Have dating apps lost their true meaning?

Gabrielle Robinson, a junior majoring in fine arts, was contacted by Tinder to create a sponsored Instagram post promoting the dating app’s brand. But when asked if she used the app herself, she said she only does so as a joke.

“You don’t really need to post about your experience unless you want to, which is a little disingenuous,” Robinson said. “But I don’t really think it’s that important to do that, which I guess is a part of the problem as to why the app doesn’t really work that well.”

This could be true, if the app’s intention is to have people actually date and begin relationships as a result of their interactions on the platform. But labeling apps like Tinder as dating apps could be misleading: Many users don’t use them for “dating” at all.

“It’s like going to a zoo or an art museum but for people,” said Kiki Lee, a sophomore majoring in sound design. “You get to see who’s actually out there, and you get to see how they get to describe themselves. It’s like a gallery of people, and I like learning about new people.”

Tinder was launched in 2012 and has managed to pervade social culture over the past eight years. But it has also appeared to serve as a joke or as a way for older generations to point out the technological impact on genuine human interaction.

“I have fun swiping when I’m bored,” said Abigail Rowland, a sophomore majoring in theatre. “I feel like it’s the only one where you’re not expected to actually want to go on dates with the people.”

Some users do want to go on dates from the app, but the results are often not as effective as they may hope.

Abbey Harris, a sophomore majoring in theatre, used Tinder regularly but never felt her dates were particularly memorable or significant.

“Call me a romantic, but I’d rather it be some sort of fun story I get to tell or has some weird amount of magic to it,” Harris said.

Tinder has made recent efforts to improve its brand image and connect to its largest user base — young adults in college. According to The New York Times, more than 50 percent of Tinder users are between 18 and 25 years old.

In order to engage this demographic, Tinder released the “Tinder U” function last August. Students enrolled in four-year universities can enable a filter that optimizes results for fellow university students, either on their own campuses or nearby.  Tinder even employs “Tinder U Campus Ambassadors” to promote the app on college campuses.

Despite these efforts, some students are still staying away from the app. Marcus Abundis, a junior majoring in theatre, feels a sense of guilt and desperation whenever he downloads a dating app.

“It feels like cheating the game of how traditional being social and finding people really is,” Abundis said.

The disingenuity stems not just from Tinder itself, but from what its presentation implies, according to Jordan Kessler, a junior majoring in theatre. Most of the screen is taken up by the user’s images, and a bio is only revealed after either tapping through their initial photo or by tapping a small information icon in the bottom right corner.

“I want to be someone that can find genuine connection with another person, and I don’t know if that’s possible when we’re both entering a relationship immediately under the pretenses of having some sort of sexual tension … all you’re presented with is the person’s picture,” Kessler said.

Much like how dating websites have become less popular among younger audiences, some feel that dating apps are headed down the same path. Michael O’Malley, a junior majoring in business administration, feels that while dating apps have replaced dating websites, neither option has lasting power.

“Not only are they killing off their population of kids our age through either finding relationships or getting tired of the app, but I feel like they’re not attracting new audiences properly,” O’Malley said.

O’Malley said he sees Tinder as more of a means of entertainment rather than a legitimate form of dating.

But, according to sophomore Ben Wendel, who is majoring in theatre, Tinder is often used for something other than developing real relationships.

Wendel used to use dating apps frequently, but not for going on dates.

“For a large part of my time here, I was looking just for sex,” Wendel said. “The concept of asking someone on a date was just not something I ever thought about … When I was like ‘Oh, I want a relationship,’ I was like, ‘I need to hook up with someone and turn it into a relationship of some kind.’”

This is not an unfamiliar concept. Rowland said she has a similar perspective on the progression of relationships on campus: people go to parties, hook up with someone, then potentially have a relationship with them.

“[The process] is fun, it’s not a bad thing, but it just seems to be the thing and I’m over it,” Rowland said.

Other students expressed their lack of enjoyment with hook-up culture as well. Abundis said when he first hooked up with someone at USC, they saw him on campus after the fact but didn’t acknowledge his existence.

“That’s just an aspect of hook-up culture that will always be there,” Abundis said. “But I don’t like that part so that’s made me not like the whole hookup culture.”

The disillusionment seems to not just surround Tinder, but rather disingenuous connections in general. Kessler said both party culture and bar culture give off a similar sense of surface level connection as dating apps.

“If I meet you at a bar, I already have negative presuppositions about your intentions,” Kessler said.

She prefers to meet people in real life situations that highlight a shared experience or interest. But an emphasis on genuine connection does not always equate to committed, monogamous relationships. Some students want casual dating to become normal on campus.

“People should just be honest with themselves about what they want and where they’re going,” Lee said. “‘Cause if you don’t want to be in a relationship, that’s totally fine, but you’ve got to be honest with the person you’re seeing or going on dates with.”

So for those who were thinking of swiping right on love this Valentine’s Day, they may want to reconsider and look somewhere other than their phones.

“I just want to keep living my life the way that I like to live my life,” Kessler said, “And it would be nice if someone were to join me.”