The Quest for Love


People all over the world extol the virtues of love, particularly romantic love. Some researchers believe that love, like happiness or anger, is a fundamental human emotion, while others believe it is a cultural phenomenon influenced by social pressures and expectations. And, while the desire to find love is universal, are the days of meeting someone organically in person or through mutual friends over?

Dating has clearly changed dramatically since our parents and grandparents first met, when chivalry was the norm. Making time to look for love, however, appears to be another "to-do" task for many in today's hectic world. Swipe-Based Dating Applications (SBDAs) differ from other forms of social media in that they allow users to "swipe" the screen to like or dislike the profile of another user.

Since SBDAs first appeared on the dating scene in 2013, swiping for love has grown in popularity. Tinder, one of the most popular dating apps, had over 6 million paid users in 2020, a 6.6 million increase from 2015. One study found that about one-third of marriages now begin online and about 72 percent of college students use Tinder.

With the outbreak of the global pandemic, dating app usage skyrocketed, with Tinder reporting the most "swipes" in a single day: 3 billion. Other dating apps, such as OkCupid, saw a 700% increase in dates between March and May 2020, while Bumble video calls increased by 70%.

Several online dating sites allow users to elaborate on themselves and their ideal partner, whereas others, such as Tinder, limit user profiles to 500 characters. It could be argued that this character limit breeds a user interface that encourages a "hook-up" culture and a lack of depth in first interactions.

🎰 The Partner Shopping Game 🎰

Gamification is the application of gaming mechanics to non-gaming environments to make complex tasks more enjoyable.

Dating apps are intended to treat the dating experience as if it were a game. While both offline and online dating have the unpredictability of a game and the potential outcomes of meeting someone, online dating differs in that it offers monetary incentives to gain access to better romantic matches.

Tinder, for example, has a feature called "Super Like," which is used to stand out from the "card stack" (a stack of algorithmic partner matches) as someone who is extremely interested.

Thesee Super Likes can be purchased via the app, and users are encouraged to upgrade to Tinder Gold or Platinum membership, which includes five free Super Likes per week.

Researchers of online dating social interactions have used the analogy of "shopping" to describe how SBDAs have designed their app interfaces. Users choose which potential partners they think are interesting enough to move past the profile browsing stage and into a conversation.

Users are forced to make snap judgments about the personalities of others based on a photo and a brief profile biography. It can be like sifting through an infinite number of sales pitches. A person has 500 characters to express their sense of humor, moral standing, and future goals in life.

Researchers Heino and colleagues dubbed this shop-dating analogy "Relationshopping," in which potential partners are no longer viewed as people but rather as products.

Woman accidentally swiped on lucifer for dating site

We are constantly bombarded by choices, and when it comes to potential partners, the Internet's growth and accessibility has opened up a seemingly limitless world of possibilities and we now have access to millions of people from all walks of life around the world.

To capitalize, web-based businesses have stepped in over the last several decades to provide millions of potential romantic partners in remote locations with access, communication, and matching services (dating applications).

However, according to studies, there comes a point when the number of options available to us becomes overwhelming. Because our brains require a limit when it comes to choice in order to see beyond the fog to some kind of horizon, it progresses from the thrill of the unknown to the terror of the infinite.

The Brain's Reward System

Dating app developers argue that they are simply taking social behaviors and primitive procreation mechanisms that have been in use throughout our species' evolution and providing a more convenient space for people to do so.

Although data on how dating apps are changing the way we date is being collected, the effects on our brains are still being discovered. However, because there are so many different types of people, it's difficult to draw firm conclusions in the early stages of online dating. 

The nucleus accumbens of the brain processes and motivates rewards and behaviors, releasing dopamine when we anticipate receiving a reward. So, it's not the reward itself that has a big impact on emotions and memories, but the anticipation of a reward.

Reward learning occurs when we experience something unexpected. Addiction, for instance, isn’t a fixation to (insert addiction here) but instead a hijacking of our normal reward system through pleasurable stimuli or drugs.

These primitive systems were evolved to ensure the survival of our species. On dating apps, dopamine has been found to activate our limbic system in two ways.

You receive an unpredictable reward when you “match” with someone, and your brain rewards you with a dose of adrenaline and dopamine. After which, your reward system continues to reward you in anticipation of matching with someone while you swipe potential partners waiting for that next match.

