Anyone who has or has had a profile on a dating app knows that there is a good chance you will be ghosted at some point, that is, that someone disappears from one day to the next, leaving a message unanswered. According to a study by the Canadian University of Western Ontario, 72% of the people surveyed had suffered it and 64.5% had done it. But perhaps the worst thing is not that this happens. Perhaps the worst thing is that it is something that has become normalized. Dating applications are generally seen as a catalog of people among whom you can navigate and decide, with a simple gesture, if you are interested or not. This quantity and ease, in an age of rapid and varied stimuli, is possibly the basis of its success. But it is also postulated as the cause of phenomena such as ghosting.
“I don’t have enough time to answer all the messages I get. So I focus on the ones that I can and leave the others”, says Marta, 29 years old. Given this, it could be argued that the affectively responsible thing to do would be to contact a manageable volume of people. But that is not the trend when it comes to these applications. According to the article It’s not you, it’s Tinder. Gamification, consumption, daily management and performance in “pick-up” applications, the use of this type of platform is considered as “a playful and competitive experience, similar to that of a video game, which involves the online sex-affective search in the sense of unraveling strategies and deploying skills to obtain higher scores in the form of likes or matches.”
Applications are tools that work in one way or another depending on how we use them. So it could be said that if unhealthy ways of relating to each other arise on an application like Tinder, it is more likely the user’s fault rather than the application’s. Marta does not entirely agree with this: “The very structure of the application validates that you contact a lot of people and that you do not respond to everyone because it will keep proposing new profiles.”
Javier, 21, and also a user of the best-known dating app, comments that “sometimes there are users who interest me on Tinder, and so I follow them on Instagram. I start to see them in a different way, and it wouldn’t occur to me to ghost them, for example.” Tinder is conceived as a catalog where the image prevails—although there is a brief text—and where each profile is almost like a consumer object. On Instagram you can share everyday aspects, hobbies, opinions, reels that you like, photos of your pet... Despite all the posturing on this social network, it humanizes and brings people closer together.
The almost unlimited catalog proposed by Tinder causes another phenomenon: the endless search. “Even if you’re talking to one person, it’s easy to get the feeling that there might be someone better. So you keep looking,” comments Javier. This is at the base of phenomena with a lesser-known name than ghosting, but just as present in today’s relationships, such as benching, that is, giving small signs of interest that make the person waiting never see the expectation disappear; or breadcrumbing, which is the definition of leaving crumbs of attention to maintain the interest of the other person, although in general there is no intention of materializing the interaction.
That endless search for the perfect match on a site with a huge catalog can lead to another problematic use of the apps: hooking up. “There is a virtually limitless possibility of options for potential dating partners that can make it harder to stop using Tinder,” as specified in the study Too many swipes for today: The development of the Problematic Tinder Use Scale (PTUS). Being able to see how close users are and anticipate a possible reward in the form of a date is another feature of the app that contributes to its use and abuse.
Finding sexual encounters is one of the reasons for the use—not the only one and, according to some research, not the main one—of this type of application. The consumption of bodies under that expression of “just sex” seems to forget the emotional part that is included in any relationship (even when it is “just sex”). If we add to this way of thinking the unlimited catalog effect of Tinder, we have a perfect combo to neglect affective responsibility.
Aware of all this, there are other dating apps that seek to humanize the experience. Beyond those that segment by interests—for vegans or vegetarians, polyamorous, LGTBI—or those that aim to generate encounters by valuing something more than image, some seek to correct the vices of the most popular platforms. One of them is Hinge, which aims to create fewer matches, but of higher quality, and to help avoid accidental ghosting, sending reminder messages when it’s your turn to reply, lest you miss it. At the moment it is only available in the United States, Canada, Ireland, United Kingdom and India.
And yet, why do we still use dating apps?
Of course, there are people who have found beautiful relationships on Tinder. There must be something good about the app that makes it hard to find, especially among millennials and generation Z, someone who does not have or has not had a profile. The use of Tinder can generate positive effects on one’s mood, especially when matches are received, which work in a similar way to positive feedback on social networks. It is obvious: being “successful,” understood in the form of number of matches, makes you feel good. In the study Tinder blue, mental flu? Exploring the associations between Tinder use and well-being the authors add that while a higher number of matches can improve users’ well-being, it can also worsen sadness and anxiety, given that more successful users are likely to be compulsive users of the application.
On the other hand, this type of application can reduce the anxiety of those who are highly sensitive to rejection due to the lack of explicit negative feedback. But this can also reduce one’s own well-being when one tends to compare one’s own “failure” with the “success” of others, something that also happens even when there is no data on the matches of other users.
Marta is clear about why she uses Tinder: “I go on it when I’m bored. I’m not always looking for encounters, but to entertain myself.” The ease of connecting with new people every day makes it easy for her. So, on the one hand, there are apps, which don’t seem to help build healthy relationships, full of profiles. And on the other, there is a proliferation of articles about the importance of taking care of oneself and taking care of relationships. Ghosting is normalized, while affective responsibility is claimed. Inconsistencies.
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