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The Daily Tar Heel

Column: Dating needs an overhaul

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Dating apps have effectively killed the dating scene for both LGBTQ+ and straight individuals alike. From hookup culture to perpetuating racial stereotypes, these apps have long stifled emotional connections among users.

After the COVID-19 pandemic, online dating apps have surged in popularity and, counter-intuitively, made traditional dating obsolete. Popular applications such as Tinder, Bumble and Grindr have integrated their own kind of addictive system that benefits the platform rather than its users by keeping them coming back. 

These apps have made traditional dating a daunting, almost impossible task – whether you’re straight or not. 

A sophomore at UNC — a pansexual woman who asked to remain anonymous — says her generation (Generation Z) “gets bored easily,” which is what makes these dating apps so effective.  They focus on the attention span of a person and weaponize the user interface to keep them interested. 

She also said that while online dating opens access for people to meet, it simultaneously creates an environment where there is rarely any activity outside of the app. The pool of people you interact with increases when using these apps, but "it can make finding people whose intentions you know harder," she said. 

Another common problem with dating apps is the idea of finding a "perfect match." The apps that are popular today have filters that help narrow the search down to what a person is looking for in a partner. 

Height, age, weight and location are some of the gauges that have been available to users. However, this completely closes off the dating pool to those who may not fit one filter but are a perfect fit in other aspects. Before 2020, some platforms also had ethnic filters.

Many of the companies behind such dating apps have since removed their ethnic filters during the protests following the murder of George Floyd in 2020 — but that hasn’t solved the issue of racism in online dating. 

Junior Trey Thurman, a straight Black man, used the example of the rise in the popularity of K-pop music to illustrate the problem of the fetishization of race.

“The number of people who fetishize Korean men has drastically increased," he said. 

Because of this, Thurman said that, in order to get matches, users of the app have to present themselves in a certain way in order to gain traction. 

Thurman also said when dating outside one’s race, there’s a constant worry about whether the reason is because of a stereotype or a fetishization.

This doesn’t just apply to straight dating exclusively.

Sophomore Logan Kaelin is gay and half Middle Eastern. While he says he can present himself as white-passing, there are certain physical characteristics, like his curlier hair and darker skin tone, that make dating more difficult. 

Ethnic backgrounds seem to play a heavy role in online dating, especially among gay men. On Grindr, an app designed specifically for gay men, one can scroll for only a few seconds and find a profile that describes heavy racial preferences.  

“I think that in the gay community here, especially with gay men, it’s very looks-based and favorable to people with primarily white features," Kaelin said.   

Online dating apps have also given rise to another cultural shift: hookup culture and “situationships.” Kaelin said hookup culture is a huge aspect of online dating for gay men, and Thurman also said he noticed the rise of hookup culture. 

This new shift in dating dynamics leaves a large emotional disconnect. 

“They feel like the sex will bring them that emotional connection that they’re looking for, but it instead leaves them feeling empty," Thurman said.

Thurman has refused to use dating apps for that reason specifically. Instead, he recommends using what he calls the “cold approach.” In other words, organically finding a candidate to date. 

“It’s a pretty enjoyable experience,” he said. “I think it’s really good because it gets you used to not taking rejection so seriously.” 

Of course, the organic approach is not as easy as messaging someone on a dating app, but Thurman says that “I’ve had some cases with cold approaches where we’ve gone on dates and stuff like that. It’s been pretty successful.” 

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The vast takeover of online dating has led to fruitless endeavors of connection and driven the popularity of hookup culture, all while perpetuating harmful racial and ethnic stereotypes of straight and non-straight users alike.

To find a connection with someone on an emotional level and leave these problematic components in the past, it might be time to say goodbye to dating apps.