The Complexity of Normalizing Dating Apps

A while ago, I read an article by Puerto Rican actor and blogger Emmanuel Irizarry in which he presented precautions incoming freshmen should take when using the gay dating app, Grindr. While I understood his intended point—if you’re going to use it, use it wisely—I felt as though he glossed over the problems of infidelity, sexual repression, and unsolicited sexual pictures found on the app while also failing to consider the following issues when writing his article: not every freshman is of age to be on dating apps and the usage of Grindr could expose impressionable freshmen to situations they would otherwise avoid.

As a once avid user of apps like Grindr and Tinder, I must clarify that I don’t believe that dating apps are inherently bad. Rather, I find issue with the expectation that people—specifically gay men—must use them and the normalization of toxic behaviors that these apps have become vessels for.

In his article, titled We need to talk about how Grindr is affecting gay men's mental health, psychiatrist Jack Turban presents a summary of a survey he conducted through the dating app in which he questioned participants about their sexual activity, their personal image and other questions regarding their experiences as gay men on the app. To his worry, Turban found alarming responses detailing feelings of low self-esteem caused by and during the use of the app and general negative thoughts towards it.

The Grindr interface, as promoted by the app.

In my personal experience, the mention of Grindr is always followed by a series of negative commentary, even from people who actively use it. During the time I was a user of the app, I often found myself questioning why I—and every other gay man on the app—would complain so extensively about our experiences on it, yet never seemed to erase our profiles and delete the app from our phones; and, if we did delete it, why we would download it again a few days afterwards.

There’s a certain sense of settling that propels gay men to use these apps that I think should be noted. Even with cultural advancements, interacting with other gay men is usually an anomaly, especially for men in isolated environments. Due to this, partnered with the fact that not always will our attractions correspond our interest, we find ourselves lead to apps like Grindr and Tinder because they give us instant and easy access to people that we know will reciprocate our interests. But, there’s a moment that this access borders on the addictive, as Turban describes in his article. Grindr suddenly becomes the vessel in which we project our need for interaction, most of which is physical.

There’s also the issue with age. Dating app users will be exposed to people of all ages, meaning that young men could potentially encounter men with a large age difference willing to meet up with them. Now, one could argue that legally, people of age can be with others that have a large sum of years on them, but I feel as though there’s a nuance to be discussed here: an 18-year-old guy won’t have the same experiences that say, a 27-year-old will have. This translates to an inherent imbalance of power in their respective interests and following interaction. This could well vary depending on the subject in question, nevertheless I find it to be misguided to promote the use of these apps while being aware of these instances.

Given that it’s a dating app targeted for people of all genders and sexualities, Tinder is in a league of its own. While I find that it could be considered less intense than Grindr, the instant gratification that leads users to be essentially addicted to the app is the same as it is in all the others.

Promotional image for Tinder showing two users “matching”

However, the concept of Tinder and how it connects users is different from the app previously discussed. Tinder is basically an arcade game: you swipe and click on the users you find attractive and receive a “match” when the other user clicks on your “like” button as well. I find that when not done consciously, this constant rotation of “options” dehumanizes the people behind the profiles and leads us to see the person matched with as expendable: if one match doesn’t work, maybe one of the hundreds of others will.

As mentioned above, I do not find dating apps to be inherently bad and won’t entirely denounce and prohibit the use of them. Instead, I stand firmly in my belief that promoting and indulging in these apps while not recognizing the negative consequences that they could potentially—and commonly—have on its users is misguided and ignorant.

It is important for us to promote healthy communication and interactions with each other and understand that every decision we take must come from within ourselves and with good conscious. Dating apps should not be seen as a rite of passage for certain groups of people, and people should certainly not be expected to use them. So, if you’re contemplating downloading a dating app or recommending one to another person, please do so with a clear and conscious mindset.