re-establishing a tradition of dating for young Irish people. And studies reflect this desire to establish relationships. At the Dublin Web Summit last November, Tinder's chief executive Sean Rad claimed that in a survey of over 300,000 users, 80pc of people on Tinder are there to find a long-term relationship.

In many ways in this quest for a partner, Tinder speaks of a ruthless efficiency. As though we're ordering love online, somewhat robotically. Well yes, it does, but so does everything in our lives. Millennials are competing with long working hours as they start their careers, with big student loans and high expectations after university. Tinder is efficient and time saving and reflects the focused determination of many young people today. Online women's magazine Bustle ran an article earlier this year that read 'Four reasons to manage your love life like you manage your career, because OKcupid is the LinkedIn of romance'. Yes, that's kind of sad, but many young people simply haven't the time to hang around bars waiting for the love of their life to walk through the door, nor do they have the patience to just spend every day going about their lives waiting for fate to bring 'the one' into their path.

For people who do use Tinder to have casual relationships, so what? Tinder doesn't turn loyal monogamous men into raging cheaters, that argument sounds a little like claiming men 'can't control' themselves when presented with opportunity, an argument that needs to die a violent death.

Overall, it seems the biggest effect of the app is a huge return to traditional dating rituals, not a 'dating apocalypse'. Regardless of the hype, Tinder merely represents how everybody wants to believe there is somebody 'out there' for them and that little red flame in the corner of their screen notifying them that a stranger out there in the abyss may fancy them is a welcome addition to an increasingly lonely and disconnected world.

Ten rules of Tinder etiquette:

- In every Tinder group photo, it is always the least good looking person who the profile really belongs to.

- Posing with just one member of the opposite sex makes us believe it's your ex or possibly your current partner.

- Photos with babies may be cute but lead us to believe you may have recently fathered a child. Best to go with that puppy.

- Men telling women to message them first in their profile seems lazy. Come on man, you're already only talking to me from the comfort of your couch. Make an effort.

- People who go into too much detail on their profile seem desperate. Similarly, people who say they like 'films', 'music' or 'books' seem dense.

- On matching you really just have a three-day window to send the first message. 'Hi, how are you' is possibly the dullest opening line one could give. Be witty.

- People who message anywhere between three days and a week is usually a reasonable amount of time before asking someone out. Any sooner is a bit full on, any longer, a bit lame.

- If you're still sceptical, move from Tinder to Whatsapp, or even Facebook to get to know them a little more. Last names help to vet them online but it kills mystery - still preferable to being killed in a murder mystery.

- Suspect you're being 'catfished' (messaged by an imposter using someone else's photos)? Go hostage negotiator style and ask for a photo with today's newspaper within the hour. Modern dating, it's ruthless.

- Do what you want, you're a grown ass adult.

Sunday Independent

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