The lack of real-life translation from the reward of a match to a meaningful connection offline appears to be putting stress on dating app users. Some users have reported feeling exhausted or burnt out by the continual search for the unexpected and nothing to show for the effort in real-life.

Objectification & Anti-Social Behavior

The environment of dating apps facilitates the prevalence of anti-social behaviors that would otherwise rarely happen when dating offline. One example of anti-social behavior is “ghosting,” which is a term used to describe when someone completely cuts you off and this lack of accountability can, in turn, facilitate the objectification of both men and women. 

Objectification is defined as the act of degrading someone to the status of a mere object, and a common myth is the idea that women tend to be more sexually objectified than men.

While women most certainly are, often due to pornography and media, such a belief is constrained by the limited amount of research on the emotional components of male sexual desire. Women want sex just as much as men. Where we differ isn’t in higher or lower sex drives but in the ways in which we communicate our emotional needs with or without sex.

According to renowned psychotherapist Esther Perel, the most common misconception about male vs. female sexuality is that men are creatures of nature, while women are creatures of meaning. Biology drives him. Emotions drive her. But in actuality, sexuality is more similar than different among the sexes.

"A major unknown of male sexuality is how relationally-driven it truly is." Sex is the language that men use to express their desire for love, tenderness, surrender, sensuality, affection, and other things. "For him, sex is frequently the only way he can meet these emotional needs. For women, sexuality is animated by being the turn on. Her flicker comes from inside, not from the other."

In the absence of nonverbal communication, researchers believe that the emphasis placed on app user images increases sexual objectification. Users are compelled to base their offline meeting decision on physical characteristics and self-reported height, and processing this information prior to meeting someone results in instant judgment and rapid evaluation.

Prefrontal dorsolateral cortex

According to research, the primary brain areas involved in this process are the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPC) and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPC) (DLPFC). The ventromedial prefrontal cortex holds subjective value when swiping through potential matches on an app, and the DLPFC modifies the weights of each value.

The Positives of Dating Apps

Although it may appear that we are moving further away from meaningful human connection, there are some potential benefits to be highlighted.

According to research, dating app users have reported an increase in meeting people from different cultural and religious backgrounds and forming relationships that would not have occurred if they had relied solely on their immediate familial and social networks.

Furthermore, dating apps allow people with communication difficulties to get to know someone before meeting in person, which can help them overcome social phobia. According to a study conducted by Singles in America, 58 percent of 5,000 people reported shifting toward more intentional dating as a result of the pandemic.

cow and manatee talking about dating cartoon

While 63% said they are spending more time getting to know their matches, nearly 70% said they are being more honest in their online interactions.

It is important to note that the limitations of these findings are based on self-reports, and we are biased when we answer questions about ourselves and our behaviors. When discussing the impact (positive or negative) of dating apps on our mental health, it is important to remember that context matters. Most behaviors, if left unchecked, can become addictive or harmful to our health.

When we understand how a dopamine loop forms, we can take better actions to avoid becoming victims of our reward system. Once we have that awareness, we can interact with things like a dating app with more rationality than our limbic system naturally provides. Make a reservation for a cooking class in a cuisine that both of you enjoy.

😍 Dating Ideas 😍

If you find yourself planning a date in person, consider doing something that isn’t centered around drinking alcohol.

It’s important to ask yourself, "Is this someone you like only when you both drink alcohol?"

Activity-based date ideas are a great way of breaking the ice and easing the nerves of a first date, and below are a few options:

1. Book a cooking class on a cuisine you both enjoy.

2. Take your (or their) dog for a walk in a nice park.

3. Mooch around a farmer’s market for lunch and people watch.

4. Go rock climbing, either in a gym or preferably outside.

5. Hit up a drive-in movie.

6. Grab some coffee at your favorite spot.

We are creatures of habit, and we have our reward system to blame for that. Luckily, according to anthropologist Helen Fisher, dating apps aren’t changing happy relationships. Instead, they’ve lowered the threshold of when to leave an unhappy one.

