Do you have a date? Or when did you last get a swipe to the right?
The right swipe on Tinder - or down swipe on Facebook – gives a false impression of abundance and multiple dating options.
I glance a last time into my closet to check if the dress I chose was the best pick. I put it on quickly as I search with my foot for a sandal that would fit. Taking a final look into the mirror and on my cell phone, I pray that the guy I am going to meet in a bit will like the place that I chose and find it appropriate. It will be the first time we will be alone after having met once or twice in the company of friends. This time will tell if there will be next times. Actually, it will define the nature of this new relationship; an attempt added to previous ones of finding a partner in the world post-2000.
We are in the year 2018, a time in which emotional needs and loneliness are bemoaned everywhere in the virtual sphere, while social media and dating apps offer so many options. So what has changed?
Going back a bit to around the year 2008 maybe, affairs of the heart were handled differently. Dating, i.e. meeting to find a partner was a foreign concept to our culture. Marriages were arranged by family or matchmakers. Open-minded people would let friends introduce acquaintances who are single. Additionally, there was the workplace or religious institutions where people could get to know each other within conservative limits. In other cases, a love story that started in college might make it into marriage after graduation.
The concept of dating started in the “roaring twenties”. Before that, the term was linked to girls working in the sex industry. Pre-marital sex was prohibited in the United States, however, in the 1930s, it became commonplace for someone to have different dating options.
In the Arab speaking region, the developments did not keep the same pace. Traditions, religion, the grip of the family or tribe and the prohibition of mingling of genders, or only within limits, are iron-clad. Insights to the western culture were not possible for everyone. Certain classes owned VHS players or were able to travel abroad or even had relatives who had satellite TV to watch foreign films. Change or the desire for it was on the mind of the youth in general, while the elder generation considered love to be something that would happen after marriage. If not, an affectionate common life would do.
Years after the internet entered and the more progressive circles became more open, relationships started developing. Young Arab men and women of different nationalities sought to write their own dictionary and form their rebellious relationships that were different to the forms passed on by family and society. They were escaping arranged marriage and trying to find their partners in wider spaces. In Egypt, the cultural scene saw many new places for meeting people: cultural and artistic institutions, concerts, independent film festivals and a reformed religious rhetoric addressing the young demographic, lead at the time by Amr Khaled who turned the mosques where he preached into a meeting destination, where many conservative love stories emerged.
The concept of dating was not clearly defined but there was a vague idea about entering into a “relationship” or “friendship” of another kind that involved love and romance. Love was definitely the key to the relationship. One would meet someone at concerts, the workplace or at gatherings with friends to talk and discover the other’s interests until both start going out alone together because they have strong and obvious feelings for one another. After several dates, the magic words are spoken to open the door for physical contact or more, depending on the mindset that rules the relationship. If things go well for a considerable period of time, preparations are made for getting engaged and married. The family is informed about the relationship and it enters the ‘official’ phase.
The journey goes through phases, as going out without friends is the first step towards the partner. Afterwards, when it is certain that the feelings are mutual and the relationship is ‘real’, they mix with the common friends and receive their comments and advice about the new union. Facebook was already known but not as widespread. So the interaction with the partner on Facebook was more prominent. One could write on the partner’s wall freely, send a song openly or write verses from a love poem in his/her name. Facebook used to be a small game of love added to the real life with its own challenges.
Arab women gained a lot of confidence and wanted to control their lives and more importantly their bodies
Years after, after the “Arab spring” revolutions, there was more opening up to other cultures and a huge rebellion from the younger generations who wanted to revolutionize the old ways, starting with romantic relationships and marriage. They did not want to contend that sex and marriage were “like a watermelon” as the Egyptian saying goes, meaning it is only discovered when you cut it for eating. Women in particular rose strongly. Arab women gained a lot of confidence and wanted to control their lives and more importantly their bodies. They wanted to be free to do what they want with it. Simultaneously, with the spread of Facebook and smart phones, the demands for rights became bolder. Dating applications had already appeared in the nineties but in the Arab speaking region applications that can be downloaded on mobile phones appeared only recently.
