To Love Or To Swipe? Millennials & Gen-Z Discuss Love And Dating Apps

To Love Or To Swipe? Millennials & Gen-Z Discuss Love And Dating Apps
Manasi Patankar for Homegrown

Back in 2015, when dating apps were just starting to become all the rage, the BBC posted an article posing a rhetorical question –– are dating apps killing romance? 3 years on, a person far away from BBC Headquarters would ask their friend if they should join a dating app in a desperate attempt to both forget a bad breakup and to forge a connection to escape the loneliness and low self-esteem that accompany heartbreaks.

Over the past 10 years of my life that I’ve spent dating (yes, I started young), I’ve also spent time on-and-off dating apps, to fill the void and time in-between relationships. Over the past year though I’ve questioned both what love means and whether love can be found on dating apps.

Now in my mid-twenties, I’ve seen myself and a lot of my friends stumble through love, bad relationships, fun first dates and both funny and scary dating app instances. While we still don’t know what love means, dating apps have been an exciting space to experiment, sometimes to invent alternate personalities for ourselves, and sometimes to just shoot an arrow in the dark hoping Rihanna was right about finding love in a hopeless place.

As is with all things I don’t know the answer for — I do a Google search at 4 AM. I google ‘What is love?’. It leads me to a Guardian article explaining the ‘science behind romance’; the perfect chemical cocktail for a date. I think to myself if love is just chemicals in the brain, can love be manufactured in a lab?

Since Google felt like no help, I had to find an alternate route and since I have only a number of friends (literally can count them on my fingers) we decided to ask our readers — in a world spoilt for choice by dating apps, where romance is fleeting, impatient and often shallow by virtue of our frantic, mile-a-minute lives, what does love means for Millennials and Gen-Z? Has its meaning changed? Or do we look at love like we always have — butterflies in the stomach, stolen kisses, sleepless nights and endless conversations and laughter?

A word about our responses:

  • The age group of the respondents ranged from 15-34 years old.
  • 83.3% of the respondents said their pronouns were she/her, 8.3% identified as he/him and another 8.3% identified as they/them.
  • Most of our respondents were from metropolitans like Bengaluru, Delhi-NCR, Mumbai, New York, Berlin and Hyderabad. 
  • 58.3% of our respondents said they weren’t on a dating app at the moment, 33.3% said they were on a dating app and  8.3% didn’t wish to reveal.
  • 50% of our respondents agreed to having been in a relationship with someone they met on a dating app and 50% said they’ve never been in a relationship with someone from a dating app.
  • In order to ensure qualitative responses, we did not push people to force-fit their answers to the available list of options but provided space for them to choose otherwise.

Love Is A Thousand Different Things

As a society, we are obsessed with love. But even in all its encompassing glory, love is complex, complicated and confusing. Time and again we find ourselves turning to pop culture to make sense of this feeling called ‘love’.

While love can mean a million different things and there are numerous versions of love that exist, don’t we all have our own grand theories about love? Some of us think that having no grand theory is love, which is again, a grand theory in itself.

One of the first questions we asked our respondents was what does love mean for you?

For 21-year-old Goa resident Anukriti Bisht, “Love is a place of comfort at the crux of it. It’s a feeling that makes me want to change for the best, at all times. It’s someplace I feel comfortable being me, unabashedly — and it’s a place that makes me want to grow into better, healthier patterns organically. It’s something that knocks the wind out of me and makes me feel warm and fuzzy, all at the same time. Love for me parallels acceptance. Accepting a person, situation or being in their entirety– basking in the good with them, and holding their hand through the bad.”

While many respondents seemed to agree with this general idea of love being this space of comfort, intimacy and vulnerability, as is with the fleeting nature of feelings, some just couldn’t think of it as a mere concoction of emotions.

“Love is a choice. You may/may not like the person, but loving them is CHOOSING to show up for them even on the bad days. Love is about choosing growth over instant gratification. Love is being an honest mirror and helping them love the messy parts of themselves,” said 23-year-old Mahima Hinduja from Mumbai.

Unfortunately when we think of love, we tend to do so from a largely heteronormative lens of boy-meets-girl but that is far from the truth.

Hyderabad-based 29-year-old Patruni Chidananda Sastry reminds us, “Love is gender blind to me, where I don’t see the gender of the other person but receive love as a whole. I am a pansexual person married to a heterosexual woman, our love is always genderless. It’s like removing gender tags around our world and being into each other always.”

At the end of the day though, we all have this desire to be seen. As author Caleb Azumah Nelson writes in Open Water, “It’s one thing to be looked at, and another to be seen.” For 31-year-old Bhavani Kunjulakshmi, who is a resident of Berlin, it meant having to come to terms with the racial aspect of love in largely white countries.

“To me, love is a willingness that comes from deep within to see each other, wholly, being curious to learn about each other, feeling moved to nurture each other and wanting to participate in one another’s healing journey. Being a queer subaltern woman living in a predominantly white city, for me to feel safe with a white person, they need to be actively doing the labour to learn about their white fragility, to reflect on the micro-violence that’s bound to occur in interracial intimate spaces, to unlearn and to transform what their privilege affords them to be complicit about.”

