Dating App or Dating Game?

By Jasmine Jones

“I’m talking to this guy…” my friend responds after I ask her what’s new.

“Oh, is this the social science major?”

“No, this one’s new,” she says while showing me a picture of a generic, emaciated white boy on her phone. “Doesn’t he look like Timothée Chalamet?”

Her eyes beg me to say yes, even though he looks nothing like the curly-haired celeb. I nod and we continue conversation, but my mind is occupied with one word. Talking. Everyone I know is always talking to someone. It’s the first thing my friends tell me when I ask what’s new, because it never stops being new. There’s always someone else, and there’s always someone waiting on the back burner in case that first someone becomes boring.

Although I’m part of Gen Z, I can’t help but notice how bored we get. Our attention spans have shrunk to the size of pebbles. Apps targeted towards Gen Z, like Instagram and TikTok, are curated to keep our attention with short videos, stories and a nonstop scroll of images. But even these apps bore us sometimes. I can’t scroll on Instagram for more than 10 minutes without switching to TikTok and back again. It’s a constant cycle of finding something new, getting bored, then searching for something else.

Gen Z’s lack of attention span doesn’t end with social media; it also heavily impacts the way we date. Dating apps like Tinder and Bumble are curated to keep our attention just like Instagram and TikTok. We swipe left for “no” and right for “yes” endlessly until we’ve combed through every available single in our area. Left, if there’s more than one person in their first picture. Left, if they used a Snapchat dog filter. Left, if they don’t have a bio. Left, if they are holding up a fish they caught. Left, if all their pictures are at a bar. We swipe left on people just from a quick glance, and if we do swipe right on someone, this doesn’t mean we stop swiping. The swiping continues, the conversations fizzle out. Dates are rarely set. An endless stream of possibilities cycles under our thumbs as we wait for the perfect match. But is it love we are searching for on these apps, or entertainment?

I can’t help noticing the similarities between dating apps and video games. With dating apps, like in video games, we use our thumbs to swipe left, right, up and down like we’re using a game controller. The repetitive motion of it becomes addicting. With each swipe, we’re wondering who is next in line before considering the person currently on the screen. We forget the face we’re swiping on exists beyond our smartphone and that the name below that face is the name of a real person with a family, job and story to tell. Instead of stopping for a moment to consider this, we keep playing the game. And who wins the game of the dating app? Whoever cares the least.  

It’s difficult to get to know someone through a screen. It takes time and patience; two things my generation struggles with. There have been countless studies conducted on online dating and how important it is to meet a match in person before diving too deep into digital conversation. Obviously, this has been difficult with a global pandemic. However, Facetime or Zoom dates offer similar experiences without risking your health. By devoting more attention to someone and setting a specific time, we’re allowing ourselves to fully experience this person, instead of chatting with them through Snapchat all day. We don’t get to know someone by clicking through blurry images of the left side of their face or responding to an entourage of messages asking, “How are you?” A laughing face emoji doesn’t tell me anything about your values, dreams and aspirations.

We have more ways of communication than ever before, yet we can’t seem to talk to someone for more than two weeks. Telling friends about the new person you’re talking to each week must get old. Swiping through a procession of people without ever meeting them must get tiring. Next time we open up the dating apps, we should be honest with ourselves. Are we truly wanting to meet someone, or do we just want to occupy our thumbs? If the second option is true, it might be time to dust off the trusty fidget spinner. A fidget spinner may not look like Timothée Chalamet, but it will never ghost you. I can promise that.