Love in the time of Tinder: Why the dating app has ruined love for its users

By providing us with so many options, Tinder has made us believe that we do not need to invest effort in finding and keeping love

Meghna Pant June 12, 2016 08:20:31 IST
Love in the time of Tinder: Why the dating app has ruined love for its users

Editor's note: So you’ve swiped right, exchanged numbers and got yourself a date on Tinder. What next? This is a 10-part series on the dating landscape among the young-ish and single-ish of India. Part VII looks at why Tinder has ruined love.

My friend is home for dinner when she gets a Tinder message on her phone. She looks at it, says it’s from a guy she really likes, and puts her phone down.

“Aren’t you going to message him back?” I ask her.

“After a couple of hours,” she replies.

“Why? I thought you liked him?”

“I do. But I don’t want to seem desperate. I want him to think I have a life.”

There it is.

In the world of dating, people are so busy projecting the illusion that they’re cool, that they oftentimes forget what it’s like to be warm. It’s become easier to expend time, energy and effort in playing trivial mind games on Tinder, than to expend the same time, energy and effort in falling in love.

We are increasingly using Tinder as a form of escapism. In this fantasy world we’ve become cavemen, where every ‘match’ becomes a hunt that triggers a transitory feeling of victory. This explains why more than half of Tinder matches never end up messaging each other. We enjoy the hunt, but not the cutting, slicing and cooking that is required after the hunt is over.

Love in the time of Tinder Why the dating app has ruined love for its users

In these times of modern dating, we don’t want to define ourselves, and we most certainly don’t want to define our relationships. We want to have sex without dating, date without having sex, be married but have a girlfriend, be lovers and then become friends, be friends who become lovers. We want relationships to be easy, convenient, practical and disposable. We want our partner to be perfect without trying to make them perfect for us. We want love to come to us without making the effort that love requires.

Where do we go to fulfill these new-age projections and needs? To Tinder, of course.

Tinder is like a menu where we can order whatever we feel the need for, without even having to pay the price for it. Why? Because we can. Because Tinder brings with it this wonderful little thing called ‘options’.

There was a time, a time when things were done organically, where we could meet around four to five potential partners. Now, in contrast, an attractive woman on Tinder will have hundreds of matches and an attractive man will have, perhaps, more than half of that.

We are getting into this whole paradox of choice. And choice amplifies dissatisfaction, as it gives you the illusion of plenty. Obviously, we cannot meet all our matches. Ultimately, we meet a few, see if there’s a connection — a perfect connection — and when, in most likelihood, there’s not, we move on to make new matches.

This means we’ve made peace with the idea of plenty.

And so, if we think about whether we want to be loved deeply or widely, we’ll realise that our generation wants to be loved widely.

A friend of mine, who was hooked to Tinder for almost a year, realised that when he met people in real life, he’d actually wonder whether he’d swipe them “left” or “right”. It was like taking cocaine, he said. He didn’t think, he swiped. People didn’t seem real to him anymore and even real life seemed to be a game. He had no choice but to delete the app.

That’s my other problem with technology. It turns us into rude and flaky people, who oftentimes forget that the person at the other end is human. We ‘meet’ online, we build relationships on WhatsApp, we share moments on Snapchat, we use the code 143 to say ‘I love you’, we have conversations on Skype, we ‘slow fade’ someone we’re losing interest in, and we break up over texts. Worse still, we’re breaking up for reasons that may have nothing to do with the other person. They can be our soul mate or ‘the one’ but we’re so deluded with barriers and options that we love badly. And we keep on repeating this cycle because, frankly, in today’s times, there are no repercussions for loving badly.

On Tinder, especially, you can do the crime even when you don’t want to do the time. In the history of India they’ve never been so many single people. Everywhere I look men and women are engaged in a frantic search for relationships or marriage or sex or love, but rarely finding it. The ones who are falling in love are few and considered ‘lucky’. Their love becomes the case study for an epic win of hope over experience.

Which brings me to this: do we think we are finding love when all we’re doing is living in a perpetual state of seeking love?

Or, have we simply forgotten how to love?

Perhaps. And it’s clear why. We’re too busy protecting ourselves. We’ve stopped being vulnerable. We don’t allow ourselves to have ‘real’ feelings. We fail to complete and fully experience our emotions. We’d rather fail at love than give it a chance to win. We'd rather be cynical than be hurt.

Through apps, we seek not only protection but also amenity.

Look at the simple case of heartbreak. Thanks to technology, even heartbreak has become easier. I have a friend who broke up with her boyfriend and was, within the next hour, on Tinder, swiping people and setting herself up on dates.

Why have we evolved past having feelings? The whole experience of falling in love requires the mesolimbic system (pleasure centre) in our brain to be activated, dopamine to be released and for us to feel exhilarated. No one can feel this on an app. Is this romance-free diet, then, symptomatic of how exhausting online dating can be? Is the problem with the emotion or the system? Is it the cause or is it a consequence?

Apps change our worldview in more ways than we like to admit. Look at the roaring popularity of Ashley Madison that celebrates and defends adultery. Apps exist on our phone — which is a life force we carry with us 24x7 — and we use them for our daily digest of news, communication, jobs, directions, books, groceries, food, love and sex. We’re consumed by a world in which we don’t have to be simultaneously present.

But why should we even care? The truth is that human survival depends on us falling in love — a mother loving her child, a couple procreating, an artist capturing time in his medium. Love is the most basic and fundamental need. But like men learnt to hunt differently, like they learnt to fly differently, it seems an era has come for men to start loving differently.

For this tale of seeking love and not finding it, will neither be a new tale nor an old one. As India becomes Tinder’s largest Asia user base, with millions using the app, all we know for certain is that many are using Tinder for finding love. We are seeking that one match that will unhinge all our cynicism, our petered-down emotions, our roving eyes, our disposable matches, our curse of plenty, and bring us to that one place within which all of mankind has perennially hoped to find itself: in someone else’s heart.

So, of course, we cannot blame Tinder for all our problems. The polyamorous do not become so via an app. They are already so and the app is a means to an end, not the end itself.

Meghna Pant is the award-winning author of Happy Birthday (2013, Random House) and One And A Half Wife (2012, Westland)

Next week, read: Why are we so apologetic about being on Tinder?

Also in this series:
Part I — "The Tinder Man" — the 10 guys you'll see on Tinder
Part II — "The Tinder Woman" — the 10 ladies you'll meet on Tinder
Part III - The first date — who asks, who pays, who gets laid?
Part IV — The five worst Tinder dates
Part V — When the Tinder date doesn't match his/her photo
Part VI — Does Tinder lead to casual sex?

Updated Date:

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