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Hookup Culture: Dating Apps Don’t Change Who You Are

Every week there’s a new article published about how dating apps, specifically Tinder, are “tearing society apart” and fueling a “Dating Apocalypse” in America. I haven’t been single in a while, so I was obviously curious about what changed. The answer is nothing.

Hooking up is nothing new. The one-night-stand wasn’t invented during my lifetime. It would be naive to think there was a time when it didn’t exist. It’s not a Millennial invention, it’s a Pleistocene invention. But is it a Millennial problem?

“Hookup culture, which has been percolating for about a hundred years, has collided with dating apps, which have acted like a wayward meteor on the now dinosaur-like rituals of courtship,” wrote Nancy Jo Sales in Vanity Fair.

“Dating apps are the free-market economy come to sex,” Sales wrote. “The innovation of Tinder was the swipe — the flick of a finger on a picture, no more elaborate profiles necessary, and no more fear of rejection; users only know whether they’ve been approved, never when they’ve been discarded.”

The thesis here is that these apps allow one to trawl for sex online and that it’s the more popular use. Therefore it’s not a dating app, but a hookup app. The snag is that an anecdote isn’t data, explains Jesse Singal at Science of Us.

“The problem is that while Sales certainly spins a good yarn, it doesn’t really add up to evidence that something revolutionary is afoot,” wrote Singal. “It’s one thing to write an ethnographic piece about Tinder-maters in their natural habitat; it’s another to extrapolate this to make sweeping claims about the epochal ways dating and sex are changing.”

So does anyone have any data to show that dating in American culture is actually on its way out? Naomi Schaefer Riley cites marriage statistics in her New York Post article.

“But this is more than a dating apocalypse. This is the marriage apocalypse,” Riley wrote. “All of this endless swiping is producing men and women who have infinite choices of sexual partners with no strings attached. This can’t go on long before it has a serious effect on how you view members of the opposite sex. Examining your options seems to be never-ending these days.”

She cites the declining marriage rate since 1970 (note: Tinder was launched in September 2012). So dating and marriage are on their way out?

Millennials have a lot of problems that previous generations didn’t have to face. There are 4.6 million unemployed millennials in the U.S., according to MarketWatch, and PEW reported 44 percent of graduates are underemployed, working at jobs that don’t require college degrees.

They’re strapped with student loan debt and waiting to get married or start families. They’re not even buying cars. “We’ve even been dubbed ‘The Cheapest Generation,’ but perhaps a more accurate title would be ‘The Generation Getting Shafted’,” wrote Ashley Stahl of Huffington Post.

Many are living at home with their parents — and don’t tell me they want to be there. Everyone wants to be independent. After the stock market crash in 1929, we were in touch with what it meant for adults, young and old, to lose their ability to support themselves and their families.

“We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. ‘Necessitous men are not free men.’ People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made,” said FDR in his State of the Union address in 1944.

While millennials face new problems and might play by different rules, the truth is what people want hasn’t changed much. When you go to the movies or read a book, they show us the same tropes we saw 50 years ago: Love, adventure, romance, excitement, success, power, heroes, justice, truth, and beauty. It seems like our motivators, our prime movers, haven’t changed much in centuries.

We want to be free and to have the experiences we choose to have. We want what we do in life to be fulfilling. Many of us still want the house with the white picket fence. We want the freedom to marry or not marry. We want to desire and to be desired. We want love that doesn’t end. We want to leave behind a legacy (and to be remembered more deeply than just how many sexual partners we had).

Many women and men of all ages feel the same way, so if there is a dating apocalypse it hasn’t changed who we are or what we want. Like everything else, millennials just have to wait longer for it. Perhaps before writing the elegy for dating and romance, one could take a page from the their book and practice a little patience.

Romantic couple photo available from Shutterstock

Hookup Culture: Dating Apps Don’t Change Who You Are


Sarah Newman, MA, MFA

Sarah Newman is the managing editor and associate publisher of PsychCentral and the founding editor-in-chief of the Poydras Review. She is also the cohost of the podcast Excuse Me, I Have Concerns where she discusses personal boundaries, personality and other psychology topics.


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APA Reference
Newman, S. (2018). Hookup Culture: Dating Apps Don’t Change Who You Are. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 15, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/hookup-culture-dating-apps-dont-change-who-you-are/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.