Dating in the Digital Age

Dating in the Digital Age

When did honest communication in the age of hyper-connectivity become such a foreign and frightening concept? It seems that despite – or perhaps because of – the myriad ways we can now connect with each other online, authentic human connection is becoming an increasingly rare commodity.

Picture the all-too-familiar scene: It’s 3am and you’re sprawled on the couch, mindlessly swiping through Tinder profiles as a Friends rerun plays in the background. You match with an attractive 20-something who shares your affinity for sushi and fitness selfies. A gif of Adele singing “Hello” and a few flirty messages later, a drinks date is set.

Is this what modern romance has been reduced to in our so-called “digital age” – snap judgments based on a curated selection of photos and a carefully crafted bio of 120 characters or less? Can an algorithm really decode the mysteries of attraction and compatibility that have perplexed poets and philosophers for millennia?

On the surface, online dating seems to solve many of the challenges of finding love in the real world. These platforms allow you to filter for potential mates who share your values, interests, and aspirations – or at least claim to in their profile. You can chat with matches from the comfort of home, without the pressure and potential awkwardness of a face-to-face encounter. For busy professionals whose social circles have shrunk to coworkers and college friends, dating apps offer an efficient way to expand the pool of romantic prospects beyond the familiar faces at the office or the gym.

But as online dating has gone mainstream, with nearly 40% of American couples now meeting via dating apps and websites, cracks in the rosy digital facade have begun to show. A study by HTC found that a quarter of Brits continue to swipe and flirt on dating apps even while in committed relationships. This is often chalked up to the more casual, low-stakes atmosphere cultivated by online dating – even though these virtual connections are building blocks for relationships just as real as those initiated in-person.

The dizzying array of romantic options available online, just a swipe away, can foster a “grass is always greener” mentality and an unwillingness to invest in any one relationship when surely someone better is waiting behind the next profile.

As journalist Dan Slater puts it, “online dating is helping people of all ages realize that there is no need to settle for a mediocre relationship.” But this liberation from “settling” seems to have instilled a sense of romantic entitlement and an aversion to putting in the hard work required to build something real and lasting.

One troubling manifestation of this disposable approach to dating is the proliferation of “ghosting” – that spineless 21st century break-up method wherein you simply ignore your erstwhile paramour out of existence. You went on a few fun dates, or had an intense text flirtation, but then…radio silence. No explanation, no goodbye, just an abrupt severing of contact without a word.

Most of us who’ve dipped a toe in the online dating pool have had this done to us, and – if we’re being honest – have probably done it ourselves. It’s become an accepted, if tactless, way to extricate yourself from a fling or budding relationship without having to do the messy, uncomfortable work of an actual break-up conversation.

The relative anonymity and emotional disconnect of online dating enables ghosting. These fleeting connections feel more like avatars than real people we’ve opened up to and feel we owe anything to. But treating people as disposable profile pictures erodes empathy, consideration, and the basic social reciprocity that’s essential for healthy relationships.

So what’s the solution to the scourge of ghosting, and the commitment-phobic, endlessly dissatisfied attitude engendered by online dating? It starts with injecting more humanity and care into our virtual interactions.

To see the real people behind the dating profiles and treat them with basic respect and decency, even if we’re not feeling a spark or ready for something serious. To have the courage to directly communicate our intentions and feelings, even when it’s uncomfortable. To recognize that the instant gratification of a new match isn’t worth the collateral damage of discarding people without explanation.

In the end, the antidote to the emotional emptiness of modern dating in the digital age isn’t to swear off apps and websites altogether. Online dating is undoubtedly here to stay and has unique benefits that shouldn’t be dismissed.

Rather, the onus is on us as individuals to approach this brave new world of romance more mindfully and bring our full, flawed, vulnerable selves to the process – just like we would in any “real world” relationship. By leading with integrity, honesty, and compassion, we can leverage the connective powers of technology for good and rediscover the timeless joys of true intimacy and love.