How Cringe Screenshots Killed Dating Apps

Lifestyle

“Is Tinder dead?” a Reddit user wondered late last year. “All the matches I get are prepayment scams and Tinder seeks to do nothing about it. They just make more accounts. I’m [matched] with 50 girls named Nicole that look like they got pictures from TikTok.”

It’s hardly the first time someone unhappily single has mused over the potential end of dating apps. The novelty of Bumble, Hinge, and Tinder (to say nothing of older sites like OkCupid, eHarmony, and Match.com) wore off long ago. The smartphone-era platforms peaked in the mid-2010s, and if you’re feeling lonely upon logging in, it’s not just you: The data shows that Tinder is steadily losing people, and there are signs that Gen Z has little interest in such services. When rival app Hinge crashed this past March, people rejoiced at their liberation from the tyranny of digital matchmaking. Overall, longterm swipers are feeling burnt out.

Yet none of these signs are so telling as the dating app dramas that have begun to erupt on social media almost every day. Once upon a time, these pairing algorithms held out the potential of a quick, convenient, confidential hookup. Short of that, you could at least enjoy a bit of playful banter that fizzled out before any plans were made. And you didn’t worry that this private conversation would gain a larger readership. Now, alas, you will be roasted by a match as they turn your profile and messages into fodder for Twitter, TikTok, or Instagram, where it will be swiftly churned into a toxic discourse that leaves absolutely everyone in a rage. This, apparently, is the way we fuck now: zero human contact, maximum hostility, right in front of the whole internet.

Take the recent instructive example of a young woman — who deleted her Twitter account amid a firestorm of her own creation — seeking to shame a man she deemed “mid” (or basic, boring, etc.) for being less traveled than she:

To state the brutally obvious: No one is forcing you to be on the apps. You are not compelled to match with anyone, or even carry on a conversation with them if you do. Disappointment and awkwardness are inextricable from the delicate process of trying to create personal bonds. You are allowed, nay, encouraged to give others the benefit of the doubt, whether or not you have inklings of affection toward them. Many couples have dumb and corny stories of how they met, full of misunderstandings or unintended slights. That it worked out in the end suggests they didn’t approach meeting a new person as some kind of pissing contest.

The globetrotter unimpressed with the guy who has only been to the Caribbean and a few national parks was clearly playing by different rules — those that existed only in her head. Not enough stamps in your passport? Congrats, you’ve earned a public humiliation. Except, as usually happens in these episodes, the tweet backfired, because it’s weird, mean-spirited, and entitled. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to date someone more adventurous, but that is a conversation you can have with your actual friends. The online mob will not reward you with clout for complaining about your own standards.

Also, not every exchange with a total stranger reads how you believe it does. Another shitshow transpired this week when an easily irked fellow tweeted that a Hinge match was a “dumb ho” for telling him that his profile was “insanely catered to the female gaze.” Again, you’re well within your rights to be turned off by such a line — maybe you should even craft a short standup comedy routine around it! — but why is that our problem? As the post went viral, the author got dogpiled for his antagonized response to what seemed like ordinary flirting, and the heat cranked up when his suitress leaked the messages he sent her after she called him out for the original tweet.

We have to assume that for each malcontent choosing to actively beef with strangers who showed interest in them, there are at least a dozen individuals starved for any such validation on these apps. The difficulties of dating are such that you can’t really get the masses on your side by turning your nose up at an average and available single in your area. Worse still, this uncharitable perspective has a way of boomeranging back at you: “No wonder they’re not taken,” everyone else gets to say.

The phenomenon extends beyond Tinder to prescriptive notions of courtship laid out on Twitter as if the final word on a subject. To see how that goes, check out the replies to a woman who several days ago scorned the prospect of meeting up for ice cream on a first date in your thirties as “bare minimum effort.” Rarely has a riled majority sounded so innocent in their protestations. Ice cream is a dealbreaker? What’s next, no holding hands? Should we just stay home instead?

In that case, don’t be surprised to find more people using Hinge to sell furniture instead of link up with potential partners. Or simply mining audio from the voice memo feature to make TikTok reaction videos — a voyeuristic subgenre that has collectively amassed untold millions of views. Any of this is better, presumably, than filling out a damn “exit survey” after a date, or answering boilerplate interview questions beforehand, two depressingly bureaucratic approaches to love that have nonetheless won converts through viral content. We like to blame technology for the state of romance today, but this obscures an important truth: We’re very good at inventing new ways to torture ourselves with it.

These various trends are steering us to the same outcome. Not the literal death of the apps, which will soldier on until some visionary offers a better angle than “gamification” for brokering initial coffee meetups. Rather, we are coming to a time in which too many people are active on these networks — as a contestant on a dating reality show might say — “for the wrong reasons.” In other words, many are using it to mediate their experience for a vast audience, enacting the overdetermined drama of it. What deserves to be brushed off as a meaningless missed connection must be perceived by others, and, most crucially, you must derive status value from it. The discretion it takes to keep stuff like this to yourself is draining out of the culture.

Go ahead, though. Post a dating app screenshot to convince yourself that you won, or your Tinder opponent lost, at a dialogue that was never meant to be competitive. The triumph can only be short-lived, because whatever their supposed offense, you will be subject to equal and probably harsher judgment. None of it will get you laid, let alone lasting companionship, but hey, anyone pulling this shit isn’t ready for a relationship anyway.

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