RE­LA­TION­SHIP Quit play­ing games with my heart, Tin­der.

Is the gam­i­fi­ca­tion of dat­ing de­stroy­ing our love lives?

ELLE (Canada) - - Contents - By Emily Tamfo

GROW­ING UP, I hated video games. I would play with Lego while my (mostly male) fam­ily and friends sat in front of their screens for hours, ob­sess­ing about get­ting to the next level in Mario Kart or throw­ing down their con­trollers when their mor­tal en­emy in Street Fighter fin­ished them with a killer round­house combo. Fast-for­ward a cou­ple of decades and here I am again, this time faced with a new kind of video game, one that I can’t sim­ply ig­nore: the dat­ing app. It goes like this: At level one, we swipe yay or nay on po­ten­tial suit­ors based on a 300-char­ac­ter “bio” (of­ten con­sist­ing of ob­scure song lyrics) and some cu­rated pho­tos with se­dated South­east Asian tigers. One use of the wrong there/their/they’re and all points are lost and that per­son is black­listed. If the app-la­tion­ship pro­gresses to level two, we mu­tu­ally fol­low each other on so­cial me­dia, ex­press­ing ro­man­tic in­ter­est through a series of strate­gic likes and per­haps—if we’re so bold—a winky-face emoji. This dou­ble tap is our gen­er­a­tion’s love lan­guage—but the same fickle fin­ger can eas­ily un­fol­low, block or delete a per­son who has sent a shady DM (mi­nus 10 points) or whom we sim­ply deem no longer wor­thy of our time (TKO). In level three, we take the bi­nary-code pas­sion to real life, but nine times out of 10 there’s no con­nec­tion and it’s game over—and then on to the next player.

If it feels so point­less, why do I—and 36 per­cent of Cana­di­ans—still play? Well, there’s the ob­vi­ous: In our in­creas­ingly on­line world, it seems to be the eas­i­est way to con­nect with some­one. And whether it’s Bum­ble, Tin­der or Hinge, the game­like in­ter­faces of these apps seem to ap­peal to my gen­er­a­tion’s gold­fish-like at­ten­tion span. In fact, the apps stim­u­late the same neu­ro­chem­i­cals that are ac­ti­vated when we play video games, ac­cord­ing to ex­perts. “The way the in­ter­face is made

up—the things that hap­pen when you get matched— it’s al­most like you’re win­ning a prize,” says Pro­fes­sor Jooy­oung Lee, a so­ci­ol­o­gist who lec­tures about sex­u­al­ity in the era of #MeToo at the Univer­sity of Toronto. The app’s “You have a new match!” mes­sage trig­gers us to want more of that ad­dict­ing af­fir­ma­tion. That the op­tions seem lim­it­less is equally en­tic­ing, and even more so when the app—like the League (the go-to for flush yup­pies) or celebrity fave Raya—prom­ises bet­ter, more in­ter­est­ing, more suc­cess­ful and more at­trac­tive can­di­dates.

But in the same way that you can heart­lessly blast away en­e­mies in video games, Tin­der and the like can also make the per­son on the other end of the swipe seem dis­pos­able. “Be­cause we have this on­line cat­a­logue, we er­ro­neously think that there is a never-end­ing se­lec­tion of peo­ple who could be bet­ter than the last,” says re­la­tion­ship ex­pert June Mor­row, au­thor of Love Lessons From a Lap Dancer. These seem­ingly in­fi­nite op­tions make it so tempt­ing to keep play­ing the game, and if some­one doesn’t quite tick all the boxes, you sim­ply let the text thread die out. (Flash back to the time Tin­der Chris ghosted me when he re­al­ized, af­ter hours of chat­ting, that I was the one on the left, not the right.)

It’s also easy to forget that there are peo­ple with ac­tual hu­man emo­tions on the other side of the screen. But Dr. Jess Carbino, Bum­ble’s in-house so­ci­ol­o­gist (dubbed the “Dr. Ruth” of the swipe-right gen­er­a­tion), ar­gues that ghost­ing is less about the medium and more about our so­cial ac­count­abil­ity (or lack thereof). “His­tor­i­cally, we were in­tro­duced to fu­ture spouses through in­sti­tu­tions in which we were al­ready em­bed­ded, like churches and neigh­bour­hoods,” she says. To­day, con­nec­tions in our net­works are fewer or don’t ex­ist at all, so we have less cul­pa­bil­ity for treat­ing some­body poorly than we would if we’d been in­tro­duced by a friend or co-worker.

Still, it’s true that dat­ing has al­ways been some­thing of a game—whether it’s wait­ing three days to call some­one or only say­ing “I love you” af­ter the other per­son says it first. And apps aren’t solely to blame for the gam­i­fi­ca­tion of dat­ing: The pop cul­ture we con­sume (e.g., The Bach­e­lor) en­cour­ages us to treat dat­ing as a series of tests and pur­suits af­ter which the win­ner gets life­long sex, love and part­ner­ship. Dat­ing apps just lever­age a very nat­u­ral in­stinct, ar­gues Carbino. She says that when we’re look­ing at some­body, even just their pho­to­graph, we’re en­gag­ing in a psy­cho­log­i­cal process known as “thin-slic­ing,” in which we make quick judg­ments about peo­ple— in­clud­ing whether or not they’re a match for us. And stud­ies show that the im­pres­sions we de­velop in the first three sec­onds can be as sta­ble as the ones we have af­ter three hours. (Al­though that doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean these im­pres­sions are spot-on—we may just be cling­ing to un­con­scious bi­ases.)

So where do we go from here? If the game is in­evitable no mat­ter the for­mat, how do we at least give our­selves the best shot at win­ning? Mor­row’s ad­vice is to avoid go­ing on­line if you’re feel­ing lonely or an­gry: Chances are you’re look­ing for some sort of val­i­da­tion from a stranger. She also sug­gests meet­ing sooner rather than later to avoid get­ting over­in­vested be­fore test­ing your in­per­son at­trac­tion. And, per­haps most im­por­tant of all, she stresses that on­line re­jec­tion is not per­sonal re­jec­tion; it just means you’re not a fit for each other. “We’re not good for ev­ery job in the world, and not ev­ery piece of cloth­ing looks good on us, so why should ev­ery guy be a match?” she asks.

And maybe that is what’s at the heart of my dat­ing-app cyn­i­cism: I’ve been tak­ing the game too per­son­ally, seek­ing val­i­da­tion from an in­fi­nite pool of pos­si­ble re­jec­tors and tak­ing ev­ery mis­step as a re­flec­tion of my per­sonal worth. And I’ve gone all in too early. While I hate the idea of emo­tional dis­tance, pre­sum­ing a con­nec­tion too soon is sure to amp up the emo­tional trauma when I get to level three and re­al­ize there’s no IRL siz­zle. My key les­son? Play­ing the game can be fun—but mak­ing a true con­nec­tion means get­ting real. ®

Macramé dress (Dior). Dior Back­stage Glow Face Pal­ette ($55)

Cot­ton-tulle dress, cot­ton and elas­tane bra and un­der­wear and yel­low-gold, di­a­mond and onyx neck­lace (Dior). Dior Ad­dict Lip­stick in Bright ($43). For de­tails, see Shop­ping Guide. Stylist, Is­abel Dupré; makeup, Ful­via Farolfi; hair, Jenny Cho; nails, Jenna Hipp; styling as­sis­tant, Laura So­phie Cox; set de­sign, Jesse Nemeth

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