References

Chatel, A. . (2021). 21 Sober First Date Ideas Where Your Personality Can Really Shine. Bustle.
DiGiulio, S.. (2021). How to be better at online dating, according to psychology. NBC News.
Dolan, E. . (2021). New research shows online dating can cultivate a rejection mindset. PsyPost.
Fetters, A.. (2021). The Five Years That Changed Dating. The Atlantic.
Finkel, E., Eastwick, P., Karney, B., Reis, H., & Sprecher, S. . (2012). Online Dating: A Critical Analysis From the Perspective of Psychological Science. Psychological Science In The Public Interest, 13(1), 3-66. .
Fortune. (2021). Activity on dating apps has surged during the pandemic. Fortune.
Halber, D. . (2021). Motivation: Why You Do the Things You Do.. Brainfacts.org.
Holtzhausen, N., Fitzgerald, K., Thakur, I., Ashley, J., Rolfe, M., & Pit, S. . (2020). Swipe-based dating applications use and its association with mental health outcomes: a cross-sectional study. BMC Psychology, 8(1). .
Khan, K., & Chaudhry, S.. (2015). An evidence-based approach to an ancient pursuit: systematic review on converting online contact into a first date. Evidence Based Medicine, 20(2), 48-56.
Lovine, A. . (2021). Dating app usage is changing for the better as the pandemic rages on. Mashable.
Perel, E. . (2021). Men, Women, and Sexuality: More Similar Than Different. Estherperel.com.
Pronk, T., & Denissen, J. . (2019). A Rejection Mind-Set: Choice Overload in Online Dating. Social Psychological And Personality Science, 11(3), 388-396.
Rosenfeld, M., Thomas, R., & Hausen, S. . (2019). Disintermediating your friends: How online dating in the United States displaces other ways of meeting. Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences, 116(36), 17753-17758.
Thorpe, J. . (2021). What Happens In Your Brain When You Get A Match On A Dating App. Bustle.

I’m only 23 but in the few years that I have experienced Tinder and other dating apps I can completely agree with the pros and cons in this article. Unfortunately I was never able to find any successful relationship for myself. I do think that a small part of this is due to the amount of people who are on there for the “hook-up” culture especially in the larger cities. It’s so easy to just not make a bio or skip over others’ because the images hold your attention longer. For now I’m permanently off of these apps to try and give “traditional” dating another shot.

As someone who used dating apps for many years, I am much too familiar with the pros and cons of these apps. Ultimately, I did meet my current partner of 2+ years on Tinder, so I did find what I was looking for. But it wasn't without its fair share of adventure! My biggest complaint about dating apps is that it is completely dependent on appearance to draw someone in. In the days before dating apps, I had a long-term boyfriend (who I met through a theatre group) who I was not initially attracted to, but fell in love with his humor and personality. He was, to this day, one of the funniest, kindest people I have ever known. However, if I had seen him on a dating app, I would have swiped right past and missed out on knowing this wonderful person. I was very aware of the limitations dating apps offer in this regard, and it always bothered me that the entire premise is based on someone's looks and I could be missing out on someone with a wonderful personality. But, with that said, life these days does not lend itself to meeting people organically, especially if you're out of college, maybe divorced with kids, which was my situation. I'm obviously not going out to bars to meet people when I have kids at home. Online dating was an easy and convenient solution, and though it had its ups and downs, it did ultimately have a happy ending :).

I have a lot of friends who have found loving and lifetime partners through the online world of dating. I haven't used Tinder but I did try Bumble a few years back. I didn't stay on it long and I didn't get to meet people there but I did have some interesting conversations with people, none of course materialized into anything more. I think it all boils down if you are on the same page with the person you matched with. There will be people who are looking for one time fling and there will be others who are looking for their forever mate. I do agree that there is some sort of gamification to it, well online platforms in general are filled with gamification systems to get you hooked into using it longer.... Just be intentional I would say.

I met my husband on Plenty of Fish, and we've been married 7 years

I have a few friends that have actually married after meeting online so I can’t knock it.

I’m in my forties and single and have had my fair share of online dating horror stories. I really have had the worst luck. Been catfished at least twice, got a picture of a guy that was from 20 years ago and two that were still married. All online.

Dating just isn’t what it use to be. I do not enjoy it. Here’s hoping that I meet the right one, the old fashion way.

There are definitely some perks to online dating. I remember when Match.com and Plenty of Fish first became available and I admit I was hooked. I was in my early 30's and was absolutely over the whole club scene. Plus I was never really good at breaking the ice in person and found it much easier to communicate through messaging through an app. But with a new dating app coming out every month it has become too much!!!! Plus I will never forget a friend of mine telling me how many messages she would get daily from guys. It was crazy!!!! Plus with the whole ghosting thing going on I really feel sorry for the younger generation who only uses them to find their match. It isn't nearly as fun as it once was. A part of me wishes we could all go back to the old days.

Developing social skills is challenging upfront, but pays dividends overtime.