By historical standards, we live in a sexually liberated society. Casual relations are, nowadays, considered acceptable.
That being said, does hooking up lead, in the long run, to lessened interest in monogamy? And without making any kind of moralistic assertion (that’s not Miingle’s game), can it be harmful to an individual to actively seek partners with no intention of emotional attachment, as opposed to looking for someone special to forge a deep, all-encompassing bond with?
Updating the dating lingo
Hook-up has been in common vernacular for over 2 decades. Its definition can vary quite widely, but a hook-up is generally regarded as a sexual rendezvous with expectation of either little or no emotional involvement from both parties. Such encounters are particularly normative amongst students and, more broadly, young adults.
The relatively recent arrival of hook-up in mainstream vocabulary was concurrent with the advent of online dating about 20 years ago. Then with smartphones came dating apps, of which Tinder is far and away the most popular.
Tinder has gained a reputation — rightly or wrongly — as the ultimate hook-up app. Nowhere in the app’s marketing is there an explicit message to its users to engage in hook-ups, but the app does, in many ways, lend itself to this behaviour. The platform is designed very minimally, and users often base their decisions on a single picture of another user. Even if they do opt to view further information about the person, this will be nothing more than a short, character-limited bio and a handful more pictures.
The minimalism of Tinder’s interface and functions means users inevitably ascribe low importance to emotional commitment and high importance to physical validation, right here, right now. In the age of social media, instant gratification comes at a premium.
It’s not necessarily fair, perhaps not even accurate, to label Tinder as the catalyst behind a generation of intensely competitive yet transient daters; that’s an entirely different argument, both philosophical and psychological, about which one could pen an entire doctoral thesis! That being said, it’s basically irrefutable that this shift in the game of romance is causing long-term changes in dating outcomes — long-term being the operative term. And speaking of long-term…
Monogamy and exclusivity
The entire notion of sticking with a single partner has a deep evolutionary history, extending way beyond the dawn of humanity, and originated as a means of ensuring that offspring were resourced enough to survive into adulthood. Humans evolved in groups only 30 strong at the most, and our minds are still stuck in the Stone Age, so to speak. This is known in evolutionary psychology as gene lag, and it’s the same reason why you still experience an adrenaline rush and fight-or-flight response when your card jams in the ATM. There’s no physical danger to run away from, yet we still experience a physiological response more appropriate for fleeing from a sabre-toothed tiger. For our distant ancestors, ‘hot Tinder action’ just meant someone was throwing some really great kindling for the campfire.
Biologically speaking, men have a greater innate urge to sleep with multiple partners than do women. This cornerstone of evolutionary biology, in combination with the rise of dating apps, has led to a decline in monogamy being the norm amongst young adults. You could even make an argument that Tinder has warped people’s expectations of what romance actually is — how it manifests, how it plays out in reality — leading to millennials in particular to belive that monogamy is almost outside the norm.
Numerous relationship studies conducted throughout the existence of dating apps have shown time and again that, all variables being equal, single people who are not on dating apps have greater life satisfaction and wellbeing than do single people on dating apps. Users of dating apps are exposed to something known in philosophy as the tyranny of choice, the abovementioned conundrum of too many potential partners. This can lead to an infinite expectation of better and better every time. How can a real-life person ever match up to that?
Smartphone vs. evolution
There is a danger that, when people actually do begin a relationship they wish to commit to, the normalisation of short-term, emotionally void relationships will lead to an inability, even an unwillingness, to attempt to patch things up when the dynamic go awry. After all, in the age of quickfire happiness, why waste time flogging a dead horse when an even better horse could be just a swipe away? This state of affairs is not only conducive to a path away from a monogamous lifestyle, but maybe even a path to conceiving of monogamy as boring, fuddy-duddy, unmodern.
Seeing as dating apps will be around indefinitely, it’s tough to know what the love lives of tomorrow will look like. That being said, there’s really no substitute for the feeling of a genuine human connection. And the fact you’ve found and read this article shows there’s still hope for long-term romance. You may just need to look a little beyond your phone screen.