Swipe left on dating: technology changes relationship culture

By Lianna Lieberman

For many, the days of meeting someone in person are long gone as people are relying on technology more and more to meet their significant other.

The rising use of technology has changed the way people interact with one another in relationships from dating to just connecting. This change, mostly seen starting with the millennial generation, has created a dating world where meeting through an app is more common than meeting by chance, and relationships are made public for the world to see.

Damon Rappleyea, an associate professor and program director of human development and family science at East Carolina University, said that he has seen a shift in dating culture that is largely attributed to technology. “Twenty to 30 years ago there was a much more pronounced culture on dating when it was more personalized,” Rappleyea said. “We’ve become more casual with the access of our phones.”

The PEW Research Center reports that the number of American adults using dating apps has tripled since 2013, and is only expected to keep increasing. The highest jump has been seen in adults ages 18 to 24 with a jump from 5 percent to 22 percent. This research also reports that nearly six-in-10 college graduates know someone who uses online dating, and almost half know someone who has married or long term dated someone they met online.

Go and look up “dating apps” in the app store and you’ll find countless options for everybody. There’s the classic Tinder, then there’s Bumble, where women take charge and message first. There’s ones based on religion like JSwipe for Jews or Christian Mingle. If you’re interested in big girls or farm boys there are specific apps for that too, as well as countless apps that advertise “casual dating and one night stands.”

These casual dating apps have created a new “hookup” culture where people connect online for a quick sex date, and then never see each other again. The American Psychiatric Association defines hookups as brief uncommitted sexual encounters between individuals who are not romantic partners or dating each other. Recent data from the PEW Research Center suggests that 60 percent to 80 percent of North American college students have had some sort of hookup experience, and 70 percent of sexually active 12-to-21-year-olds reported having had uncommitted sex within the last year.

ECU sophomore Sammy Kopac said as she’s gotten older she has seen the growth of hookup culture among her friends. “Personally, I don’t know anyone who’s actually dated someone they met on Tinder,” Kopac said. “Most of my friends meet guys on Tinder, go on a couple dates, hook-up, and then never see each other again.”

The hookup culture isn’t just seen in teenagers and college students. It is also seen in adults aged late 20s to early 30s just interested in a quickie. In the 2015 Vanity Fair article “Tinder and the Dawn of the “Dating Apocalypse,” author Nancy Jo Sales interviewed multiple young adults who use apps like Tinder or Bumble to meet up with multiple people each week. “It’s setting up two or three Tinder dates a week, and chances are, sleeping with all of them, so you could rack up 100 girls you’ve slept with in a year,” one investment banker in the article said. Another man said he slept with eight women in the week prior, despite them not knowing anything about one another.

Through multiple studies, the American Psychiatric Association reports that the rise in the hookup culture has also seen a rise in the risks to mental and sexual health of those engaged in uncommitted sexual acts. One study found that men and women who had uncommitted sex had lower overall self-esteem than those who did not have uncommitted sex. Another study found that women who engaged in uncommitted sexual acts had higher levels of mental distress than those who didn’t. A 2009 study of college students found that nearly half of the students were unconcerned about contracting sexually transmitted diseases during a hookup, and only 46.6 percent reported using a condom. The hookup culture also perpetuates rape culture, with many college students on hookups reporting being raped.

For those in relationships, technology can have a different aggravating impact. A 2014 PEW Research Center poll reported 42 percent of cell phone owners aged 18-29 in serious relationships have felt their spouse or partner was distracted by their cell phone. ECU junior Troy Brown has experienced this distraction with his own girlfriend multiple times. “When [my girlfriend] and I are together we can get distracted by our phones and not really talk to each other,” Brown said.

This same study also found that 8 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds were upset by something their partner was doing online. Victoria Simpson, a sophomore pre-med student at ECU, said that she and her boyfriend have gotten into multiple arguments about things online. “We got into a huge argument because he didn’t tell me he was going to a girl’s house and I saw it on Snapchat,” Simpson said.

When asked about fighting with a romantic partner, one high school boy in a PEW Research study said, “Once you go public [with a fight], your relationship will never be the same. It’s like you’ve messed up everything. That’s the end of the relationship.”

The study also reported that 69 percent of teen daters who use social media agree that too many people can see what’s going on in their relationship on social media. “People will post pictures about how they have the perfect relationship, but you don’t know what’s really going on,” Simpson said. “Only what they want you to think.”

Technology is creating a world where swiping left and right is more commonplace than meeting someone in person, the ‘y’s at the end of ‘hey’ indicate levels of interest, and heart and kissing face emojis replace “I love you’s.” “If I didn’t already have a boyfriend, dating apps definitely would have played a part in how I met people,” Kopac said.

Lieberman produced this story for her spring 2017 class, Media Writing & Reporting.