Today while I was eating dinner, my phone buzzed. One of my Tinder matches, Chris, had sent me a message. I clicked into it. Then up came the words:
I didn’t know what to make of this. So I didn’t reply.
A few minutes later:
“I’ve been single a few months now. Need a playmate ;)”
I rolled my eyes and blocked Chris, unimpressed by such a blatant hookup plea. But it’s got me thinking about how direct and uninterested in old-fashioned courtship so many people have become.
I am having a bad run at the moment. Just yesterday another of my Tinder matches, Joe, sent me a message on the platform saying “Hi, how are you?” I was having a busy day of work and didn’t reply, though I had been meaning to. “Whats the problem, you a lesbian?” was his irritable follow-up text while I was on the bus home. (Note the lack of apostrophe!)
I am not against mobile dating. Tinder has done wonders to remove the social stigma around moving outside of one’s immediate circle.
It’s not something to take for granted. Helen Morrison – the first female to post a newspaper ad looking for a partner in 1727 – was committed to a lunatic asylum.
As recently as the 1960s, the British police routinely investigated lonely hearts ads, linking them with prostitution and homosexuality. At the turn of the millennium, sites like match.com were popular but taboo, reeking of desperation.
But Tinder is the baby of the digital consumerist era. And it’s making us rude and lazy. The parallels with online shopping are astonishing. Like ASOS, Tinder seduces with the promise of choice abundance, low effort and – yes – speedy delivery.
I worry that apps like Tinder are overpowering our biology. Dating has always been a game. But the thrills have, until now, largely stemmed from the hunt and the magic of finally finding that special mate.
In the digital era, pleasure is becoming so wrapped up in comfort and ease that old-fashioned courting, which after all takes effort, has lost its appeal. Today’s emphasis on low-cost disposable goods and the thrills derived from anything novelty only compounds our emotional laziness.
Not that consumerism and courting are inherently incompatible. Rewind 20 years and the joys of shopping were embodied in the glamour and sense of occasion around visiting the luxury department store. My point is since the Internet, it’s about the end result rather than the experience. It’s about making as little effort as possible please.
We need to consider how this is psychologically impacting our attitudes to relationships.
So how do we combat this?
Here’s where I get controversial.
We need to accept that part of the problem is many people don’t actually enjoy the romance part much anyway.
The tropes of Western romance have become out of date. Take flowers. The Victorians were obsessed with using them as romantic tokens. But they had meaning back then. Daisies meant innocence. Lilacs signified the first pangs of love. Floriography dictionaries, which allowed recipients to decode the message behind bouquets from their sweethearts, became all the rage in the 19th century.
Don’t get me wrong. Flowers are nice. But they no longer have the same emotional weight. They don’t have the same relevance. But flowers have done well not to become completely extinct – like other traditional Western romance rituals like reciting poetry, calling cards and ballroom dancing.
By the Sixties, traditional courting was so out of date that some were questioning whether free love would signal its end. But by the Seventies young women in particular were questioning whether such relationships were actually satisfying. Free love suffered a further blow in the Eighties; with HIV on the scene, casual sex became potentially life threatening.
By the Nineties, women were trying to revive romantic codes; dating rule books teaching females how to be unobtainable and play hard to get proliferated.
But in my opinion the dating gurus of that era didn’t go far enough. Because they didn’t ask what the content of modern romantic dating should be.
Tinder has moved into this intellectual vacuum and monopolised the market with a mind-numbing model that appeals to our growing social awkwardness.
So what’s the solution? We need to abandon the old tropes of romance and invent new ones, relevant to the modern world. I’d like to a see a rise in experiential dates linked to people’s hobbies. I’m still waiting for a man to shout me tickets to the ballet (I do ballet classes four times a week).
We live in the age of individualism where people prize things that are bespoke. So if people are going to exchange presents in the early days of courtship, flowers and chocolates are out; a city guide to Lisbon when you’ve said you’re going with a friend next weekend, or a playlist of songs he or she thinks you’ll love is in.
Finally, both men and women need to accept that dating is a slog. It’s effort. Getting to know someone takes commitment. And dealing with doubts. Apps may have widened the net but it hasn’t made hauling something in any less arduous.