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How dating apps changed the game for forming relationships

February 13, 2020
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Photo by Annie Barker | The State News

Dating apps changed dating culture in major ways, providing a new path to form relationships. 

They’ve established new norms in romance by allowing people to address the four pillars of attraction – physical appearance, proximity, similarity and reciprocity — with a variety that wasn’t feasible in the past, said Elizabeth Dorrance Hall, a Michigan State assistant communications professor.

“Humans have a need to belong,” she said. “When we do not belong and we don’t feel valued and accepted by other people, we do not do so well mentally or physically. It’s part of our evolution that being in groups, we are better able to thrive. That’s completely still true today.”

Now, young adults are more hesitant to commit to long term relationships than generations prior, which means they are more likely to participate in casual intimate relationships — such as friends with benefits — according to The New York Times.

“There’s more variety and more opportunity,” assistant professor of Psychology William Chopik said. “A lot of people would only date people in their immediate vicinity or people they went to school with. But now, with a lot of mobile dating apps and online dating, those possibilities are enormous.”

It’s difficult to attribute this shift solely to the rise of dating apps or classify it as beneficial or detrimental, Chopik said.

“It’s unclear exactly why it’s happening,” Chopik said. “In one sense, being able to move in and out of relationships is really liberating. Fifty or 60 years ago, some people might’ve felt trapped in a relationship, like they couldn’t get divorced or they couldn’t find a happier relationship.”

Ricky Su, marketing coordinator of SweetRing, agrees.

SweetRing is a dating app that matches people based on their location and responses to generated icebreaker questions.

“In the past, it was really easy for people to think that they’ve (fallen) in love with each other, since it’s also not a popular move for women to date multiple guys,” Su said in an email. “This could explain the high divorce rate because after living together for a couple months or years, couples might have to realize that this is not the life that they’ve imagined. However, dating apps today allow people to talk and date with different people so they’d have a better understanding of what they want, which will further reduce the divorce rate." 

Other factors, such as prioritizing education and economic pressure, have contributed to the average martial age shifting to being later in life. 

“We’re seeing across the board more people waiting,” Dorrance Hall said. “For example, in the 1950s, women were getting married when they were 20 on average, and now they're getting married when they're 28 on average. That’s a pretty big shift.”

Su said he believes the traditional method of going out and meeting people is slowly becoming obsolete.

“It is dying gradually because people nowadays do focus a lot on personal spaces,” Su said in an email. “We actually conducted a survey from our (users). Sixty-five percent of our male users had tried to ask for women’s phone (numbers) that they just met and only 17% succeeded.”

Dorrance Hall said there is an app for everyone, even those unaccustomed with using them, and some use dating apps as a protective tool.

“We’re doing the same thing that we would do if we met offline,” Dorrance Hall said. “It’s just giving us greater access and allowing us a little more protection by finding out a little more about this person before you engage in a whole meal with them ... You have a little bit more time to figure out who this person is.”

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