In this modern hellscape of ghosting and orbiting and other Urban Dictionary-defined “ings,” dating can feel like actual hell on Earth. I mean, your vibrator isn’t leaving you on read after you pour your heart out to it, is it? And while the whole dinner-and-drinks, first-date dance is supposed to be fun, swiping left and right on a dating app can feel more like a part-time job — and not the fun kind where you gossip about annoying coworkers and smuggle home a bag-full of free office snacks.
Despite a reputation revolving around TikTok, Gen Z is sick of the internet, at least for some things. This culture of online courting — while, sure, fine, okay, is good for meeting someone outside your typical circle — has also bred toxic side effects. The talking stages are ceaseless, the stunted small talk is excruciating, and ghosting is rampant. And when you do find someone whose texting style isn’t so god-awful you want to throw your phone in a sewer, you could still spend weeks DMing a person before you make it off the app and onto an actual date, only to realize they talk with their mouth full and are rude to their waiter.
According to Gaby, 21, few people she knows “genuinely” use dating apps, “unless it’s for hooking up.” She’s not alone.
“The oldest of the Gen Z generation is in their mid-20s now, and I feel like overall, we’re definitely searching for more meaningful and deeper connections, rather than short-term flings,” Tania, 24, tells Betches. “There’s only so much of a bond you can build with someone online or on a dating app, which I think is driving the push toward IRL dating.”
Brooke, 24, agrees, especially when you consider the effects of the pandemic on dating. “Post-COVID, people are craving connection and are so excited to be traveling, exploring, and going out again since we spent so much time behind screens.”
Though iPhones and the like are and always have been endemic to pretty much all of Gen Z, the tech fatigue is strong. (Just ask the many Gen Zers whose obsession with flip phones might just resurrect brick-and-mortar RadioShacks.) Now, they’re more invested in going deep with their connections — which, unless you’re talking about a gripping, one-sided parasocial relationship with a questionable celebrity, is circumstantially just harder to do online.
“My friends and I often talk about how we wish we were in our 20s pre-technology sometimes,” says Tania, “so it would be easier to meet people IRL instead of having the sense of unlimited options because of dating apps and social media.”
There’s been a marked shift away from heavily curated posts on social media in Gen Z circles. TikToks and IG Reels showing average people goofing around in their chaotic bedrooms outperform the aspirational #GRWMs from elder millennial influencers that took hours to film and even longer to post. People don’t want someone else’s tired, predictable highlight reel; they want to get to know the messy, authentic you. “The appeal [of dating apps] is just not there anymore… I don’t think it ever was, to be honest… and I’m looking for a more authentic (maybe a bit delusional) love-at-first-sight experience,” says Saiya, 20.
Perhaps the most resounding missing piece in the age of apps? ~Romance~. ~Meet-cutes~. ~Movie-screen chemistry~. “I think a lot of us are romantics at heart and want a love story that’s not based off of a dating app,” says Greta, 24. “I think it comes back to the chemistry thing of meeting someone in the wild. You can gauge the way you get along with someone more easily.”
Still, Sophia, 22, claims that the apps have all but ruined romance, even when you do meet someone in person. “Speed dating and blind date parties are fun and flirty to go to with friends, but because dating apps have created this city-wide hookup culture, it’s harder for relationships to develop because people aren’t expecting something to work out,” she says. “The only way I’ve seen that sort of thing grow is if they’re friends first.”
Does this mean dating apps are crashing and burning? No, probably not. The Hinges and Tinders of the world are finding some ways to adapt. The former has previously launched audio and video prompts for profiles — which immediately became the subject of horror, laughs, and many, many memes — so users can get a better sense of someone’s personality IRL. Perhaps in the future, Raya will make its users pay a premium for a little hologram version of you to materialize in front of all your potential matches.
Regardless, even as the chances of finding a soulmate on a dating app dwindle, dating apps aren’t going anywhere — at least not soon. Because everyone, including Gen Z, is a sucker for a good story… and free stuff. “I hear time and time again friends who will use a dating app in a new city sometimes to just make friends,” Brooke says. “Or if they go on a date with someone they don’t connect with say, ‘at least I get a free drink or free meal from it.’”