The New Gold rush.

There’s a money spinning industry which has crept up silently over the last 5 years or so and become central to the leisure time of most young people all over the globe; DATING. But not as your parents would know it, no, this is a brand new all consuming dating industry which can be compared to shopping.

30 years ago, most people would visit their local high street when they needed to specifically buy a pair of shoes or a frying pan. The trip would be over in a few hours. Today, shopping is a pastime rather than an activity with any functional purpose. Shopping has been re-branded and sold to us as a leisure activity, like golf or knitting. Why not spend your whole weekend wandering around huge shopping centres, eating , drinking, and spending just for the fun of it? Make retailers rich, boost the economy and empty your bank account.

Dating for the sake of it?

In the same way, people used to go on dates to actually find someone to spend their life with; that was the aim. Before smart phone apps, young men and women would meet in night clubs, bars or house parties. Of course, there was lots of snogging and sexual exploration, but more or less everyone had the goal of finding a partner at some point.

Fast forward to 2018 and the goal of dating is blurred. Smart phones opened up online dating (which previously carried lots of stigma) to the masses and made it socially acceptable. That should be a good thing, right? But rather than a means to find  a partner, dating has become a pastime; a way to spend  the weekend. I personally find arranging and going on dates quite exhausting but I’ve recently spoken to girls who look forward to getting ready to go out and be wined and dined. A lot of the time, they’re not particularly interested in the man who’s taking them out. It’s a great confidence boost that someone has swiped right on you (or even super liked you) and asked you out to dinner and that high can become addictive.  Even more of a boost is to have a long list of matches (that you haven’t even bothered to say hi to). That makes a lot of people feel attractive, sexy and desired.  Every hot blooded human between the ages of 18 and 40 has at least one dating app (such as Tinder or Bumble) on their phone – most have several as one is not enough.

Dating as entertainment.

But, as well as participating in this fun filled activity, spectators can now watch others dating for their own amusement; First Dates, Love Island, The Undatables, Dinner Dates, Dating in the Dark, Take Me Out – the list goes on. It makes perfect sense that Blind Date will be resurrected this year.  The TV stations joined the dating apps to sell the UK it’s new hobby.  Anyone who has tried to watch First Dates will know the long ad breaks are hugely irritating. Tinder users are also used to their experience being interrupted with adverts. Run out of swipes?  Pay to upgrade! Need more super-likes? Subscribe today for 12 months! I would have thought it would take far less than 12 months to meet someone if you are swiping for several hours every day, but that is missing the whole point; it’s for fun and there is no end game.  Dating has become big business. There’s huge money to be made from what was previously an innocent, straight forward human social behaviour. In 2017 online dating generated 2 billion dollars in the USA alone. Advertisers are willing to pay much more to advertise on dating apps because the profiles are tied to real people.

Big Business.

Dating has become a huge industry (have you downloaded the Love Island game or bought the official shampoo/ temporary tattoos from Superdrug?), a leisure activity and a constant distraction, which means we can’t look away from our phone screen for more than a few minutes at a time, but the problem is that,  instead of finding partners, people are ending up alone and even lonelier than they were before. That encourages them to spend more time on these apps trying to meet new people- it’s a vicious circle. So what’s going on exactly? Why aren’t these apps facilitating people to start relationships? Firstly, apps like Tinder give users the impression that there are thousands of potential boyfriends or girlfriends out there.  You can keep swiping for days and that lures us into a false sense of security. Users think they can be very picky with who they select because there’s so much choice.

Just as high street stores want to convince us that we’ll feel more fulfilled by throwing away last year’s dated clothes and spending out on the latest styles, the dating apps want us to remain single, always thinking the grass is greener whilst spending  on their  subscriptions or, at least, providing an audience for their advertisers. The app creators and the TV stations are telling the masses to stay single and unsatisfied because it’s much more fun and, sadly, the masses are complying.

Filter that selfie to death.

