Participants ranged in age from 18 to 35. The results should also be interpreted with this limitation in mind: results might be markedly different with different demographic, and further dedicated inquiry is needed to explore this.
Data collection occurred during a curious period. This research was scheduled to occur in . However, this coincided with the COVID-19 lockdown period for NSW. The final focus group was conducted prior to the full lockdown directive, and the COVID-love narrative coloured the discussion. In-depth interviews were scheduled to be conducted via Zoom, and this continued during lockdown, as did the e-journalling. The experiences captured and documented highlight an intensely unique period of time and of dating culture.
Findings and Analysis
David Shumway (2003, p. 2) argues that we gain a lot of life lessons about romance from fictional representations of it. Importantly, this encompasses not just what romantic love is or what it feels like, but the constituent events that make up a romantic narrative. When people look for romantic love, they are often seeking out ideas that they have imbibed from representations of love, or seeking to try and kickstart a romance narrative in which they can emplot themselves.
This is clearly evident in the interview data. For instance, all participants were quite philosophical and/or sad about never having met ‘the one‘ or an equivalent to ‘the one’–that is, the person with whom they can undertake those constituent events of the romance narrative, the right person with whom they can achieve a happily ever after. This search for ‘the one‘ sends them to dating apps. As one participant (29 years old, female, heterosexual, living in Sydney) said:
I’m turning 30 this year, and it’s kind of that age when you start thinking, what does the next decade look like. All of my friends are now either engaged or married, some of them are onto their first kid, there is definitely more pressure from that perspective to take up dating connecting singles gratis proefversie apps more so.
There is a clear temporal anxiety embedded here: a sense that she either has or is beginning to fall behind, that the ‘right time‘, as McLaren (1999) might put it, might be passing her by. Therefore, she needs to begin her romance plot soon, lest she be left behind altogether, and the apps provide the easiest avenue for doing so.
Participants–especially women–often recuperated their desire to find the one, following up their disappointment that they had not yet found them with a statement about how they might not even need someone. As expressed by the same participant (29 years old, female, heterosexual, living in Sydney):
So there’s a part of me that’s like “am I ever going to meet someone if I’m not on these apps where everyone is at”, and the other half of me is like “I’m just going to go about my normal and regular life and if someone comes into my path then great”.
Encoded in this is an ambivalence not just about the possibility of romantic love, but also about the apps themselves. While dating apps are an obvious venue for meeting people, using an app also means that the participant is actively seeking love. It becomes artful, rather than artless, in a way that runs counter to many people’s understanding of the romance masterplot. This was a key point that many participants raised: they felt that love and relationships should form in ‘organic‘ ways, and that dating apps were the opposite–rigidly pre-meditated. 1
In particular, the meet-cute was invoked in this respect by several participants. This is a trope rooted particularly in filmic romantic comedies, where ‘the prospective lovers encounter each other and sparks fly‘ (Grindon, 2011, p. 9). It is neatly meta-textually explained in 2006 romantic comedy The Holiday, where Arthur (Eli Wallach) explains to Iris (Kate Winslet):