When you ask how a couple met these days, there’s a pretty high chance that their answer will be “online”. With the release of Tinder in 2012, Bumble in 2014 and more recently Hinge in 2017, dating apps have completely revolutionised the way singles meet and fall in love.
Dating apps actually started in the gay community in 2009 with Grindr Scruff, which was developed to help single gay men connect in their local area. That means that though people now refer to Grindr as ‘gay tinder’, it turns out Tinder is actually ‘straight Grindr’. The more you know.
When Tinder was released in 2012 it was initially only available on iOS before expanding to Android and other smartphones and is now available (and downloaded) on just about every single person’s phone in Australia. But what was the dating scene like a decade ago, when this wasn’t the case?
Kahla, 31, spent eight of the last 10 years single and has used a whole host of dating apps, but she admits that they’ve totally changed the way she meets people.
“Pre-apps, I’d usually meet people at house parties – especially during my uni years – and sometimes even in bars. Now, being approached in a bar seems like a relic of a lost world,” she tells 9Honey.
“Being approached in a bar seems like a relic of a lost world.”
“I think the rise of dating apps has made people reluctant to strike up a conversation in the ‘real world’ and has also normalised dating behaviours that are really not cool. I don’t remember ever being ghosted by someone I was seeing until Tinder came along.”
She raises an important point; back in the days before apps were a ‘thing’, people felt much more accountable to their dates because they usually had mutual friends or acquaintances. And even if you didn’t, when so much of the dating experience was face-to-face, it felt even more rude to simply decide never to speak to someone again without warning.
Ghosting isn’t even the worst of the bad dating behaviours that have come with dating apps, from catfishing to breadcrumbing, and the downright cruel things men and women say to each other on dating apps. There’s sexual harassment, nasty comments about people’s looks and bodies, and don’t get us started on the unsolicited pictures of men’s genitals. But many argue that there have always been crappy parts of dating, they’re just on a different platform now.
What’s new is the number of potential partners we can reach these days, and it’s something that Natacha, 28, is conflicted by. In 2010 she was 18-years-old and dating was just starting to go digital, with guys approaching her over Facebook to strike up a connection. But these days ‘swipe culture’ has taken over and turned dating into a digital marketplace.
“The dating game revolves around apps and swipe culture. It’s a quicker, easier, and more efficient way to meet people. But is it better? I personally don’t think so,” Natacha tells 9Honey.
“It’s like an online marketplace for singles to shop around and make snap judgements. I’m conflicted by it. While I personally don’t feel interested in someone based on a single photo, I’m also aware that singles can make that call within five seconds of noticing someone in a bar.”
It’s true that there’s not a lot of depth to a dating profile, and with photos playing such a major role, dating apps have been accused time and again of encouraging a ‘looks-first’ approach to dating. But isn’t that the same way people used to decide who to approach at a bar?
“I don’t see one as being better or worse. It’s just different, and it’s about adapting to the current dating climate,” says Natacha.
It’s a good attitude to have, given that dating apps are showing no sign of slowing down or disappearing any time soon. In fact, they only seem to be growing, as more and more apps and sites are designed to target different niche dating markets.
“It’s a quicker, easier, and more efficient way to meet people. But is it better?”
From Muslim- or Christian-only dating sites, apps designed solely for ugly people (yes, we’re serious), and sites that cater to people to particular interests or hobbies. Digitising dating has helped people connect in new ways and for those who have struggled in the real-life dating sphere, it has been a blessing.
Dating apps have also been important to the LGBT communities they originated in, helping gay, lesbian and transgender singles connect with people they can be sure will accept them and share their orientation. Erin*, 26, has found far more acceptance and love on dating apps than she has through face-to-face interaction.
“You can never tell if a girl is gay or not, even if she’s at a gay bar, so it’s really hard to approach girls in the real world. The only time I was brave enough to buy a girl a drink she told me sorry, but she was at the club with her boyfriend,” Erin tells 9Honey.
“At least if I’m on an app specifically for other lesbians I know I’m not going to ask a girl out and then find out she’s straight. Some straight girls really don’t react well to it, and their boyfriends can get pretty aggressive or gross.”
For some people it’s even safer to date through an app specifically for your community, especially when homophobia and bigotry can put people in danger of emotional and physical abuse.
“It’s just different, and it’s about adapting to the current dating climate.”
But for some of us, dating apps are simply all we’ve ever known. At the tender age of 23, I’ve never known a world without them. Though I met my first two boyfriends at bars – the same bar in fact, and I’ve learned my lesson – apps like Tinder have been a staple of my dating experience.
I’ve sat with girlfriend while we pick the perfect photos for my profile, blocked creepy dudes who seem to think demands for nudes are a good conversation starter and been on more than a few dud dates. But I also matched with my current partner online and have watched plenty of my friends fall in love after ‘swiping right’.
Sure, there are just as many horror stories as there are ‘happily ever afters’ – but isn’t that just the nature of dating, regardless of the platform?
Dating apps like Tinder, Hinge and Bumble, or Grindr and Her specifically for LGBT singles, now dominate the dating scene and have prompted countless think pieces about the end of a “golden age” of dating. But the reality is that the dating scene is constantly changing in time with society and has been for decades.
Hands were wrung decades ago when young men stopped coming to the door and introducing themselves on the first date, and they’re wrung now over the shift from real world meet-cutes to digital connections. It’s a cycle that’s bound to repeat itself for years to come.
But at the end of the day people still seem to want the same things; connections, sex, love. So does it really matter if we’ve changed the way we get there?