I matched with a guy online last month who asked me for my Instagram handle 30 minutes before our first date when I was already on my way out the door. After a brief back-and-forth where we almost pivoted to just drinks, the date, which had already been on the calendar for a week, was canceled because he was “kind of tired.” The restaurant was only a 10-minute drive from his neighborhood or a 15-minute scooter ride since it’s downtown Denver.
Conventional wisdom suggests the proliferation of dating apps has made us more connected than ever. Now I wonder if most Americans can see through the cliché.
Tinder, the nation’s most popular dating app, has now been on the market for a decade with its debut in 2012. Singles seem no closer to long-term romance, however, with the number of U.S. adults living without a spouse or partner rising ever since, according to the Pew Research Center.
Marriage in the United States is at an all-time low, and remains in such steep decline that married people will soon be in the minority if not already. Less than 50 percent of heterosexual adults are married, and only 1 in 10 gays have tied the knot seven years after Obergefell, according to Gallup.
The ineffectiveness of dating apps reflects the cynicism of our addiction to tech. Rather than bring the marriage rate up, these platforms, which have fundamentally changed the dating game, have instead have been effective at accomplishing the very opposite. They keep Americans single.
Today the internet is the most popular forum for couples to meet, with more Americans partnering up online than through friends or colleagues. More than 44 million Americans report dating online, yet just 3 in 4 have ever successfully made it to the dinner table or a coffee shop while fewer and fewer see marriage on the horizon. More and more Americans might find companionship on the internet, but the mode of introduction is bringing down broad chances of success.
Instant gratification on a smartphone from a person’s bedroom takes comparatively a lot less time and effort than a 10-minute drive for an evening of small talk and potential awkwardness, especially when the next best match is always just one swipe away. According to the Pew Research Center, nearly half of Americans say dating is harder today than it was a decade ago.
That being said, I can’t help but notice our modern way of dating has seeped into the rest of our relationships. Our online conditioning to scan through certain traits we desire in our romantic partners seems to have bled into how we vet our friends.
When I became one of nearly 30,000 people to move to Colorado in the summer of 2020, I knew no one in Denver, let alone the entire state, and just about everything was closed. I used the Meetup app at first to find new people and sometimes snag a sought-after camping permit. It felt like I was dating for friends, which in every practical sense I was, whether I found them online, at church, or in the gym. People came and went, flaking felt routine, and ghosting was just as common. When there are so many people to choose from, decision paralysis ensues, just like dating. For a while, I thought I was just bad at making friends. And then I realized, no, my generation is just as terrible at making friends as it is dating (albeit some of my neighbors decided to disassociate over my controversial conviction that there are only two sexes, no kidding).
Things fell into place when I 1) stopped trying to pick my friends with a certain precision, and 2) actually spent time with people. Those lessons seemed to come awfully late at 24, but also somehow early.
I can’t count how many conversations I’ve had since moving across the country in which people about my age complain of an unfulfilling social life before they tout a list of character preferences down to income level and blow off game nights, parties, and road trips. Weed, video games, and door dash might fill the void, but the data suggests otherwise.
According to a Harvard University survey published in February last year, 36 percent of Americans reported “seriously loneliness.” Sixty-one percent of those in prime dating age, 18-25, said the same.
The results are based on a survey conducted in October 2020 when lockdowns remained coast to coast ahead of an election, but the numbers are not far off from pre-pandemic surveys. According to an NPR report on a poll from the health insurer Cigna in January 2020, “more than three in five Americans are lonely, with more and more people reporting feeling like they are left out, poorly understood and lacking companionship.” And loneliness left unchecked can be even worse for people than obesity.
But time alone doesn’t always correlate to loneliness, the latter of which is the result of not knowing how to be alone well — a problem the internet has exacerbated. This summer became especially enriching when I swapped my extra time online for literature and a dedication to the mountains. After all, I make my living on the internet.
My greatest lessons this year came from someone who lived 2,000 years ago, and not from Jesus, though church on Sunday has become a mandatory ritual. Coming across “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius, who was the last great Roman emperor, forced me to entirely recalibrate my online habits. Studying the ancient classic has now motivated me to seek out a place to rent in the mountains once my lease is up next summer, where I can read, write, and run all in a routine that’s up with the sun and down with the sun. Any more time streaming Netflix in a crowded city where you don’t even know your neighbors feels like a waste of a life.
Americans appear to be lonelier than ever, especially my own generation. At the same time, we’re also online more than ever, with about 1 in 3 adults reporting a “constant” presence on the internet. That number is up to nearly half for 18- to 29-year-olds.
Is it really a surprise then, that there’s such a mental health crisis when so many have fallen into the fallacy of the internet? That the internet, accessible on our palms 24 hours a day, can be the source of total fulfillment? Is living in the Metaverse, where developers want to integrate virtual sex, really the key to a life well lived? The answer is an absolute no.