Magazine article Psychology Today

Love the One You're Near

Magazine article Psychology Today

Love the One You're Near

Article excerpt

A NEW WAVE OF GPS-ENABLED MOBILE APPS IS CHANGING THE WAY WE FLIRT AND DATE. BUT WHAT DO THEY MEAN FOR INTIMACY? by Jennifer Bleyer

IN THE BEGINNING there was online dating, with carefully curated profiles detailing everything from education level to favorite movies ana providing earnest answers to questions like "What's the first thing people notice about you?"

Then came the smartphone and, with it, mobile dating apps that can make online dating seem downright quaint. Forget personality; proximity and pouty lips are the new landmarks in the quest for love. Consider the popular "geosocial" app Tinder: You're shown a succession of user photographs, along with people's first name, age, and distance from you at the moment. There may be, at most, a line or two of personal description ("Always down to binge on Netflix," "I say YES to life!"). You swipe left to reject and move on to the next photo, or swipe right to express a liking, at which point you message the other or "keep playing," in the app's gamelike jargon. And thanks to the GPS connection, you know instantly if that guy with the come-hither eyes or the girl with the plunging neckline is just a block away.

Proximity is a helpful parameter for those interested mainly in casual sex, the original purpose of mobile dat- ing. It all began with Grindr, a geosocial app for gay men. Launched in 2007 and still largely used for hookups (or as some winkingly call them, "short-short-short-term relationships"), Grindr claims six million gay users worldwide and has become so entrenched in the cultural firmament that it's been namechecked on Saturday Night Live and Glee.

Location-based liaisons have surged well beyond their hookup origins, however. A 2011 report by Flurry, a mobile app analytics firm, found that the number of dating app users grew 150 percent between 2010 and 2011-including mobile add-ons to established online dating sites such as Match.com and OKCupid. In fact, 2011 was the first year that people spent more time on dating apps than on dating websites. The ascendance of mobile dating is expected to continue as host devices flourish: The Pew Research Internet Project reports that 58 percent of Americans now own smartphones, up from only 11 percent in 2008; the number is projected to hit 80 percent by 2018.

As the landscape of love-seeking shifts, many experts question whether long-term partners can be found by flicking through a river of pictures on a smartphone. With little to go on except appearance and location, mobile dating may be changing what people are looking for-a perfect 10 and nothing lessas well as what they're missing.

"You get into this mode of screening that sculpts a kind of superficiality and coldness," says Ken Page, a New York-based therapist and author of the forthcoming Deeper Dating: How to Drop the Games of Seduction and Discover the Power of Intimacy. "It's the opposite of giving somebody a chance. When you swipe really quickly-no, no, no-you're going to screen out most of the people in the midlevel of your attraction spectrum, which is a very fruitful place to look."

Even when people do agree to link up in person, the casual medium of the mobile app often becomes the message. Meeting through a vast and dehumanizing virtual marketplace, Page says, encourages people to see each other more as products and less as people, and to not afford each other common courtesy, let alone the focused attention it takes to forge a real, intimate connection. …

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