The concept of dating started to develop. There were multiple kinds of relationships, and love was not the only key to approach the other sex. Physical needs became separate from romantic relationships. Every relationship had a different beginning.
Dating, as in going out on a date, does not necessarily mean that the relationship is ‘exclusive’. Going on a date is a way to discover the horizon of the relationship. What do we want from this person? Do we only want a sexual relationship? Do we want a friend with benefits? Do we want a romantic but short relationship? Do we want a long-term romantic relationship but without promise of marriage? Are we finding out if this partner is suitable for marriage and having children with?
While the two are trying to find answers to all these questions they are free to date others to discover them too. As long as it is not ‘exclusive dating’, one can have other relations until one of them beats the rest. This may never happen and both partners remain in limbo, open to meet others yet seeing each other regularly.
Then there are new concepts, other than dating, like ‘seeing somebody’, ‘being in a kind of relationship’, ‘spending a nice time together’ or being ‘just friends’ with some room for sexual activity. Then the expressions like ‘to hook up with someone’ appeared in Egypt. It made it into the socially accepted daily talk after having somewhat a vulgar usage before. It means that a fish has bitten the rod. It is used by men and women alike. There are other expressions for a sexual relationship without boundaries or future promises. It is only about the pleasure of the two lovers and is short lived.
All this has led to marriage becoming the lowest priority. The places where one could have met future partners are not there anymore. The globalization of study or work opportunities have made young people move abroad, leaving behind friends and family that helped in setting meetings with potential partners. Women also are fixated on their careers and studies just like men. This has made marriage less of a priority. The daily pace leaves no time to search for the one. There is not much energy for ‘discovering’ through meeting. Men and women want to go out at night, accompanied by someone they know and with high potential of sensual or sexual pleasure, without having to see all the friends and acquaintances to choose and discover from. This wastes a lot of time that one does not have.
So Facebook came into play as a meeting place and after that, slowly, Tinder appeared as well. Closed groups popped up for the serious-minded in circles that are open to dating. What also spread was adding someone that seems promising from the picture or comments on friends’ timelines to try to get to know the person. More and more possibilities emerged but dating did not become easier.
Technology changed the way we handle and receive things. Lately, Match.com launched the findings of their latest study for 2016. According to these, Facebook controls our expectations of a relationship. The page of a person with a picture you liked may not be less attractive. You first look at the picture, then at their comments, their grammatical correctness, then at the smile and teeth and finally at their clothes and how they wear it.
There is a ‘persona’ that is made up by the person themselves on Facebook which is an important factor in forming expectations for a relationship. ‘Liking’ the profile is based on what is written and one knows that their pictures are being followed so they try to present them in the best light. Therefore, it should be essentially expected that the person turns out totally different to their Facebook page. Yet it still is a source of much frustration which drives people to end the relationship before it starts.
Some other old rules have changed too. Men are starting to like women who take initiative, ask for their number, send a message after the first date, initiate the first kiss or ask for more!
So a relationship may start and end within a day or two; maybe a week if they chat on Messenger or maybe two if they go out on a first date that was not up to their high expectations. So they each go home at night after a disappointing date, and back to the friends list or other dating options to chat with someone else, leaving the first attempt open without taking a decision about it or at best ending it without explanation. They may even start thinking about getting more into dating and downloading Tinder.
Tinder is based on the idea of matching or finding compatibilities. Your page contains brief information about you and your interests probably taken from Facebook. The gender you prefer, the work you do, the age range you expect your partner to be, the place from which you are currently searching with a specific radius around your current location. A swipe to the left means you do not like the page of this person while a swipe to the right means you do like this person and if the person also makes a swipe to the right on your page it means you have their approval! You can start a private chat on the left hand side of the screen.
