The sun appears to be setting on the dating app era and culture is on a mission to re-codify love, but what will we find in the aftermath?
Are dating apps in decline?
Amidst our hyper-digital age, the tide appears to be turning on the reign of online dating. Despite radically changing the art of modern romance after exploding onto the scene in the early 2010s, today apps like Tinder, Hinge and Bumble are all reporting a steady decline in users. Branded as an efficient way to connect people, they sold a promise of dating minus the mess. But 10 years on, people have cottoned on to the reality that online dating carries its own set of messes and mishaps. Users leaving the apps are citing the ways in which these platforms play on their insecurities and cause ‘swipe fatigue’ by overwhelming them with choice.
And their declining popularity is only set to continue. Researchers found that over 90% of gen Z-ers feel frustrated with dating apps. So young adults are returning to a desire to build in-person romantic connections, but as we gradually approach this new post-app era, what will the new rules for romance be?
A new code for love?
Running parallel to the dating app phenomena, major culture shifts over the last couple of decades have cast light into dark spaces. From #MeToo, to the rise of consent awareness, to improved discourse on mental health – all have scrutinised the shadow-side of romance and have opened the lid on important conversations, particularly for women.
However, from everyday conversations with friends, to recent online trends, the worry creeping into my brain is that this subverting of power dynamics within the dating arena hasn’t always led to empowerment. While I am glad that issues such as abuse, harassment and double standards are increasingly no longer tolerated within the world of romance, I hope we don’t throw everything out of the window in the process. And those with far more expertise on this subject share my concern.
Dr Carolina Bandinelli is a professor in media and creative industries whose current research focuses on the digital culture of love. She argues that after 10 years of dating apps and unpicking power dynamics, we run the risk of only desiring “a specific utopia, that of ‘love without the fall’ – the idea that one can experience romance without risk, without letting it go, without losing control… We want love to confirm who we are, instead of subverting us. We are trying to erase the pain, the bad, the negative.”
There is a myriad of experiences within dating including joy, fun and surprise, but also hurt, uncertainty, pain and disappointment. It’s no wonder that gen Z say they are dating less than previous generations, if we are increasingly finding ourselves in a culture characterised by fear.
Now, after painting a rather bleak picture, the question remains: what does the Christian story have to offer in any of this?
After 10 years of dating apps and unpicking power dynamics, we run the risk of only desiring a specific utopia, that of ‘love without the fall’
A model of bravery in connection?
In Jesus, we see a model of connection where love and fear wonderfully co-existed. While Jesus sweating blood in the Garden of Gethsemane certainly puts some of our pettier fears around dating into perspective, it also displays the kind of love (both romantic and non-romantic) that Jesus cares for. Love that is costly and brave. In Jesus’ understanding, true love requires vulnerability, sacrifice and cost. And yes, that is scary, but we face that fear with the assurance of the Father’s care as our primary foundation.
By this I don’t necessarily mean all of us singles should suddenly start making bold romantic gestures after every single church event. Instead, it requires a wider shift of all members of the body of believers – whether married, single, straight, same-sex attracted – to model community and connection in a way that is good, brave and set apart.
People are tired of the dating app era that has heightened insecurity and caused overwhelm. The church should be a place that consistently reiterates that self-worth is not achieved in how good your gym selfies are but is freely received from the Creator of all things. Nor should it be a community that encourages you to be picky and selective in your friendship building, instead open to a myriad of friendships and connections that push you out of your comfort zone. If the new ethics for dating are in danger of becoming riddled with fear, the church has the opportunity to model friendship and romance that is neither self-serving nor self-preserving, but self-giving and brave.
It requires a wider shift of all members of the body of believers – whether married, single, straight, same-sex attracted – to model community and connection in a way that is good, brave and set apart.