While it is abundantly clear that not all users are using dating apps with the desire to find their one true love, there is ample evidence–both in this study and others, such as that undertaken by Hobbs et al
However, there is no denying that the conditions of modernity have greatly shaped the way people approach romance. Eva Illouz (1997) argues that the twentieth century saw the emergence of romance being experienced through rituals of consumption, such as dates. Bauman (2003, loc. 1222) contends that the search for a partner itself has become a ritual of consumption, especially in an online space–what he describes as ‘shopping for partners on the internet’. The widespread commitment to the romantic masterplot supports Illouz’s (1997, pp. 2–3) argument that a person’s beloved–or, in popular parlance, ‘the one’–is constructed as ‘unique and irreplaceable’. If someone searching for love is searching for ‘the one’ through the ‘shopping’ mechanism he describes, it is not surprising that bonds formed under these conditions would be deliberately tied loosely, so that they might be escaped quickly should ‘the one’ come along: to ensure, for example, that Mr Right Now can be easily discarded should Mr Right emerge. Thus is born a distinctly modern emotional state, which Bauman (2003, loc. 48) articulates through the image of people:
yearning for the security of togetherness and for a helping hand to count on in a moment of trouble, and so desperate to “relate”; yet wary of the state of “being related” and particularly of being related “for good”, not to mention forever – since they fear that such a state may bring burdens and cause strains they neither feel able nor are willing to bear, and so ; yes, your guess is right – to relate…
This is the result of the mismatch in logics between romantic love and capitalism that Illouz (1997) notes in Consuming the Romantic Utopia. The romantic partner, unlike the trading partner, is not interchangeable. As well established by the romance masterplot, having such a partner is extremely desirable: but the fear of accidentally committing to the wrong one (or the wrong ‘one’) is also real.
Bauman (2003, loc. 1222) is perhaps a little too cynical when mature quality singles he contends that when people ‘shop’for a partner they do so secure in the knowledge that there is a ‘a “no obligation to buy” promise and a “return to the shop if dissatisfied” guarantee’. (2016)–that many people sincerely want to find a secure and lasting relationship, and inscribe themselves into the romance masterplot. This is mirrored in the core promise of the dating app Hinge: ‘designed to be deleted’.
However, while an app like Tinder might be designed to foster episodic behaviour, it is also true that many people read against the grain, so to speak, and use it and apps like it in a search for a partner
It is worth noting that this is not universally true across all users or all apps, and there is also significant evidence to suggest that app use is cyclical–liquid, in Bauman’s terms–as users return to them again and again, often in a state of dissatisfaction. Tinder CEO Elie Seidman (Patel & Carman, 2020) terms this ‘episodic behaviour’, and goes as far as describing a typical user’s lifelong episodic journey with the app: ‘[i]f that starts at eighteen, it’s a journey, and they spend their time on that journey’. The implication here is that the user’s longest relationship is with the app, not a partner. This episodic behaviour may be just as rooted in frustrated desire for a long-lasting romantic relationship as it is in a more regularly fulfilled desire for casual sex. As one participant reflected in relation to Grindr (32 years of age, male, MSM, living in Sydney), ‘A lot of people think Grindr is a hook-up app, but I have many mates who have met their long term partners there too.’