In the real world this boldness was not common some years ago. A man passing us by at the coffeeshop or the woman sitting with friends and looking gorgeous were unknown to us. There was this aura around the object of desire that did not easily disappear unless there were common friends or another occasion where one could meet and try to talk to the person. One had to overcome fear of rejection in public or to find out that the person was already romantically involved. Personality and attitudes would be discovered in time, and feelings would develop gradually without any outrageously negative or positive unrealistic impressions. So the fears of commitment were not as pronounced for the partners as emotions evolved slowly but steadily.
Short-term relationships, free of emotional or romantic bond to the partner, are on the rise
Options were not as manifold. The right swipe on Tinder - or down swipe on Facebook – gives a false impression of abundance and multiple dating choices. That made the choice shallower, based on short impressions of the Facebook page or common interests on Tinder. Therefore, there is less willingness for mutual understanding, sacrifice or forbearance in order for the relationship to work out. Short-term relationships, free of emotional or romantic bond to the partner, are on the rise. There are now men and women who are proud of having had sexual relationships with somebody for whom they felt nothing. Priding oneself in being cold-hearted has become rife in the millennial generation.
Pragmatically speaking, these apps also operate without a heart. There are mathematical –highly logical – algorithms that pick a partner for you or your possible future options. Coincidence and arrangements of the universe are not factured in – and less romantically – it takes out unusual choices. Your partner is expected to be within a radius of 2 km from the places you frequent. Their age is between the specifications provided by you. You have the same interests or very close. The possibility of falling in love with someone who is two years younger than what you defined or who has totally different interests, takes bad selfies but is rather handsome in real life hardly exists.
However, the picture is not that bleak. Dating sites and apps have paved the way for many unimaginable things. The website ‘et3affaf’ for the Arab speaking region was not initially designed for any particular country. Yet it has become very popular in Saudi Arabia, the kingdom that just recently allowed women to drive cars. Out of the 600 thousand users, 75% are registered on the app to be Saudi. The average age for women is 26/27 and for men is 32/33. The app has contributed since 2013 to tying 1323 knots without the help of family, tribe or friends.
Bumble, another application seeks to empower women and change the traditional rules of approaching the other by giving women the privilege of initiation. When a man is chosen he has 24 hours to make the first step. What is different about this app is how it handles men’s fears of rejection as they were raised to always be the initiators which drives them to behave defensively because of stress. When women are not responsive, they turn hostile. The application resolves this element. When women make the first step and men feel praised and not rejected, everything is more relaxed.
With the pace of the present world, there is less time to go out to parties and social events. Facebook is preparing to enter the arena using the information they have of individuals, their interests, social circles and personal preferences. The launch of a new dating app has been announced by making a new page on the traditional application for dating and which is not visible to the other unless they also have a page, as you choose, and it is based on your given information in addition to those in the groups that you joined. So you can open one of the groups to date someone or pick an event to attend together. If the person likes you, Facebook will make a number of choices from its dating page which you can use to initiate a chat. So you can start getting to know one another in reality and with a view to a long-term relation; not just once or twice for fun as it is currently with Tinder. At least, that is what the creators are intending. When Tinder started that was the goal too and in Tinder’s description it says it promotes long and meaningful relationships.
Society now accepts many different models. You may feel the need to date both sexes, have a certain fetish, want to find your own sexual tendency or be asexual which is normal today. Yes, this slightly contributes to the fact that your generation gets less sex than previous generations but it is the price for freedom. Who wants to end up as a number in generational statistics anyway?
For me it is a chance to try the largest number of dresses and matching sandals. If, however, I continue to feel lonely and fail to find a partner for more than just spending a good time together, then, to save my mental health in relation to men, I will keep frequenting real public places, to retain the old auras, the exchange of looks and attempts at trying to say something, to start a conversation and most importantly: overcoming the fear of having to keep eye contact.