Swipe left. Swipe left. Swipe left. Swipe right. The sudden flick of the thumb across the screen of his iPhone 6 is how Colin Clayton, a 19-year-old student at Northwestern University from Edwardsville, Illinois, navigates through the dating app Tinder in order to find a potential match. A swipe left means a pass, while a swipe right indicates interest. In these simple motions, a relationship is born.
“I really like Tinder because I meet people who are outside Northwestern. You meet different people that you wouldn’t normally meet,” said Clayton. “Especially as a gay person, the dating scene is very digital. It’s harder to meet people just in public out and about.”
Young Americans are more connected than ever. According to Pew Research, 45 percent of Internet users ages 18-29 in serious relationships say the Internet has had a serious impact on their relationship and 11 percent of American adults have used online dating sites or mobile dating apps.
“I think there’s been the capacity to meet people online for a long time, but there’s been a social stigma surrounding it,” said Karen North, a professor of digital social media at the University of Southern California in a phone call. “The reality behind what’s really happening is that socializing with people via social media has very recently become acceptable enough for people.”
For many in relationships – particularly long-distance relationships – technology is often what allows couples to remain connected while apart. Nicole Paykert, a 23-year-old legal secretary from East Meadow, New York, has been in a long-distance relationship with her boyfriend, David, who lives in Liverpool, England, for almost three years. The couple met on the blogging platform Tumblr and stay connected through WhatsApp, Skype, Xbox Live and social media.
“There are days when I come home from work stressed or really excited about something and I wish I could come home to David,” Paykert said in a phone call. “I call him when I get out of work and that sometimes helps, but it’s not the same as when we’re together and I can just plop down on the couch and just be with him. And if either of us isn’t answering or the app isn’t working or our phone’s crash, then we’re cut off.”
An informal survey regarding technology and relationships created by this writer was conducted with 250 anonymous individuals ages 18 to 29 years old. Fifty-two percent of survey respondents said they would use a dating app to find a future partner.
“I think for students it [online dating] is seen as a little bit weird and stigmatized,” said Jeremy Birnholtz, a communication studies professor at Northwestern University. “You have endless social opportunities to interact face-to-face with people your own age, and the fact you would choose not to do that and instead meet people online is a little bit weird. But once you get out into the real world, you’re not surrounded by people who are just like you anymore.”
However, one app – Tinder – has potentially cracked the code of getting the college-aged demographic to use dating and matchmaking services, exploding in popularity since its start in 2012 and garnering over one billion “swipes” per day. In the same informal survey, almost 40 percent of respondents stated that they have used Tinder, which gives significant reason to believe that the stigma surrounding younger individuals using dating apps and websites is slowly diminishing.
“Tinder may be the breakthrough though because it’s simple and location based,” said North. “With Tinder, you also don’t have to put up a profile. You just put up a picture and you don’t have to put up a lot of information.”
Some young adults, however, are choosing to meet their partners the old-fashioned way: in person. Claudia Harmata, 19, is a Northwestern University student from Chicago who met Connor, her boyfriend, on the second day of their freshman orientation.
“I was with a friend and she introduced us, and then a few days later we all met up again and as we talked more, we found out we lived ten minutes from each other,” said Harmata.
They then started talking frequently on Snapchat, the instant photo-messaging app, since signal problems caused issues between the two when texting.
“Ever since we started dating, we’ve started talking a lot less on technology,” said Harmata. “We see each other in our dorm every day, and mostly we’ll send each other texts to coordinate when to meet up.”
Constant connectivity, however, has enabled individuals to be hyper-aware of what’s going on, when it’s happening and who’s involved, especially in the aftermath of failed relationships. Oscar Peinado*, a 21-year-old junior at the University of Pennsylvania from McAllen, Texas, was in a relationship with another university student for seven months before it ended and cites that Facebook has made it harder to cut ties with his ex.
“With respect to my ex, who I think sees basically everything I post and comment on because she is very active in social media and follows my closest friends, I try to maintain the image of myself that I had while together so that I don’t appear as though I’ve lost my s–t,” said Peinado. “My Facebook usage has been much more active, and I’ve been more open about what’s going on in my personal life and have shared recent successes knowing that my ex will see them.”
As the world becomes more connected and technology continues to evolve and find spaces in even our most intimate relationships, more individuals are now able to find truly compatible partners and create a love that extends beyond the software it was founded upon.
“People always ask why I would be in a long distance relationship if it was so tough,” said Paykert. “I’d rather be in a long distance relationship with him, where we get each other perfectly and we really love each other than settle for anything less with someone close by. What we have is worth it.”
*Name has been changed