Opinion: The gamification of dating is detrimental to the joy of relationships

Opinion: The gamification of dating is detrimental to the joy of relationships

When the person you are in the talking stage with is also talking to other people besides yourself, or just lacks the reciprocated care that you are giving, it becomes easy to fall into the same routine of interaction, perpetrating the issue of wide-cast but gamified and calculatingly reserved dating

Everyone wants to feel like they belong. We are social animals, and in Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs,” social connection is only superseded by the physical and safety needs required to stay alive. Beyond the basics of living, our first need for a fulfilling life is belonging.

It is clear why this ethos has prevailed in modern dating

Years ago, I remember pining after the idyllic concept of a relationship. To me, romance was the epitome of belonging – to be chosen above all others. One, in theory, can have unlimited friends, but in traditional monogamous romance, only one partner.

The pursuit of that ideal, however, is not easy. Modern communication makes connection convenient and abundant, but with so many options, the culture around dating is shrouded in ambiguity. I see modern dating as gamified and mechanized, a scene that I think hurts those seeking genuine connection.

Dating is hard but often emotionally fruitful. Researchers from Wake Forest University and Florida State University found that married people often experience better physical and mental health. They found that this also extends to early adulthood, with supportive relationships associated with better mental health.

However, relationships nowadays are hard to find, and modern dating culture only amplifies these issues. For instance, an article from Glamour touches on the modern progression of relationships: “‘The talking stage’ is a label apparently coined by Gen Z’ers to describe a maddening, un-defined early stage of many relationships,” it describes. An interviewee described the talking stage as when a couple is “doing everything that is required of a relationship without the relationship title.”

In other words, ambiguity is a defining feature of modern dating culture. In the same Glamour article, Logan Ury, Hinge’s director of relationship science said, “One big trend that we’re seeing among Gen-Z daters is just more comfort navigating ambiguity, less attachment to titles, and being more fluid in general.”

The causes of this ambiguous nature are obvious to me: sometimes, we’re not sure if a relationship’s benefits outweigh its risks, and most times, we don’t really know what we want.

A 2008 study on speed dating from researchers at Northwestern University shows that people often indicate that characteristics such as income potential or attractiveness are important to them, but their responses to actual potential partners do not reflect those stated attractors. I believe this lack of self-awareness when it comes to what we seek in a relationship, mixed with the ease of modern connectivity afforded by social media apps, has set the stage for the exploratory, ambiguous culture we see today.

Exploration and ambiguity harm people seeking lovePeople have described to me their talking stages – the people they’ve been simply exchanging Snapchats with or their numerous potential options that are only a smartphone tap away – and I come away with a sense of linearization in the dating process, as if there is a straightforward way to it. The detachment and mechanization of it felt wrong.

To me, these gentle forays into talking stages are breeding grounds for emotional damage to the unprepared. One popular TikTok articulated an iteration of the modern ‘situationship,’ where both parties are looking for something different and, in this disparity of feelings, one side typically gets hurt. This becomes a cycle when the wider culture starts perpetuating these rifts, and victims and perpetrators blend into one as these norms of interaction become more deeply entrenched.

Yet, even in this culture, most people are still seeking genuine connection. A study from the University of North Carolina Charlotte, shows that among students using dating apps, love and the pursuit of a relationship was the top motive. However, when our culture promotes acceptance for the pursuit of every degree of attraction, rather than only the most heartfelt, it makes it BRAE difficult for people to pursue the love that they are really looking for.

I believe dating has been gamified, using questionable metaphors like the age-old “rounding the bases,” as if there’s something to be “scored” in a relationship. When they face the high volume of potentially romantic interactions and incrementally progressive but ambiguous “steps” of a relationship, I think it is completely understandable for those seeking love to become discouraged.

On the other hand, this fluidity and culture of exploration can statistically be greatly conducive to finding your perfect match. How can you know what you like if you’ve never tried anything? But after all that ambiguity, how will you appear genuine once you find that special someone and have to progress beyond the casual, exploratory, and streamlined search that has permeated our culture?

Connection is too easy, our feelings too vague, and our futures too uncertain. Current dating culture is difficult to navigate and makes feelings hard to discern, but many people out there are still ultimately seeking love and the benefits that relationships bring. These difficulties may hinder progress toward that goal for many, but I believe the culture of seeking has not changed our innate desire to yearn for connection.

I believe that there are still people out there seeking love and genuine connection, even if you may have to look a little harder to find it. After all, isn’t anything worth having worth fighting for?

Max Zhang is a first-year student at Woodsworth College, studying computer science. He is the Mental Health columnist for The Varsity’s Comment section.

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