For the protection of those still dating, all names in this article have been changed.
There’s no denying that dating has changed. With everything moving online, it’s become increasingly difficult to meet potential partners in person. Sure, perhaps you can still meet people in bars, through mutual friends, and at other kinds of events, but dating in the modern age almost requires that you join at least one – if not multiple – of the dating apps. It begs the question, in what ways has dating changed? In what ways has it remained fundamentally the same? We spoke to some folks who are still dating and one couple that has been married for over ten years to get their experiences and opinions on modern dating.
Modern-day dating terminology
Before we get started analyzing the way dating has changed, we first have to do a quick crash course on the modern day dating terms that are going to be used throughout this piece.
Ghosting is the practice of ending a relationship suddenly and without explanation by cutting off all communication.
Breadcrumbing is the practice of feigning interest in another person and having a relationship with them even when though you aren’t actually interested. Breadcrumbing is very similar to leading someone on and giving them the impression that there is a deeper level of interest than there really is.
Situationships are romantic or sexual relationships that aren’t exclusive, even though one partner usually wants it to be. The New York Times states that situationships are “a way for one party to enjoy the perks of a relationship without the associated accountability.”
Love bombing is sending “compliments, gifts, and other gestures of affection without a promise of exclusivity,” per The New York Times. Love bombing is typically done early on in a relationship, typically while two people are still in a “talking stage” and not yet exclusive.
Can you believe that back in the olden days you actually had to – gasp – meet people in real life? Sounds horrendous.
Technology has progressed so rapidly in recent years that it’s hard to remember what life was like without it. Certainly since the pandemic, technology has become so ingrained in our day-to-day lives that we rely on our phones to connect us to people in a variety of ways.
But in the 2000s and prior, you had to meet people face-to-face and hold a conversation with them. It’s awfully hard to ghost someone who’s standing right in front of you.
Jill and Jack, ages 34 and 36, met while they were in high school in 2006 and celebrated their tenth wedding anniversary this past year.
“We had homeroom together at school, so that’s where we met. We ended up getting each others’ screen names on AIM and he asked me out on a date, so I guess technology did play a role in our relationship,” Jill said.
Dates for Jill and Jack consisted of going to the movies and visiting the Kingston mall. They spoke on the phone a lot but mostly saw one another in person. “We didn’t text much because back then, texting cost minutes,” she laughed.
They did, however, talk frequently on AIM. “It was texting before texting really existed,” Jack said.
Case studies in modern dating
Debra, age 21
Debra, currently a senior in college, mainly meets people through dating apps, classes, and parties. She is active on both Tinder and Hinge, but said that dating apps have made her “a little brain dead.”
“We’re living in an era of self-importance and validation,” she explained. “I’ve caught myself going on Tinder just to check my matches so that I can feel that sense of validation. Sometimes my friends and I airplay our phone screens onto the TV and we ‘play’ Tinder and swipe through the options as a group. In that way, it feels like a game.”
Debra said that she’s found herself creating preconceived notions about people she’s only recently started texting, as well as overthinking and questioning behaviors.
“There was one guy that I went on three dates with, and we didn’t text or message much except to make plans. That was totally fine and normal, but I found myself questioning whether or not he cared or was really interested in me because we were seeing each other in person rather than messaging on our phones all the time,” she said.
Things went relatively well, but after a few dates, Debra felt like they weren’t really clicking and decided to end things.
In a different situation, she matched with a man who lived about an hour away from where she was. They immediately hit it off via text and found themselves talking constantly, joking, and even following one another on social media platforms. “We kept joking that we were love bombing one another and were going to end up ghosting each other,” she said.
After about three weeks of talking, they got together for a date. While she had a good time, she decided that it was time to ask the hard questions: “What are we?”
“I was like okay, enough beating around the bush. It’s time for clear communication,” she said. “I was ready to be exclusive, but it turned out that he had a bad experience with long-distance and didn’t want to do that again.”
Debra said that she was honest with him and shared that that wasn’t going to be enough for her, as she was looking for an exclusive relationship. They ended very cordially, with both respecting the other’s perspective.
She very easily could have looked at this experience as wasted time, but Debra chooses to believe that each of her dating experiences have served a purpose. “It’s been positive for the development that it’s given me personally. Each experience taught me something about myself. The more you put yourself out there, the more you respect yourself, and you’re able to develop expectations going forward.”
Debra said that her experiences have given her a point of reference for dating in the future. Now, she’s able to look back on experiences she’s had, recognize what she liked and disliked about her previous partners, and formulate what she wants going forward.
She’s also created a new benchmark for herself as it pertains to dating as well. “If I haven’t met you in person, I’m not going to be crying over you or dramatizing the connection.”
Will, age 20
Will’s experiences are a bit different, as he is no longer on dating apps and isn’t actively seeking a relationship. A sophomore in college, Will said that he used Tinder and Bumble during his freshman year, but has since stopped using both.
“I think we’re in this weird transition period where the older generations grew up actually talking to people, while the younger generations have been on their phones their entire lives,” he said. “Dating apps are wacky.”
Similarly to Debra, Will shared that he and his friends have also “played Tinder” or one of the other apps and swipe through matches as a group when they’re bored. “It makes you boil people down to one thing and dismiss them really quickly,” Will said. “If you meet people in person and you have conversations with them, I don’t think you judge them as quickly as you do on the apps.”
Will primarily meets people through his classes at school and through mutual friends. So far, he’s found dating to be more on the difficult side.
