I was born into a generation of clear hearts but clouded minds. Born in 2000, I miraculously managed to escape the dreaded years of being an “iPad child” but this by no means exempted me from the social and neurological impacts of rapidly expanding technology.
I received my first iPod Nano for Christmas at the age of six. The little lime-green box—filled with an assortment of Aly and A.J. songs and three versions of knock-off Tetris—I learned that having a small device in your hand was social safety. It was something to constantly fidget with and distract myself from what was happening around me when I had trouble coping with sounds and lights. My iPod Nano became an iPod Touch in middle school and eventually, an iPhone in high school, and a slow, subtle process began to unfold that rocked my understanding of love in the modern age.
I want to note that not everyone has negative experiences with online dating, the apps are themselves neutral tools, and many people–especially Queer, Trans, and Non-Binary folx–find great sources of community through these platforms. If you’re someone for whom online dating works, I acknowledge and applaud this awareness of the self. I write this from the perspective of someone who simply wants people in their generation to feel empowered by the prospect of love and not afraid because of the ways in which social media has made us feel insignificant. Moreover, I am not directly addressing the rampant impacts of the pandemic in this article because it is a collectively traumatizing event that I am still trying to find words for.
I’m unsure when dating apps emerged in the market, but they entered my consciousness in my first year of college. I saw everyone my age around me using them at school and I, quite simply, didn’t want to feel left out! Instagram already made me feel bad enough about missing any moment or experience, and this feeling was magnified when I engaged with dating apps. Because who wants to feel left out?
My attention span had already been obliterated by my cell phone use by the time I started college, and my phone just became more of a crutch than it ever had been. Talking to new people and making friends was somewhat terrifying, and social media provided layers to break down this anxiety without ever having to physically engage with the person themselves. I would constantly and mindlessly check for updates, unsure of what I even wanted to see. No matter what I saw, my feelings always somehow felt at least a little bit hurt.
Social media has the unique innate tendency to lead you towards a path of self-destructive behaviors, constantly witnessing events in the lives of people we otherwise may not think about beyond a single moment. Social media presents us with an excess of information that makes it hard to make choices within our reach. There's too much... but it's somehow never enough! It’s hard to focus on what makes us feel good when we can’t escape the endless opportunities for a virtual connection. Ironically, we’re more connected than we ever have been in human history—but we’ve never been further apart.
From the first time I used them, I hated dating apps. They fell into perfect alignment with so many of hookup culture’s most toxically iconic features and presented social situations that didn’t accurately mirror our everyday lives. Sex and love in college are already complicated-enough concepts when you’re a young person. Apps appeared to provide a way around this while creating more problems in the process, as a quick way to view and make snap judgments out of an incomprehensibly large selection of people. I certainly used apps to feel like I was “doing enough”—but I could not have felt more insignificant and out of place.
Dating apps changed how I read social situations in my day-to-day life and made me incredibly impatient in the search for romantic love. Apps became a time-filler between moments of romanticism, which found me in the random fractions of space in my physical environment when I wasn't paying too close attention to my desire for connection. Meanwhile, I sincerely forgot how to wait and became more impatient (a vicious and reinforcing process). Resistance to a natural process like love could only ever delay it.
Dating apps were designed by a team of white male developers to profit from your attention, translating into your time. (Google the ‘attention economy’!) No matter how specialized an application is, it ultimately exists to profit from how you spend your time and your emotional energy. The apps themselves are neutral, but our interpretation of and engagement with them and the directions in which they pull us make them nonneutral. Apps have features that keep pulling us back into their grasp, and these features are completely intentional. They prey on our insecurities and frayed attention spans to engineer a space that pulls us back, chews us up, and spits us out, causing us to feel more alone than ever.
Deciding not to personally use dating apps feels like a radical decision in 2023. No one wants to feel like they aren’t doing enough to be connected—thanks, Facebook and Instagram!—but by existing in the world we are enough by nature of our being, and we hold power within the process. It’s restorative to put down our devices and pay attention to what is physically happening in the world; to ask questions and look at things with the curiosity you possessed as a child. To not make too many assumptions and give things time to grow. The random process of romantic connection must be honored, and we must be ready to encounter love face-to-face (dating apps or not).
We cannot continue learning to fear intimacy and turn away from conflict, even in our strongest digital age. Intimacy is the heart of being alive and we cannot lose our ability to love and love well. Rejection, love, heartache, and commitment are our cruxes and need to be protected by our ability to imagine a better world in which everyone feels seen, loved, and accepted.
I sincerely encourage everyone to take their time and make the best decisions for themselves. Social media has made human emotion competitive, but our love lives are not a point of contention. The realm of romantic love is not a problem to be solved or a task to check off a list. We are pure magic in our unrelenting pursuit of love.
We still must show up each day as ourselves into the world, not necessarily in search of a romantic connection but simply in alignment with the best version of ourselves that we want the world to see.
Some things genuinely take time, and this is no exception. I imagine we'll spend more time in our old age looking back during times of singleness when we thought that love was out of the question and laugh at the foolishness of our doubt.
My generation is among the most caring, supportive, and connected and it’s time this kindness was extended to ourselves across our relationships. Free yourself: Run with arms and eyes open wide towards love, letting it pull you apart and rebuild you miraculously all at once!