In the past, we had to make do with whoever was in front of us in any one particular bar or club. If they didn’t look like a film star, too bad. But today the photos uploaded on Tinder are not even real representations of users. Smiling, tanned holiday snaps which have been filtered, eyes made bigger, skin made flawless – even the plainest Jane can look like JLo in a Guess campaign. I’m bemused to see a setting on my phone’s camera called ‘face ‘adjuster’.  I’m quite happy with my unadjusted face thanks all the same, but I can see how young people can think they need to rely on such smoke and mirrors to gain approval , especially if everyone else is doing  it.

These apps turned us into commitment-phoebes

The result of all this is that singles think the grass is always greener on the next swipe. There may be someone sexier just around the corner (or a least someone with a good filter) so I shouldn’t put too much effort into getting to know the person sitting in front of me now at the dinner table. After all, so many potentials to meet on, so little time. So off they trot home. Alone. When two people do get together and decide they like each other there’s another issue to overcome: nobody really wants to delete their apps – it would be like losing an arm; they are so deeply ingrained into their life experience. When a disagreement or argument comes up – it’s a short , sharp goodbye and back to swiping. The idea of making an effort to make it work or to compromise is completely foreign.  In short, nobody wants to make any commitment, that would be far too scary. I also find it annoying that I could spend a couple of hours swiping and chatting to people each day for a week with no results; everyone is too busy to meet in real life or they go silent after chatting for a couple of days. The whole process seems to be ineffective as well as draining and time consuming.

The Darker Side.

But  there is a darker side to our new national pastime too.  A recent study by Community Life revealed that 33% of young people aged between 16 to 24 often feel lonely.  Bear in mind that this is the generation who are most connected and internet savvy but who are also the most isolated. This  drops to 24% among people between 25 and 34. I’m guessing that this percentage would be higher among gay and lesbian people who are not part of the mainstream. I’m glad to see that Teresa May has pledged to provide support and even MSN is working with charities to raise awareness of loneliness. If every TV channel bombards us with beautiful people dating and having fun, then it’s understandable why so many single people feel like a failure.

Anyone over the age of 30 will be used to the traditional ways of going out to a club or party to meet potential dates, but young people who’s only experience of  connecting with others is through Bumble or Tinder can feel rejected by the ghosting and unmatching. The sheer number of other users can  feel dehumanising and the immense focus on physical appearance adds another ingredient to a cocktail which can lead to mental health issues, anxiety and insecurity.  If Carrie Bradshaw thought meeting a man in the 90’s was hard, she should try 2018.

Another potentially worrying point is that all the big dating apps (Tinder, Match, OKCupid, PlentyOfFish) are all owned by the same company. Consider the power that these apps currently have over millions of us all over the world (Tinder alone boasts users in 190 countries and 26 million matches a day) on our  attention spans, confidence and how we communicate and meet with others) and it’s clear that a profit seeking Director could easily manipulate our behaviours even more and however they chose.

So what’s the solution? It’s difficult to go against the tide when the main way that 90% of us are meeting is via these dating apps, but there is some common sense we can apply to save time and energy. When you match with someone, by all means chat for a couple of days to get to know them – but a real life meeting should be arranged so you don’t waste weeks and weeks chatting to someone who may have fake photos or just be playing a game. If they decline your invite to meet, you know they are players.  If somebody stops responding to your messages, delete them and move on – it’s their loss and you don’t want to waste time chasing people who are not interested. If you suspect that a photo has been filtered beyond the realms of reality – ask them for another clearer pic. But my main advice is to keep your head up and be open to meeting new people on the bus, in the supermarket or in your yoga class rather than gazing at your phone; there is a real world happening all around you and relying on apps should just be one way of meeting a potential mate. Try to put these apps in perspective (you can also meet people in nightclubs or at speed dating events) and ensure you are putting effort into having a full social life or join clubs and do activities which get you out meeting new people.