Technology has bled into every facet of our lives. Our phones and gadgets have become our maps, personal assistants, and, more recently, our matchmakers. With apps like Bumble, Tinder, and eHarmony, more and more people are finding their partners online. In 2017 alone, 19% of brides found their spouses through an online or mobile dating service. Simultaneously, many psychologists and love experts are wary of the effects technology has on our relationships, romantic and otherwise. With our phones near us constantly, how is our ability to love and be loved changing, and is it possible to find unconditional love in a constantly connected world?

Part 1: “Swipe Culture”

The use of dating apps and online sites have created a culture that gives us relatively unlimited access to a variety of potential dates. While there are many articles written about the harm dating apps may have on our psyche and self-worth, the main issues usually discussed revolve around making inferences and drawing conclusions about people based on their looks and user provided, surface-level facts, as well as the false sense of intimacy the messaging systems in the apps instill in their users.

If you’re unfamiliar with dating apps, a majority of them have a user interface that allows one to upload the best pictures of themselves and write a short bio. The short bios are usually witty and will outline what that person is looking for in terms of a partner. Then, your profile populates the feed of other users in a chosen radius and they swipe left if uninterested or right if they’d like to connect. Some apps only allow messaging if both users are interested, but others allow messaging as long as one person has expressed interest.

From there, the users can engage in conversation through the app’s messaging function, but we’ll get to that a bit later. Finding “matches” in this way is problematic because it is mainly based on looks and shallow interests. This creates a culture in which users will swipe and swipe until they find “the next best thing.” How can unconditional love be established if one of these matches panned out, if the relationship was based on conditions like looks and interests? In many ways, matching on dating apps feels more like a competition with the desired reward being love.  

Once the initial connection is made, users can go to the app’s messenger and begin chatting with their match. The messaging on these apps allow for near constant communication with “matches,” which can create a false sense of intimacy in a number of ways. Communicating in a solely digital way doesn’t allow for organic interaction. Without being able to hear and see emotion through vocal inflection or body language, intimacy cannot fully be established. Furthermore, being able to craft perfect responses isn’t a true reflection of what conversation will look like in reality.

There are billions of people in the world. It’s easy to get caught up in the idea that there could always be someone else, someone better. But that thinking only sets people up for general unhappiness because they’ll never be happy with what they have. Learning to love someone without anything in return is one of the first steps towards unconditional love, not choosing someone based only on their appearance or an interest in all of the same things. So, if dating apps work through giving you exactly what you want, are they really setting you up for a happy and loving relationship?