In a society that has become centered on instant gratification, impatient millennials have learned that there is one thing that they cannot acquire quickly: love.
The technological age has brought with it a drastic transformation of daily life. With access to a computer, tablet or even a phone, one has the ability to stream movies, listen to as much music as they please, and even order merchandise that will arrive the next day.
These changes have also affected the dating scene. A longitudinal study by sociologist Michael Rosenfeld found that although the most common way of meeting dating partners continues to be through friends, the Internet has overtaken several other categories within the last two decades to become the second most common.
The trend is clear: The convenience and accessibility of online dating has made it an attractive alternative to the traditional dating process.
With the release of the phone application Tinder in 2012, adults looking for a partner suddenly had an easier way: a match-based system that would ensure mutual interest.
“No matter who you are, you feel more comfortable approaching somebody if you know they want you to approach them,” said Sean Rad, co-founder of Tinder.
With the decision to swipe right or left on Tinder based largely on a small sample of photos and a brief bio, an attractive woman or man may easily have hundreds of matches on the app. This had led to people searching for romance being faced with an overwhelming number of options for the first time.
Sociologist Jean-Claude Kaufmann told The Guardian “”I’ve been researching love and coupledom for 30 years and now the internet has brusquely changed the rules of dating.”
Unfortunately, there is a downside to having so many options: indecision, and in many cases, dissatisfaction.
As people are faced with more and more choices, they develop a fear of picking incorrectly, and inadvertently passing up something better. Dating is not immune to this fear. Modern times have redefined the concept of a relationship, and today, many young adults are reluctant to label their intimate interactions with others. After all, by entering into a committed relationship they could be missing out on one of the thousands of online users who could be their soulmate.
However, the practice of relying on pictures and brief descriptions has resulted in unrealistic expectations. When two people who have met through online dating apps meet in person, they expect the perfection advertised in their profiles, and that they will feel a special connection that rarely develops instantly. When reality does not meet these expectations, they will simply move on to one of the countless other options they have instead of giving the relationship a chance to develop.
In addition, matching with new people on Tinder and similar apps generates a similar chemical response to receiving a text message, which triggers a release of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine is responsible for the reward center of the brain, and the resulting sensation is highly addictive. As such, people seek as many matches as possible to replicate this feeling.
“In this fantasy world we’ve become cavemen, where every ‘match’ becomes a hunt that triggers a transitory feeling of victory,” wrote journalist Meghna Pant. “This explains why more than half of Tinder matches never end up messaging each other. We enjoy the hunt, but not the cutting, slicing and cooking that is required after the hunt is over.”
This short-term approach to dating fits into the world of instant gratification in which millennials have grown up in. However, it has also had a negative impact on the traditional concept of the long-term relationship.
Falling in love takes time and effort, and such a commitment comes with the risk of failure and heartbreak. In addition, modern dating sites tend to downplay the risk involved, promoting themselves as a safer option. Meetic, a major online dating agency in Europe, employs slogans such as “Have love without risk.”
This combination of options, a reluctance to define relationships due to fear of failure, and a false impression of the risks of online dating, have led to a dating landscape that promotes casual interaction and a lack of emotional openness. At a time when sex has grown to be defined as a leisure activity more so than in any other generation, people have latched onto the idea of brief encounters followed by the effortless ceasing of contact.
After repeating this pattern over time, it is difficult not to develop a detached view of relationships as a whole. Once the enjoyment has worn off, people may be surprised to find that they have trouble transitioning back into the world of romance-seeking.
“The game can be fun for a while,” said Kaufmann. “But all-pervasive cynicism and utilitarianism eventually sicken anyone who has any sense of human decency. When the players become too cold and detached, nothing good can come of it.”
If millennials are to rediscover the joys of romance and long-term relationships, they must learn to balance their learned impatience with the natural human need for intimacy, and re-learn how to be vulnerable.
Unfortunately, as long as apps such as Tinder exist, such a lesson is unlikely to be learned anytime soon.
John Lynch is an outgoing Staff Writer and Editor. He will be attending Bridgewater State University in the fall, 2017 to study History. For more of John Lynch’s many contributions to the Massasoit Tribune, visit his author page.