— 31-year-old Bhavani Kunjulakshmi from Berlin.

Can Love Be Found On Dating Apps?

Blame it on Karan Johar for conditioning us all into manifesting meet-cutes while looking for love and partners; because no one I’ve ever met on a dating app has ever said they were looking for love there.

In fact it seems to be quite the popular opinion among our respondents as well who echoed a strong ‘no’ when it came to finding love on dating apps.

For some who weren’t exactly looking for love, love came in the form of realisations, of understanding the self and one’s own behavioural patterns when it comes to relationships.

As Bhavani narrates, “I wasn’t looking for love when I was using dating apps. It was just after having started therapy. I became suddenly aware of my patterns, my triggers, my trauma bonds etc. I was eager to swim against the current and break the cycle so I started dating multiple types of people so I could observe why I felt a certain pull towards certain behavioral patterns. I wanted to unlearn that consciously. I had started listening to Esther Perel a lot and reading bell hooks regularly around the same time. So I started see love as an action and longevity as an irrelevant measure of connection. During that process, which lasted a year on OkCupid, I met a person I wanted to become exclusive with.”

For others, dating apps provided a buffer space, that essential waiting period of getting to know the person, and a way of avoiding the awkward silences to break the ice.

Such was the case for 27-year-old New-York based Purna, who said that she ‘sort of’ ended up looking for love on dating apps because she was not good at meeting people in real life. “Meeting them online gave me a chance to stalk them and get some baseline information about them before meeting them,” she explains.

Shifting The Idea Of Love

The only constant is change. In a world that has promptly turned digital owing to social media and Big Tech and a world forever changed by the pandemic, we are experiencing love like never before. In a polarised world, what you believe in and stand for becomes the driver of relationships. It becomes the way we want to be understood, accepted and loved.

“Love is deeply political,” proclaims Bhavani for whom dating apps have provided a space to filter out people with differing political ideologies that stand in the way of their own perspectives. Essentially it has helped them in weeding out those wokewashing or with hypocritical stances such as those who say ‘Black Lives Matter’ but also support Israel.”

But have dating apps made it even harder to truly find love in all its glory? Is the hide-n-seek of old age romances lost forever? Is love even on the cards in a spoilt-for-choice dating world?

“Finding true love on a dating app is still very much the exception and not the rule. It may work for some, but the rule still says that for most, it just won’t work out. And I don’t wholly blame creators of dating apps for it, but I do feel like something needs to fundamentally change to ensure that people actually find what they’re seeking,” says 20-year-old Ishika Bhingarde from Mumbai.

Mahima voices the same concern saying, “I think it’s put relationships in the same category as online shopping. It makes us feel that people are disposable. We’ve lost the value of organically finding a connection that’s unique to us.”

34-year-old A. Agrawal feels the same, saying, “There is no love on apps. They are means to an end. Continuous motion between blurred emotions and faces. A struggle between old school stability and new cool experiences.”

“Catfishing, fake accounts, cyber stalking/bullying are extremely prevalent in a world as digitalised as ours, and that ultimately makes dating apps potentially unsafe spaces for individuals to put out their data and images, even with the ‘guaranteed privacy’ rules or the report + block options. There is no essence left to love then, when at the end of the day you can barely believe anything you see on virtual spaces like dating apps. They’re an interesting invention and I see how they could work out were there upgrades made to them, but for most of us at this point, they’re not the best alternatives to find love, mostly because of how much they can ruin your perception of love.”

— 20-year old Ishika Bhingarde from Mumbai.

Agreeing with her point of view, 22-year-old Jhalak Ubhriyani from Nashik says, “I dislike the idea of love being ‘available’ right next door or just a click (or swipe) away. I think the beauty of love emerges when you’re patient with it, when you work for it and most importantly, love happens to you when you are not deliberately looking for it. I miss the unpredictability and the desire to be surprised. Dating apps make love too accessible and that makes people not take it seriously.”

23-year-old Ash from Kerala tends to agree that dating apps have changed dating but she believes it’s all for the better, “I never thought there was a possibility of becoming close with someone I met on an app but constant and open communication has helped us stay together for over three consecutive years and that too in a long distance (setup).”

While many are apprehensive about finding love on dating apps whether it be because of concerns of safety for women and queer folks or feeling that it only offers hookups and no real connection, there is no denying that dating apps have changed the dating game.

Some, like Bumble, have subverted the conversation around dating by allowing women more agency and others, like Hinge and OKCupid, allow for people to openly list out their sexuality, ideological, sexual and other physical preferences when looking for a partner. It has also allowed those with social anxiety to have more open conversations as they can type from the safety of being behind a screen.

So, what do dating apps mean for love? What do we do?

We keep adjusting. We keep loving. One day (or swipe) at a time.

Feature image credits: Manasi Patankar for Homegrown

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