Are dating apps in crisis? Decline in subscribers for Tinder and Bumble: the sociological reasons

The dating apps (Tinder and Bumble are two well-known examples) are experiencing a moment of crisis after a period of strong growth during the Covid-19 pandemic, as demonstrated by the decline in the stocks of companies in the sector in the United States. Match Group, the company behind Tindersaw its market value decrease by80% from the beginning of 2021, and also Bumble saw a similar decline. The dating apps they have revolutionized the way in which people build emotional relationships, introducing the mechanics of “swipe, that is, scrolling through the profiles of potential partners, proposed by the algorithm, on the apps, selecting only those of interest. However, this method of online dating has also led to greater uncertainty compared to traditional methods of socializing. From one Hinge searchan American dating app, it would seem that one of the reasons that is leading people to shy away from online dating is the fear of rejection. Let's delve deeper into the topic.

We use dating apps because they generate gratification

Contrary to those who praise the online dating sites like one democratization of love and those who criticize them as one commodification of intimacythe key to understanding the rise in popularity of digital dating lies in what Swedish sociologist Marie Bergström calls “privatization of intimacy“. These appointments transfer the process of courtship from the public sphere to that private, making it more discreet: before the advent of dating apps, people usually met potential partners through family, friends or work, ensuring a sort of “background check” on the individual. On the contrary, on online dating sites often you know little or nothing about the other person, apart from what the latter chooses to share. This change in the way we seek intimacy has increased the risk of negative or harmful experiences.

As we can imagine, apps allow you to manage your own image according to one's own will, creating the opportunity to find people with interests similar to ours. It is no coincidence, therefore, that many people see these platforms as tools emancipation to express one's identity.

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Browsing and rating other users' profiles (i.e. scrolling, swipe) is the core activity of using dating apps. Some scholars, taking up Lacan's psychoanalytic perspective, even argue that the main function of dating apps is not to facilitate offline meetings but exploit user desire and turn it towards the app itself and its process of accumulating encounters. In line with this, more than half of users report that they never date in person, but stick exclusively to the online environment.

Among the reasons that push us to use dating apps we find social gratification (more or less immediate) and the validation of our self-esteem. Some research shows that even after finding a partner, users find it difficult to stop using dating apps.

If we think about it, social media provides “quantifiable” signals of social acceptance (likes, followers, messages, etc.), which is why users associate the deletion of social (and dating) apps with loneliness.

There sociometer theory assumes that the social feedback from others influences the perception we have of ourselves and, therefore, we are very attentive in detecting signs of “decline” of our relational value in the social environment. In line with this theory, individuals have a high opinion of themselves when they are accepted by peers, while rejected individuals feel that their relational value is low.

The fear of being single

The research also found aassociation between excessive scrolling and fear of being single. The fear of being single above all reflects the widely accepted normative-cultural belief that something is wrong if you are not romantically attached.

Quoting the sociologist and philosopher Bauman, online dating is the typical example of courtship transformation in a sort of way entertainment. Apps like Tinder and Bumble are meant to be first and foremost funny: make interactions a game and users describe their behavior with gaming talk. The app's design further incentivizes the entertainment component of collecting large numbers of “matches”. As a result, dating app users may be tempted to satisfy social needs accumulating repeatedly a large number of correspondencesthat is, constantly increasing the number of contacts in your social network, instead of investing in a few connections.

dating app as a game

The malaise of rejection behind the dating app crisis

So why are dating apps in crisis? Everything can probably depend on an opposite effect of the “game” and increasingly experienced in a negative way: theostracism (being ignored without explanation after seeking a connection) ei negative feedback possibly received (for example not obtaining connections or not being able to carry out live meetings).

As we were saying, humans have evolved to be extremely attentive to social feedback signals. Spoor and Williams (2007) theorized that the absence of positive feedback weighs as much as the explicit refusal. In line with this theory, ostracism in a virtual environment activates the same brain regions of physical pain and a meta-analysis of 120 studies concluded that ostracism in a virtual environment hinders belongingeven if the rejection episode is brief and even if the people giving negative feedback are unrelated individuals.