“I’m not actively seeking a relationship right now, so I’m not going on dates at the moment, but from what my friends have said, it sounds incredibly difficult,” he said. “One of my friends was talking to this girl and found out that she was talking to five other people, so it’s hard to know what people’s intentions are. Everyone is looking for something different.”
Linda, age 49
Linda was initially resistant to dating apps but has since acquiesced and found them to be quite successful.
“When I was in my 20s, people were still putting personal ads in the paper for dating. I always had a negative connotation with that and felt like it had this air of desperation,” she said. “When the apps first came out, I was very against them for that same reason, but now it’s just standard operating procedure and I’m okay with it.”
Linda has previously been active on Tinder and Hinge but currently only uses Bumble. She says that apps are the primary way that she meets people now.
While she says that apps might make some people more dismissive, she believes that the level of dismissiveness depends on the person. “I’ve found that when I’m a little more open-minded about people and not dismissive of them based on a couple of pictures and a few sentences on a profile, I meet some really nice people,” she said. “You just have to give people a chance. Have an open heart. I’ve found that most people are good.”
She does note that the apps are based on appearances, which makes it difficult not to judge a book by its cover. “It takes away the ability to meet someone that you might not necessarily find physically attractive, but once you start talking to them, you’re attracted to their personality,” she explained. It’s difficult to do that on apps, since physical appearance is the first thing that people are judged by their dating profile.
Linda has witnessed dating change throughout the years but also said that it’s remained the same in many ways. “I think that when you know yourself and you know what you want, you’re naturally attracted and drawn to people who are going to provide that for you on multiple levels. In that context, I don’t necessarily think that dating has changed that much.”
However, she’s noticed that there’s been a trend towards non-monogamy and casual dating. “For me, it’s just not really something I’d ever be interested in. I also think that it’s so ingrained in us as women not to date multiple people at the same time and to be committed to a relationship that the idea of non-monogamy is just incomprehensible to me,” she said.
Linda also believes that dating changes as you age. When she was in her 20s, she wasn’t necessarily searching for a life partner, so in many ways, she was more open to dating different people because she wasn’t hyperfocused on the relationship working out long term.
“Then you hit your 30s and as a woman, the whole ‘biological clock’ thing definitely starts affecting dating,” she said. “It’s not necessarily for the better, either, because there is this undercurrent of how if you’re going to have kids, then you have to meet someone soon. I think that can negatively affect finding partners because women sometimes settle with someone who maybe isn’t the right person for them long-term just because they’re running out of time to have children.”
Linda never had children, and she found that while she was dating in her 30s, there was a lack of suitable partners because many people had already coupled up.
“Then you hit your 40s, and it’s like a whole new world because everyone’s gotten divorced,” she mused. “As a woman, you’re past the point of having to worry about having children too, so that pressure is gone. It was incredibly liberating for me personally.”
Linda shared that when she was younger, she let her partners get away with more and spent more time hoping that they would change, rather than putting her own needs first and championing communication within her relationships.
“I think I was always so concerned about whether or not they liked me that I never really considered if I even liked them,” she said. “Now, I may still get bummed when it doesn’t work out or a bruised ego if they don’t like me, but I’m proud of myself for asking direct questions and staying true to my values even though I may lose the guy because of it.”
Thoughts on modern dating
Will thinks that sometimes ghosting is necessary. “There are definite reasons to just stop texting someone. I think you have to take it with a grain of salt and consider whether or not you said something that caused that person to cut you off or lose interest,” he said. “But if everything is going well, and they completely cut you off without giving you an explanation, that’s not cool.”
Linda previously thought that ghosting was necessary, but has discovered that more often than not, it’s just easier to be honest. “I’ve ghosted in the past, but I don’t do it anymore because then they keep texting you,” she laughed. “It’s better to be up-front and communicate.”
Will believes that breadcrumbing is something that everyone partakes in, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Leading someone on is obviously not a great thing to do, but Will believes it to be lower on the ladder of romantic offenses than some others, “There are ways to amend it.”
Situationships are a whole other story. Will described it aptly: “Situationships are like communism. If you see the collective spirit, patriotism, and uniting towards a common goal, it seems great on paper, but it’s almost always corrupted in practice. I’m not someone who can partake in a situation like that without developing feelings or getting attached. Too often friends-with-benefits and situationships can turn out awfully for at least one person, if not both.”
However, Will believes that the accepting nature of dating today has opened up the ability for people to have different kinds of relationships that were previously deemed “weird” or “unacceptable.” This claim is perhaps supported by the number of “ethical non-monogamists” that Linda has been seeing on her dating apps in recent months.
Jill and Jack agreed that their relationship is built on respect and communication, which is something that they think is sorely lacking in the dating world today. “People always think that the grass is greener somewhere else and they take for granted what they have,” Jack said. “There’s no respect in general. Jill and I never argue about anything and there’s no animosity because we communicate openly.”
Jill agreed. “I would be scared to death to date in this day and age,” she laughed. “The thing I admire most about our relationship is the amount of respect we have for each other. I admire how hardworking he is and how he takes care of our family. He always puts our family first. I genuinely wish that all the ladies can find their own Jack.”
The outlook seems rather bleak, with many folks becoming overwhelmed with the process of dating. However, both dating and technology will continue to evolve as they always have, and perhaps they will bring about a better system for meeting potential partners. Until then, whether you’re finding people face-to-face or through the apps, good luck. •