The Power of Love: Dating App Usage Continues to Rise Despite Risks
“Like it or not, we’re going to see a lot of Tinder weddings in our generation.”
23-year-old application software developer Jonathan McSwain’s prediction comes not without evidence. A recent study by the Pew Research Center showed that one in five 18-to-24-year-olds use dating apps to find love, and that number has been steadily rising since 2009.
“At first my friends made fun of me for it, but now everyone’s trying it out,” McSwain said. “There is still some stigma, but it mostly comes from older generations who don’t understand that it’s only natural for a tech generation to use technology date.”
Since the release of Tinder in 2012, the dating app industry has skyrocketed, with over 1,000 dating apps available worldwide and top players (Tinder, Bumble, Match and Plenty of Fish) making an average of $463 a minute. Additionally, a service conducted by SimpleTexting showed that 13.6 percent of couples who met through a dating app are currently engaged or married.
There is, however, a darker side to the industry. In Denver, 53 crimes in the past year were linked with dating apps and police have confirmed that sexual predators are using the apps to find victims.
Former Liberty University student Fern Mitchell knows these dangers all too well. On a first date with a fellow student she met through Tinder, she was raped.
“He didn’t pick me up till 11 p.m.,” Mitchell said. “When he did come, he didn’t have any plans for the date – he said, ‘let’s just drive around.’ I should have been more concerned by that.”
Mitchell’s assaulter parked his car in the empty parking lot of Lynchburg Regional Airport, then threw her in the back of his car. Mitchell said she tried to open the door, but realized he had locked it. When he was done, he drove her home.
“I was lonely and insecure at the time,” Mitchell said. “I think when you’re in that headspace, it’s easy to convince yourself that a few similarities you have with a guy on Tinder and a good text conversation makes him trustworthy,”
Mitchell said she believes her assaulter had planned his attack.
“I should have seen the red flags in our chat beforehand,” Mitchell said. “He said everyone called him an asshole in high school and that he was trying to get a fresh start in college. He really appealed to my savior complex. Looking back, I wonder if ‘asshole’ was just another word for ‘predator.’ I don’t want to make any assumptions, but it seemed like he had done this before.’”
She has not used dating apps since that night.
Caleb Hosner, a sophomore at The King’s College, was also preyed upon through Tinder. Rather than being stalked by sexual predators, however, Hosner found himself prey to a girl in his church who used catfishing as a method of unveiling sin.
“She created a fake profile – fake picture, fake name, fake everything,” Hosner said. “I swiped on her and we talked late into the night. She provoked me to say some things I shouldn’t have. A week later she told me it was her I’d been chatting with and that she’d shown the chat to my pastor.”
Hosner, who is from Atlanta, Georgia, said his pastor determined the apps were leading him into temptation and demanded he delete all dating apps from his phone after that incident. His pastor did not outright condone the extreme measures of the girl, but said he was glad her actions, “sparked change in his life.”
“The even crazier thing is I know I’m not the only person this has happened to back home,” Hosner said.
He re-downloaded Tinder, Bumble, and OkCupid shortly after the encounter.
Though knowledge of the risk linked to dating apps is widespread, usage only continues to rise. Alissa Wilkinson, Professor of Criticism and Cultural Theory at The King’s College, says this phenomenon is, in part, a product of the postmodern condition.
“In the postmodern world, we have a unique ability to project our image so that it can be judged by the world,” Wilkinson said. “Social media allows for this, but dating apps are a whole new level. By swiping right on someone, you are not just saying you like the picture, you’re saying you are romantically attracted to the person. People crave romantic attraction so much that we’ve created a gamified version of it.”
Wilkinson added that addiction can arise from the repetitive action of swiping and the dopamine release that comes with getting a “match.”
“People get addicted to dating apps for the same reason people become addicted to saying outrageous things on Twitter,” Wilkinson said. “It’s all for the likes – for that dopamine release that comes with being approved of.”
Chandler Martin, a sophomore at Wake Tech Community College in Raleigh, North Carolina, said he became addicted to dating apps at a time when he was feeling socially isolated.
“I was lonely, and because I was lonely I got bored,” Martin said. “Every time I got a match I’d feel an adrenaline rush, so I kept swiping. It got to a point where I would start getting on the app when I wasn’t even thinking about it. I have pretty strong willpower, but I’d definitely say I was addicted.”
For some, however, the pull to dating apps comes more out of necessity than excess. Kassidy Vavra, a senior at The King’s College and national news reporter for The New York Daily News, said she dates almost exclusively on dating apps because of her rushed lifestyle. She has been on at least 35 first dates through Raya, Bumble, and Hinge.
“Because I’m so busy with work and school, I rarely have natural opportunities to meet people I’d be interested in,” Vavra said. “I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s necessary to date through apps, but they definitely give you more options, especially in a city like New York where everyone is on the go.”
Dating apps have also become the most popular way for those in the LGBTQ community to meet. Mitchell said she originally downloaded Tinder as a way of meeting others at her college who identified as bisexual.
“At a Christian school, how else was I supposed to find people like me?” Mitchell said. “I could go up to girls and ask them on dates, but if they were straight things would get awkward. The matching process on Tinder let me explore my sexuality without having to go through that.”
Mitchell said she also used Tinder to find friends before deleting the app in her freshman year. She still keeps in touch with some of those friends today.
“My advice to anyone who will listen is to tell someone where you are going if you chose to use dating apps, show them a picture of the person you’re going with, and make sure you meet with your date in a public place, at a decent hour, and with a set itinerary,” Mitchell said. “It looks like dating apps are here to stay, and that’s good because they really can be a great thing. You just have to be smart.”