Kate Iselin writes: Is online dating killing romance?

ARE dating apps killing romance? They’ve been responsible for some of the best dates – and the worst – according to Kate Iselin.

KATE Iselin is a writer and sex worker.

Her work has appeared in PenthouseThe GuardianThe Saturday Paper, and at her own blog where she chronicles her dating adventures at, Thirty Dates of Tinder. Today she writes for news.com.au: Is online dating killing romance?


Ask anyone whether they’ve used a dating app recently, and they’ll probably have an opinion to share. Thirty-five per cent of Australians have downloaded an app to help them date and relate, while more than half of us know a couple who has met online.

Still, according to market research company YouGov, 53 per cent of Australian Millennials would be embarrassed to admit that they met their partner online, and around a quarter of those in the older generations would agree.

Dating apps are responsible for some of the best dates I’ve ever been on … and also the worst. While the man who stayed up all night drinking tea and watching old films with me was a standout, the chap who took me to a food court and showed me a photo of his (soft) penis was one I’d rather not remember.

So are dating apps really killing romance? Or just changing the face of it?

Tinder, Grindr, Bumble and their ilk aren’t so far removed from the dating websites of 10 years ago, and the “Personals” section of the newspaper before that.

Simply write up a quick paragraph about yourself, choose a few of your most flattering photos, hit “upload”, and your future hopes and dreams have officially become a part of the digital landscape, ready for strangers from Darwin to Darlinghurst to accept or dismiss with a single swipe.

At their best, dating apps are quick and efficient ways for us to put ourselves out there to a captive audience of fellow singles, who can now message hundreds of potential paramours from the comfort of their couch. With a dating app, meeting people is no longer something you need to get all dressed up for and dedicate your Saturday night to: it’s as quick and easy as checking your bank balance while you’re on the bus on the way home.

But at their worst, dating apps arouse the suspicions many of us have about smart phone technology: they’re impersonal. They make our private search for love in to a public spectacle. And they cheapen the experience of flirting, developing feelings, and falling in love; turning it in to little more than some simple thumb movements and bright, flashing colours on a screen. Right?

I’m an avowed user of dating apps. At times, my phone screen has contained Tinder (one of the original and most popular dating apps), Bumble (an app that only allows the woman to send the first message, aiming to lessen the amount of misogynistic abuse many women experience when using dating apps), and Her, an app for women, queer, and gender non-binary people.

Given the variety of dating apps out there, I’m surprised I never made it to Bristlr (an app for bearded men and those who want to date them) or Cuddli (an app for self-described geeks). I am a vegetarian, so I doubt I’d have much fun on Sizzl (an app for bacon lovers) … but SaladMatch, an app that creates pairings based on what salads users like to eat, and what time of the day they usually eat them, might have more promise.

No doubt some of these apps sound silly. There’s more to making a lasting connection with someone than realising you both like to tuck in to your kale and rocket combo at lunchtime every day; but the sheer quantity of different people available for you to meet is what I love most about dating apps: choice.

Although it’s easy to get swept up in a daydream of what love and romance were like in the “good old days”, those days sadly weren’t all that good unless you were a member of a select, privileged few.

The romantic days of yore that we long to imagine were also the days in which sexual and reproductive healthcare and education was extremely limited, women were frequently expected to give up their jobs and spend their lives barefoot in the kitchen after getting married, and anyone who had romantic or sexual attractions to people of the same gender often found themselves banished from their families, friends, and communities.

The good old days might have looked fun for Sandy and Danny in Grease, or Noah and Allie in The Notebook, but in the real world many romances were formed not after a period of personal exploration and experimentation, but under societal pressure to get married, have babies, and form a heteronormative family unit as quickly as possible. An attractive proposition? Not for me.

Dating apps enable anyone with a smartphone and an internet connection to go out and find their people, whoever they may be. For anyone whose gender, sexuality, or lifestyle falls outside the norm, a dating app is a safe and accessible way to meet other members of our communities without worrying about the potential danger involved in disclosing intimate details about ourselves in a face-to-face meeting with a stranger.

And for those whose ability to meet people is limited by geography, a dating app is a quick solution: stuck in a small town and wishing you could meet more people like yourself? Expand the reach of your app and you can find yourself swiping your way through a major city.

Of course, while apps offer us increased access and choice in our romantic endeavours, even an expert swiper like me can admit that our app-y new reality has downsides. Opening an image I’ve received on an app is always a gamble: will it be an innocent photo of my potential date’s cat, or their sunset view? Or will it be the scourge of online communications everywhere: the dreaded unsolicited dick pic?

When a new Tinder message pops up on my screen, does it contain my love interest’s weekend plans? Or a detailed and completely unwanted description of what they’d like to do in bed with me? Worse, is it a stream of insults and abuse, sent at random and for no reason whatsoever?

While dating apps do take away the nerves of speaking one-on-one with a crush, they can also make us feel comfortable — way too comfortable — or trick us in to thinking that because the person on the other side of the screen isn’t sitting in front of us, then they don’t have real feelings or reactions to our behaviour.

Still, this is hardly the app’s fault.

We might be pressing our thumbs to a screen instead of holding hands with a lover, but we are no less ourselves online than we are anywhere else.

Perhaps dating apps don’t display a distorted, impersonal view of the world but show us as we really are: some of us failing miserably at romance as we progress through the world with Tinder-sized chips on our shoulders; and others, full of hope, putting their best swipes forward.

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