The thought of anyone in their twenties using online dating just five years ago seemed absurd, funny, and a little desperate. How could a young person in college, surrounded by a wide selection of prospective significant others with similar education, age, and interests be struggling to find a date the normal way?
The truth is, we’ve redefined what is normal. Recently, Pew Research Center released a study that finds the use of online dating sites by 18 to 24-year-olds has nearly tripled since 2013, making this group now the most likely to use an Internet medium to find a date. Unsurprisingly enough, this increase has been fed by the rise of online dating apps. According to the study, 1 in 5 young adults use these apps in some capacity—but it’s no news to Boston College students that many young people are logging on to find something besides a coffee companion or soulmate.
So why use these apps if you don’t want to actually date? Reasons range between looking for a quick hook-up to looking for a quick laugh with your friends, but the attitude that these apps are a joke or those that use them should be met with some sort of prejudice is simply backwards. Apps like OkCupid, Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge keep users interested by turning the process of finding a date into a game, which attracts millennials, and makes the experience of finding a date more enjoyable overall.
Aaron Smith, Pew's associate director for Internet research and author of the report, said in an interview with NPR that such apps typically have a "light, game-ified way of engaging with other people," such as swiping left or right on someone's image to express (dis)interest. No more "drawn-out emails and detailed profile pages," he says.
What often gets left out in the conversation about millennials and dating is the distinction between finding a date and going on a date. The reality is and has always been that finding a date is difficult. After mistakenly talking to a few people that are in relationships or don’t identify with your sexual preference, you may feel discouraged. Online dating makes it easier to get to the actual “dating” part of the process because all of your options are, in theory, looking for the same thing.
In reality, you’re doing the dance no matter what. The pressure to entice a potential partner on a dating app is the same pressure you might feel when talking to someone in real life. It’s easier because a) you’re hiding behind your screen and, b) you’re talking through these apps at your own convenience, which may actually alleviate some of the pressure. And, depending upon your app selection, the people you’re talking to can be a decent fit right from the start, making the dance itself all the more enjoyable.
In fact, the game that is facilitated through these apps makes it somewhat addicting to its users. One popular blogger for The Washington Post, Lisa Bonos, talked in depth about her own hiatus from dating apps and the pros and cons. In addition to feeling the dreaded FOMO of not having dates, she expressed surprise at how difficult it was to find a real date in the real world and how it was difficult to make good choices in a room full of options. Similar thoughts are echoed among other millennials seeking dates, overall coming to the conclusion that without these apps as a tool, finding that balanced dating life is elusive, if not impossible in our digital age.
Overall, dating apps can be a great tool for millennials, and that includes the average BC student. Very similar to the data cited in the Pew study, I know several BC students that have used the aforementioned apps to find dates with mixed results.
The key to success? Define your expectations beforehand and keep them realistic. Friends that go on dates or use these apps without understanding if they’re seeking a relationship or just looking to hook up inevitably end up hurt, confused, and turned off by the entire online dating process. Picking one or two apps that you see meeting your needs and limiting your usage time each day will keep you engaged in the process and give you that “regular dating” experience Kerry Cronin talks so much about.
The truth is, "regular" for millennials when it comes to anything will likely not be regular to other generations. Dating apps are already the new norm for millennials, and clinging to an idealistic image of what dating should look like or how we meet people will only keep us from having the experiences we ultimately want.