The Dating App Paradox
By Harry Creevey
There’s a societal narrative that you’ll find love when you’re not looking for it, and I think for the most part this is true. You meet a lot of new people and develop your existing relationships every day. You’re constantly dating whether you mean to or not and it’s likely somewhere along the line you’ll find a partner. This is compounded by the fact that when you’re not looking for a partner, you put more time into your friends, your hobbies and yourself. All these things make you happier and being happier, literally, makes you more attractive.
If you’re constantly seeking out a partner, you eventually become desperate and the search leaves you feeling unfulfilled and lonely. In the past this has led me to spiral. The more desperately I searched, the lonelier I felt and the more convinced I became that someday I would find ‘the one’ who could save me from myself and make all my loneliness disappear. But when I eventually did get a boyfriend, I was still unfulfilled and still lonely, and I was finally forced to look inwards and consider why. I remember listening to a Ted Talk by Esther Perel sometime around then and her words really stuck out to me.
“We come to one person and we basically are asking them to give us what once an entire village used to provide. Give me belonging, give me identity, give me continuity, but give me transcendence, and mystery, and awe, all in one. Give me comfort, give me edge. Give me novelty, give me familiarity. Give me predictability, give me surprise.”
I was looking for someone who would give me all of those things because I didn’t feel I had those things. I didn’t particularly like what I was studying, and I was spending so much time looking for a relationship I was neglecting my friendships. I was trying to find the perfect person to build my village with and this was preventing me from improving the one I had already built. You have to be able to balance your life and your relationship and placing too much importance on the latter prevents you from enjoying the former.
The TLDR of this for lonely straight people who are desperately searching for a relationship is that when you put time into yourself and your other relationships, people will notice, and love will find you.
The rest of this is for the gays because once again we’ve got a bit of a shit deal.
The problem is that you are just not as likely to meet people. Assume you’re straight and think of the number of new people you see and meet daily. Now consider that only ~5% of the population is not straight (we don’t actually have very reliable statistics on this both because it’s not in the census and because any data collected is self-reported, but that’s an issue for another day). Specifics aside, doing the quick math, if you’re gay you’ve got about 1/20th of the dating pool of a straight person. That doesn’t even factor in that even if people are gay - a lot of people are not comfortable with their sexualities for a range of reasons, but the result is still that you haven’t got a lot of options. In such a small dating pool, there’s also a lot of crossover. Think of that one group at high school who all dated each other, that’s basically the New Zealand gay community.
This leaves gay people in a very tricky spot. It’s much harder to meet people naturally, so it’s much harder to live the reality of finding a partner when you least expect it. If you have any desire for a relationship, unless you’re incredibly patient and strong-willed, you almost definitely have a dating app and in doing do so you’re being active in this search for a partner. I think this inability to leave things to chance creates a sense of longing. Longing for something prevents you from being content and appreciating the things you have. Even if you say you are content with life, your presence on Tinder says to yourself that deep down you feel you’re missing something.
This presence is even worse on apps like Grindr because it’s such a time suck. You never run out of people so you can spend forever waiting for ‘the one’s faceless torso to message you, all the while letting your mental health decline further and further. I’ve mapped the effects of this in a flawed but fun infographic below.
I’m also sorry to say I don’t have a solution. Until we have technology that can find your perfect partner with an algorithm or until everyone’s gay, the gay dating experience is here to stay. I would however like you to take note of the period of stasis before the drop in the infographic. Dating apps can be used healthily if you are aware of yourself and your mental health. If you build a good community around you that helps abate your feelings of loneliness, you’re less likely to rely on finding happiness by finding ‘the one.’ Instead you can use dating apps with low investment and capitalise on that sweet spot where dating apps can’t touch you.