Dating App Culture Is Keeping People Lonely

Dating App Culture Is Keeping People Lonely

I have friends who tell me I have the best dating luck in the world. It’s not “luck,” I tell them, “use the apps, just reject the app culture.”

In the age of constant connectivity, and dates at our fingertips, a majority of young people are lonely. This isn’t because they can’t find anyone to be with — its because they’re with too many people.

One of the reasons social media apps, especially dating apps, are so popular, is that they simulate relationships and a vast network of connections. The problem that poses, though, is that meaningful relationships necessarily require attention and investment. So, users find themselves getting constant connectivity, maybe a faint sensation of “romance,” but none of the connections have any substance. Users get the illusion they can find thousands of people to date, but then don’t actually date anyone.

With scores of apps designed to create romantic partnerships available, sixty-one percent of young people say they are chronically lonely, according to a Harvard survey. A record share, twenty-five percent, of 40-year-olds in America have never been married, according to Pew. Sex is on the decline — reports calling the phenomenon a “sex recession” or a “sex drought” — with 1 in 4 adults reporting having no sex in 2018, the share of those people aged 18-29 doubling in the last decade. And of the sexual encounters that do happen, staggering numbers are noncommittal. The current generation is apparently the most “connected,” but, at the same time, is the most isolated.

This month, Hinge CEO Justin McLeod told the Financial Times in an interview that users are experiencing “dating app burnout,” due to being “overwhelmed.”

“There’s so much activity, and so many people, and everyone starts to look the same, and conversations are dying,” McLeod said.

“At the other end of the spectrum, a lot of users get very, very little activity. They burn out because they’re trying to get that match, and they send a lot of likes, but then they’re not even getting enough [reciprocal] activity to go on one date,” he continued. And why would they, when nothing much distinguishes one user from another?

Tons of stories have been published over the last few years describing people’s frustration with endless swiping.

“‘A Decade of Fruitless Searching’: The Toll of Dating App Burnout,” the New York Times.

“The Rise of Dating-App Fatigue,” the Atlantic.

“Dating burnout,” The Guardian, “Internet dating can feel soul-destroying, unnerving and transactional.”

It would be easy to say that the apps, which present thousands of potential matches to people looking for relationships at any given moment, are killing the potential for genuine connection, but that would be lacking as an explanation. There are also countless marriages that started with a swipe.

It’s not the apps, it’s the culture around the apps.

The problem is people treating “matches,” who are actually human beings with their own individual traits — which take time to learn and interpret, let alone appreciate — as disposable and interchangeable. Not the apps themselves.

Spending my 20’s in New York City, I watched all my friends engaging in marathon dating. They would meet someone on Monday, and someone new on Wednesday, but they were still “talking to” someone from Thursday, and I’d hear about Monday’s date on Friday, but by Sunday, Wednesday’s person had ghosted. I never remembered any names of the characters in their stories, I didn’t need to bother trying to remember, anyway. There would just be a new Monday person, and a new Wednesday person, and a new person they were “talking to,” next week.

Take a look at the chat function in their dating app, the inbox looks something like this:

Conversation A: Hey, what’s up?

Conversation B: Hey, what’s up?

Conversation C: Wyd

Conversation D-L: Hey, what’s up

Conversation M: What are you up to this weekend?

Conversation N: Hey, what are you up to tn

Conversation O: Hey, wyd

Repeat hundreds of times, for years — what McLeod was probably talking about when he describes “burnout.” If not burned out, then just bored to death. A bunch of my friends vowed off the apps forever. But then it was even harder to meet anyone. And you’re back at square one, or square zero, and then you turn 28, and then you turn 30, and maybe you adopt a dog.

So when I joined an app — Hinge, actually — when I was 25, I decided I would take a different tack. I got on the app and deleted it the same day.

The plan was to meet one person. One. And go on a date with them. Maybe, hopefully, a few dates. But to delete the app when I had a first date set, and only download it again when I had decided it certainly wouldn’t work with that person. That’s it. No Monday person, no Wednesday person, no “talking to” anyone else. One person at a time, even if there could be someone else available on Thursday. I was going to actually give the person I’d meet a chance to have my attention.

Another point on my plan was to never open a conversation with, “Hey, what’s up?” I was going to only chat with someone who there was something to say to, based on the prompts on their profile. I would only speak to someone if I had something to say, or to ask, that I myself would like to read or respond to.

So I started swiping, and a few minutes later I got a match. Profile included some nice photos, student at School of Visual Arts listed as occupation, keep scrolling, religion listed as Jewish, keep scrolling, profile says no drinking, no smoking, no drugs.

“What kind of artist has no vices,” I opened a chat to ask.

My phone buzzed a few minutes later, “My artistic inspiration comes by practicing mindfulness.”

I had just read about mindfulness, actually, in a Maimonides book, I wrote back.

A date was set for 48 hours later in the next reply.

Bumble dating app logo displayed on a phone screen is seen with paper silhouettes looking like a man and a woman in this illustration photo taken in Krakow, Poland on July 31, 2021. (Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Sent my phone number, and deleted the dating app.

That date was five years ago, on January 21. We’re married now.

Apps aren’t making people lonely. What is making so many people lonely is treating each other like there is a better, newer version of everyone you meet next week, and that no one is more than a two-dimensional profile on your screen. And that you, yourself, are a two-dimensional profile, and a photo, and a one sentence prompt, and all you have to say is, “wyd.”

Dating apps are a revolutionary tool in dating and marriage. They’re just being used wrong. What makes the online dating experience work is the same as what makes any relationship work no matter how it started: treating others, and yourself, as a serious and valued person.

Use the apps, just reject the app culture.

Emma-Jo Morris is the Politics Editor at Breitbart News. Email her at or follow her on Twitter.

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