Here lies dating culture: Tinder killed it

With Cynthia Nixon’s gubernatorial campaign and subsequent loss in New York over the course of this year, the most educational and efficient use of my time was to binge-watch “Sex and the City.” The Emmy-winning and politically incorrect romantic comedy series stars Nixon as one of the four single 30-somethings who navigate Manhattan at the turn of the millenium. It’s a series I had yet to watch, and frankly, it was not one I had much desire to. How could these women—sexually superficial and career-oriented—align with the life of a college student who hasn’t had a date in literally years.

Once I collected myself after days of digesting the show’s six seasons and first movie (I refused to succumb to its disastrous sequel), it turns out that my doubt couldn’t have been more valid. These characters are hardly relatable to the average college student, with the prevailing difference being their dating lives; they frequently date multiple people (almost exclusively men) at the same time.

In my best Carrie Bradshaw impersonation, I began to wonder if these women, complicated and flawed, easily found an abundance of dates with horribly beautiful and interesting people two decades ago, why can’t my peers and I? Have we killed the culture of dating in our lifetime? And if it is truly gone, are we the murderers, or could we be the martyrs who let dating die off for our own benefit?

To clarify, a person who is dating is someone who goes on first dates, with few ending in second and third dates and others with a text to a friend asking them to call with an emergency, or more sinister, exiting through the bathroom window of the restaurant without saying goodbye or paying the bill. But because this older idea of dating is so foreign to college students, I began to wonder further: did dating like this ever actually exist? Could it have really been commonplace to date multiple people at a time? To imagine my primary plan for a Saturday night as going on a first date to dinner and a movie with someone I’m romantically interested in is, to say the least, unimaginable. I questioned my mother—a woman I imagined had dated regularly before my father based on stories she’s told me.

“I went on a decent amount of dates,” my mother said. “They were kind of the traditional dates you see on TV. They would straight-up ask me out, and we would go see a movie or get dinner. Usual date stuff, probably not what you guys do today.” My mother was right: most of the “dates” I have been on recently have been casual hang-outs with a smidge of romance. I don’t even clearly remember when I have been asked on an actual date; suitors’ exact words are always “Want to meet up?” or even “Let’s link.” It feels almost crude and cheeky, as if they’re playing a ridiculous prank on my tender heart.

After becoming frustrated that my mother had more game at my age than me, I began my search for the seemingly never-ending pool of dating hotspots at the nightclubs and restaurants frequented by Carrie and the gang here in Chicago, and I have come up short. Unsurprisingly, the dating scenes we see on “Sex and the City” and various other visual media are, in fact, now inhabiting cyberspace.

Chicago has the third highest number of Tinder users, just behind New York and Los Angeles, according to data they released to Business Insider. Today, when cyber-dating takes precedence over organically meeting someone, the search for a date is just a swipe away. But it’s almost impossible to believe this because some users, including myself, keep the app on their phone without using it frequently or seriously (I tend to swipe right on each person to see how many strange and humorous messages I can get). I’m not the only one who doesn’t use it as intended.

“Most people use [Tinder] for hookups,” said Taylor Haynes, a student at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “That’s where it should stay. It makes more sense for people to use it as a hookup app instead of its actual way as a dating app because the first interactions with people you meet off it are so awkward. Trying to make a real date out of it would be strange.”

It’s hard to tell how many young adults are using Tinder in its intended way. Regardless, after interviewing my way into the dating lives of many collegiate Chicago singles, Tinder seems to be the safest bet when searching for a “real” date. But there’s something about dating that gets lost in cyberspace, and it causes some unpleasant tension during the date.

“I’ve noticed that people I meet in real life, I’m more likely to be in a relationship with, and interacting (with them) is less awkward,” said Nick Swanson, 21. “But when you meet someone online, there’s this weird social barrier you have to overcome, and a lot of times, you never do.”

In this case, what’s lost is the one necessity of a good date: a tangible connection. Without the ability to interact face-to-face with the person on the other side of the screen, we can’t predict the lack of connection. Swanson said this can be due to the ease of online interactions.

“There’s people I got along with really well via texting, then you meet them in person, and you don’t even dislike them—you just don’t click,” he said, laughing and sighing simultaneously. “The conversation goes nowhere, and it’s just weird.”

Online dating provides comfort and ease for those with social anxieties who can’t approach someone in bar and ask them out, yet it’s created something of a dating monster. Dates are inevitably awkward if the person isn’t who you expected them to be. But hasn’t this always rang true? You meet someone in a bar, you spark up a conversation, you go on a date the following week, but you find out that they aren’t nearly as charming or entertaining without some dim lights or a drunken haze. It happened to Carrie and the gang hundreds of times.

Graphics by Victoria Williamson | The DePaulia