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The dating game

Courtney Thompson explores the spread of dating apps for the non-normative consumer.

Dating apps full size

You have just arrived at university; fresh-faced, bushy-tailed and ready for a sexual awakening. The question is, how will this awakening come to fruition? Hermanns on a Wednesday night could be a suitable option, but let’s face it, you are probably going to be downloading a dating app instead. And you are not alone.

While no official data is available for the number of Australians using dating services online, industry participants claim that the membership numbers would total in excess of 4.6 million. With such a broad cross-section of the community taking to dating apps, it is time to question the negative stigma that shrouds them. Mainstream discourse tells us that in order to meaningfully connect to another person, it must be romantic, sex will be involved and the relationship will be monogamous. However, more progressive narratives are beginning to be written, and dating apps are starting to embody them.

Here’s the lowdown on a few:

BUMBLE

Bumble, the ‘feminist’ dating app, was launched in response to Tinder. The app is similar to Tinder in that you swipe right or left to indicate interest, and are matched with people who have similarly swiped right. It differs however, where if the woman doesn’t strike up conversation with a match in the first 24 hours, the connection disappears. In doing this, the app aims at empowering women to reject patriarchal dating scripts, which prescribe that the man makes the first move.

While the premise is strong, people are still catching on to Bumble, so numbers are low. As a result, it takes roughly an hour to exhaust all swiping options. Moreover, when you do happen to land matches, and initiate conversation within the 24-hour time limit, only a small number will reply (2/40). The app also places more emphasis on appearance, as the person’s bio is not as readily available. Seemingly, this choice runs counter to its label as the “feminist” app.

3NDER

3nder challenges our society’s emphasis on monogamy. The app allows you to sign up as single or as a couple, providing the opportunity for threesomes. People are turning to it in order to explore, in a non-judgmental environment, the possibility of sexual encounters that exist outside of the heterosexual, monogamous conceptions of sex we were taught in sex-ed.

The app functions exceptionally well, and provides a wealth of options in terms of gender identity and sexuality, with one friend describing the vibe as “open” and “really chill”. Interestingly, she noted that of the couples she did speak to, it was often the woman taking charge, saying, “I mostly talked to the girls and they were like, “my partner is shy,” or they were just the ones leading it.” For her, however, no actual threesome came about, she said, “it was more chatting…it didn’t really go anywhere.”

SPOONR

Spoonr, an app with the tag-line, “ever just want a cuddle?” provides an opportunity for people who want a cuddle, without anything sexual, or even romantic. With the ability to report those who want more than a cuddle, the app gives space for the connections that don’t require sexual intimacy.

By not allowing people to set preferences for gender or age, the app encourages people to cuddle those they might not be attracted to, while still allowing for people to exercise consent by rejecting certain people they know they do not want to cuddle. Spoonr challenges our ideas of what kinds of people deserve comfort, and highlights the value of relationships as brief as a five-second hug.

This is all well and good until you actually download Spoonr and are confronted with a sausage-fest. Of the 38 people who were twenty minutes walk away from me, only 2 were women. Decidedly, I was not keen for a cuddle.

Clearly, we are not giving dating apps the reputation they deserve. Companies may be capitalising on progressive ideas of relationships, but nonetheless, small victories still must be celebrated. This explosion of new apps offers a more diverse and accessible understanding of what meaningful relationships are, contrary to the norms consistently pushed by the mainstream media.

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