In recent years, societal perceptions of dating have changed dramatically. With the advent of online dating, individuals have more options when it comes to whom to date and how. Despite the increase in prospective partners, dating is complicated, and it has become even more muddled by the ambiguity that online dating can cause. With the emergence of the internet, virtual courtship has overturned the once-rigid rules of traditional romance.
Many young people have found meaningful connections via smartphone applications. According to a 2018 survey, 28 per cent of users between the ages of 18 and 29 have gone on one or more dates with someone they met online. This is, in part, because the dating pool has broadened: Technology gives users the impression that they are connecting with thousands, or millions, of potential matches. However, online dating has altered the types of relationships people pursue—especially for students. In an age of online dating and an influx of casual meetups, dating has begun to seem antiquated.
With apps like Tinder and Bumble, where upwards of hundreds of matches can accumulate in an hour and one third of the user demographic is between the ages of 18 and 24, it is clear that such dating apps have provided university students with an efficient and timely way to meet new people. Dating apps offer a seemingly quick fix to students’ longing to feel connected. Catherine Carson, U2 Arts, explained that, in her experience, dating apps have appeared to encourage hookup culture and result in primarily casual, short-term relationships as opposed to more serious committal ones.
“While these apps probably help those who are looking for a relationship find [a partner] to go on dates with, I think the majority of people who use online dating apps are usually looking for hookups,” Carson said.
Carson embraced social media in her dating life, as it helped her connect more deeply to her long-distance partner, whom she met through social media. Though she and her partner did not share the convenience meeting regularly in-person, being able to talk daily via technology allowed her relationship to flourish at a distance.
“[My boyfriend and I] live in different cities, [but we…] decided to go on a date, as we had been talking on social media for a few weeks,” Carson said. “We ended up talking every day until we eventually decided to be exclusive.”
Carson’s experience exemplifies the way in which social media can facilitate unlikely relationships and strengthen connections via virtual communication.
However, dating apps also allow students to hide behind their phone screens. In Mar. 2018, one man matched with 53 potential mates, but, after suggesting meeting up, only four people accepted the invitation. The “getting to know each other” phase of romantic relationships has transferred from in-person communication to browsing profiles and texting. Chloe Gherardi, BSc’18, found that technology has made dating feel superficial.
“[In my experience], people are much more willing to put themselves out there due to dating apps,” Gherardi said. “But, dating [seems to have changed] toward basing compatibility off of physical appearance rather than actually getting to the know the person.”
As Gherardi observes, dating apps end up encouraging unrealistic expectations, especially about the types of relationships that users pursue. Students who set out in hopes of finding a relationship may, instead, be met with an overwhelming amount of casual hookup prospects. Miruna Coca Nica, U1 Arts, has also observed that social media encourages casual interactions, rather than long-term relationships.
“[In my experience], online apps seem to set some unspoken expectations of hooking up casually rather than being in a relationship,” Coca Nica said. “Also, [the apps seem to discourage] people from getting to know each other in real life before [deciding if] they want to date.”
This casual attitude toward dating absolves students of the responsibility of adhering to a strict set of social rules. Gherardi finds that informal methods of getting to know people have replaced this traditional kind of courtship, which involves going on dates and meeting friends and families. This not only has made dating feel obsolete to her, but has also made the process more confusing.
“Dating [appears] more simplified [today] in that there isn’t so much courting but just getting to know a person,” Gherardi said. “I, personally, think dating has become much more complicated due to social media.”
Students more often hesitate to formally define their relationships because there are more types of relationships that daters can now choose to pursue. Frank Kermit, a Montreal-based dating coach, explained that individuals can feel overwhelmed by the numerous potential matches and the relationship styles to choose between.
“People have more choice [in types of relationships] than they have ever had before. They can choose to stay out of [one relationship and] pursue multiple [relationships…], a whole umbrella,” Kermit said. “The power of choice without the skill set to manage all this choice is leading a number of people to being miserable.”
With the advent of alternative dating options, students often elect to keep their relationships undefined, which can blur the perception of what romantic partners want. As evidenced by the emerging terminology for casual hookups such as ‘Netflix and chill’ and ‘cuffing season,’ Kermit has observed that young people are less interested in putting formal labels on their romantic relationships.
“If people use terminology because it makes them more comfortable to find the companionship that they are looking for, then so be it,” Kermit said. “As long as everyone involved is a consenting adult and not lying to each other about expectations.”
Ambiguity makes some people feel comfortable, while others remain frustrated. Students dissatisfied with the uncertainty are often left wondering about the status of their relationships and their exclusivity.
“Yes, it’s a good means of getting comfortable with someone,” Gherardi said. “But, it can make determining the status of a relationship more difficult, since it [tends to] keep things very open.”
Despite these annoyances, young people have ditched formal courtship. However, this is not a signal of the end of dating altogether. Apps and terminology allow people to pursue their desires more directly. Kermit offered a glimpse of what he expects to come from this new age in the long run, as seen through his clients.
“I anticipate [… that] people who flourish in the hookup culture [… will] learn that fun does not equal fulfillment in the long-term,” Kermit said. “Eventually, fun just becomes novelty, [and] once people reach that point, what they tend to desire is something more meaningful [….] When the day comes [that people] want something more serious, dating will be the category that most people will fall into.”