Rewind 20 odd years and the online dating world was certainly something you didn’t speak openly about. Mention that you met your partner, your husband, or your wife online in 2021, and no one bats an eyelid.
And while it’s easy to point to the ubiquity of smartphones and social media for the rise of online dating, ask anyone who’s currently looking for love, and they’ll soon tell you — it’s not always easy to meet someone in real life. For many, the days of meeting someone through friends or family or at work seem to be over. So, apart from the undeniable rise of and reliance on smartphone tech, what’s changed exactly?
“The expectations of millennials these days are so extreme,” says psycho-sexologist and Bumble spokeswoman Chantelle Otten. With a dire local housing crisis, more pressure than ever before to achieve those #careergoals and #fitnessgoals — which alone can feel like a second full-time job — it’s no wonder that dating apps have become the norm.
“We are trying hard to build a life, build a career, to be able to afford a mortgage, and it’s an extreme amount of hard work and pressure.” At the end of the day, Otten says that for many of us this means we’re time and energy limited. “We don’t have as much time to go out and meet people as we once did.”
Interestingly enough, a handful of studies in recent years back up Otten’s thought. According to numerous reports, millennials don’t drink, have as much sex, or go out previous generations, and a 2020 Pew analysis of Census Bureau data discovered that the majority of 18- to 34-year-olds in the US live at home with their parents.
And then, of course, there’s Covid-19, which has taken its toll on those hoping to meet someone IRL. “Before the pandemic, we were all travelling more; there was more opportunity to meet people,” explains Otten.
But she’s quick to add that it certainly hasn’t been all doom and gloom where Covid’s impact is concerned. In fact, Otten believes that the pandemic is to thank for the dramatic shift in dating mentality over the course of the last year.
A new era
In their infancy, dating apps, such as Bumble, were launched with the primary purpose of helping people find partners. “But, as time went on, there was a bit of a shift, and some of the apps tend to promote more of a hook-up culture,” Otten says. As we’ve come to realise just how accessible people around us can be and how easy it is to find someone with a simple swipe of the smartphone, it’s only natural that some of us have gone a little swipe-right happy, she explains.
And while dating apps do run the whole gamut of relationships — in Bumble Date, you can select Relationship, Something Casual, Don’t Know Yet, or Marriage under Looking For — Covid seems to have possibly worked in favour of those looking for something more serious.
During the pandemic’s peak, Otten says that there was an entirely different dating landscape to the hook-up culture that some apps had become synonymous with. “We started doing more slow dating, because people weren’t allowed to go out and meet people,” she says.
We had to stay home and, as a result, go back to a dating mentality: “We started getting to know each other on a deeper level rather than searching for the next person and the next person and the next person.”
It’s a shift that Otten believes is here to stay too. “It really has changed the way the people date, and it did make people slow down quite a bit,” she says. “We’ve learnt more about the vulnerabilities of who we’ve been talking to because we’ve all been impacted from a financial point of view, from a mental-health point of view. A lot of people really shifted the way they were thinking about their entire lives, not just dating, and have reprioritised what was important to them.”
It's a match
Naturally, dipping your toes into the online dating world can be a little daunting, especially when it’s a serious relationship that you’re after. But, as Otten points out, female-founded Bumble has taken various steps to ensure that it’s a safe space for women. “Women make the first move, and that’s definitely helped the narrative — that it is a platform that is really serious about connecting people rather than hook-ups,” she explains.
Otten believes that it’s something that has helped instil a lot of confidence in women who use the platform. “You’re allowed to kind of showcase yourself and the way that you want to be perceived in your profile,” she says. And, rather than settle for the nearest eligible partner, Otten says that apps like Bumble empower women to find their perfect match. The dating pool really is at your fingertips.
Not only do women make that first move, but, unlike other platforms, pictures can also be verified — so you know that who you’re talking to is exactly who they say they are. And, more recently, Bumble has banned body shaming from the app. The move bans unsolicited and derogatory comments made about appearance, body shape, size, or health and extends to language that can be deemed fat-phobic, ableist, racist, colourist, homophobic, or transphobic.
As for finding someone special online or on an app, Otten says the best piece of advice to remember is that if you’re enjoying talking with someone, move it into the real world as soon as possible. “I really believe in dating anyone that you connect with and going on as many dates as possible, because that person might be great for you or they might not be great for you, but you need to meet someone in person to really know that,” she explains. Otten says there’s not really any such thing as too soon where dates are concerned: “Don’t waste your time. I don’t believe in lingering on the app. Apps like Bumble are designed to get you off the app and on a real-life date as soon as possible.”
Otten says that embracing the same upfront approach is always best. This goes for both successful and not-so-successful dates. While ghosting has become somewhat synonymous with the world of dating apps, Otten advises not beating around the bush — be honest; it might be awkward at first, but it will end up being easier for everyone involved. The same goes for successful dates too. She says forget about any outdated notions that sending a follow-up message after a date might be seen as needy: if you had a great time, let them know. And, at the end of the day, her number- one piece of advice is simple: “Be open.” After all, you never quite know who you might meet if you take a chance and swipe right.
App dating 101
Otten says don’t overthink it when you’re curating your online dating profile, but there are a few things you should be mindful of. She suggests steering clear of using photos with heavy filters applied to them and using group photos. “It’s hard for potential matches to know who they’re talking to,” she says.
As for red flags to keep an eye out for, Otten says that if you pick up on the fact that someone doesn’t share your values, it’s usually best to just move on. “There are plenty of people out there that will have the same values as you. And, of course, being aware and being savvy is the best way to be.”
Chantelle Otten is a Melbourne based Psycho-Sexologist who is passionate about empowering people to feel great about their sexual health and self-esteem.