Dating in the Digital Age: Empathy is so Passé

When did honest communication in an age of over-communication, become such a terrifying proposition?

We’ve all been there… Single, bored, and awake at 3 a.m.watching yet another Friends omnibus, left arm elbow-deep in a bag of crisps whilst clutching a behemoth glass of Pinot in your other hand. And while you’re really enjoying staring at Matt LeBlanc’s chiseled features and perfect smile – he’s unattainable, and has aged 20 years since this episode aired anyway. However the Tinder match you just made is 8 kilometres away, 22, and apparently quite fond of sushi and shirtless selfies. You send him a gif of Adele mouthing “Hello”, and wait for a response. A couple of days and a few messages later, you agree to meet for drinks to see if your online attraction and chemistry translates into “the real world”.


So is this what dating in the so-called “digital age” boils down to – an app download (or two or three), a couple of hundred swipes left or right, and boom! you’ve found your soulmate (or at least a summer bae)? With a fifth of all committed relationships now starting online, is this the future of dating? Do hastily made judgment calls based on aesthetics and 120 characters littered with emojis, symbolise all that we need to remedy our relationship woes? Obviously, it’s not quite that simple.

The general consensus is that these sites and apps bring people together in a way that the traditional dating medium would not. It takes the guesswork out of compatibility on topics such as politics, sexual orientation, and general interests, while also allowing you to converse with potential dates from the comfort and safety of your home. This is great for those of us who like to think we’re perpetually busy, who spend our days working or going to university with the same people from the same area, but are looking to date someone other than asthmatic Amy from Molecular Biosciences.

While these aspects seem generally positive, and lead us into a world of improved external connectivity, there are downsides of entering into a style of dating that so easily facilitates cheating, emotional blindness, and a diminished sense of empathy. A recent study conducted by HTC found that nearly 25% of people in Britain still use dating apps, even if they are in a relationship, and while that number may come as a shock to some this concept seems to have become more or less socially acceptable over time.

There is a sense of levity when it comes to online dating – it’s viewed as more casual, despite the fact that these connections are built on the same structural integrity as those made offline.
While not everyone who uses these sites is callous or just looking for a quick lay, a lot of folks have become used to the notion that they have such a wide range and seemingly endless gallery of people to choose from, that sticking to just one person would mean missing out on the next best thing. Dan Slater, a former reporter for The Wall Street Journal quips that, above all “… online dating is helping people of all ages realize that there is no need to settle for a mediocre relationship.” This revelation has created a sense of entitlement and expectation within the online dating community; the notion has provided users with the mindset that “there’s always someone better out there”. And there’s a sense in which that’s lead to us becoming less emotionally available and more self-centred while we’re swiping right for our next date.

Though there’s nothing inherently wrong with casual dating, this rise in juggling multiple potential partners has lead many into the realm of “ghosting” or being “ghosted”. For those fortunate souls yet to experience such a phenomena, ghosting is the way in which people passively remove themselves from having to converse with you by ignoring you, without even giving a reason. It’s a cowardly and emotionally irresponsible way of responding to a situation that you no longer wish to be involved in – and many of us are guilty of perpetuating this behaviour. The reasoning seems to be that the individuals we match with are viewed as little more than a profile at this stage – you don’t owe them an explanation because they’re not a person you are emotionally connected to in a way that merits such an act of communication.

So, where do we go from here? How do we combat the callousness of ghosting, and the idea of our generation never wanting to settle or work things out? I’m not for a minute saying we should ignore our wants and needs, but there’s something to be said about the way in which we go about securing our pleasure at the cost of other’s finer feelings that needs to be addressed. If we’re honest, we can probably all afford to be a little more considerate – and besides, when did honest communication in an age of over-communication, become such a terrifying proposition?

Words by: Arielle Rudman

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