How Slow Dating took over online dating

Are we moving too fast? One writer asks if ‘slow dating’ really is the new speed dating and whether it can absolve us of our online dating anxieties

Feature by Liv McMahon | 01 Apr 2019
  • Slow Dating

It’s no secret that young people are starting to turn away from our phone screens and the social media zeitgeist we’re sucked into on a daily basis. Nor is it a rare sight to see scaremongering slogans of cigarette packets reappropriated as phone stickers, captioning our ironic selfies: 'social media seriously harms your mental health.' Validated by the newsflash that millennial burnout is indeed a thing (who knew?), is it any wonder we’re turning on airplane mode and taking flight from the digital world?

Much to Kylie Jenner’s joy, we’re looking to realise even more stuff in 2019. Namely, that switching off altogether might be better for our mental health than scrolling through a never-ending hellfire of content. Nic Newman of the Oxford Internet Institute reckons that “with consumers increasingly conscious of the time they are wasting online, we’ll see more people leaving social networks, more tools for digital detox, and more focus on ‘meaningful’ content.” With revived concerns about our data in the hands of creepy digital overlords and worries about how much time we waste online, it’s clear to see why digital natives are pondering what a life lived offline would look like. As such, the dating landscape is looking to rebrand itself according to emerging technologies and attitudes as part of the ‘slow dating’ trend.

'Slow dating is supposedly our salvation'

While the mere mention of ‘slow dating’ has many imagining the myriad forms speed dating could take if reversed – a never-ending timespan to suffer in small talk without being saved by the bell – it is fast becoming reality as dating apps flock to deliver our collective crisis into the clutches of tech corporations. The question of what slow dating actually involves was what I asked when I went along to a Tinder and Boiler Room collab event last November. Ironically, despite being coined ‘the 411’ for love and dating in Glasgow, no one there (myself included) had a clue what it was trying to be. The closest hint could only be found in studying another lone wanderer, who moved from corner to corner of SWG3, firing through female profiles on Tinder with unsettling intensity. Of course, these swiping sprees are not uncommon, but this sight crystallised my impression that this event simply exposed a general consensus of confusion about the world generally, and our impulse to rapidly swipe left on this stressful realisation.

Slow dating is supposedly our salvation, replicating the best things about finding a partner in reality. Apps from Hinge to Happn base their unique appeal on a form of reflecting how we establish romantic connections offline. Combatting our existential concerns of how we connect and communicate now amplified within the world of online dating, they aim to slow the rate at which we find relationships, echoing our increased desire for ‘meaningful content’ online. Conversations with friends reveal that on closer inspection, there is something discomforting about the rush of swiping to match with as many people as possible on Tinder.

While swiping apps speed up the process of finding potential hook-ups offer a quick and convenient route to casual sex, those hoping for a more established connection are dissatisfied by going through the motions of swiping. “It’s always better to slow things down than go too full steam ahead,” states a friend who’s found herself immune to Tinder’s charms for this reason. Similarly, the Oxford Internet Institute recently found in a study with dating site, eHarmony, that us single Brits actually have a ‘dating capacity’ – only engaging with around half of our matches on a weekly basis.

Happn, Hinge, Bumble and Once

So, with the rise in apps helping us to connect at a human, rather than technological, pace online, it’s easy to see why Tinder is fending off competition from Hinge, Happn, Bumble and Once. These alternative apps are aligned in their efforts to reduce the overwhelming amount of options we’re inundated with in the day-to-day cacophony of consumerist activity. Quality over quantity is the new philosophy of the online dating game, with each app telling us its respective algorithm can keep us afloat and active in who we choose to engage with, stopping us sinking beneath a bottomless pit of profiles and conversations instigated (and often ended with) trashy one-liners.

Hinge hooks you up with those you share Facebook friends with, creating an easier way of meeting someone you at least share something more solid with than a mutual dislike of cats. Bumble integrated zodiac filters to allow spiritually-minded users to cancel out incompatible star signs, letting us forgo fire signs or dip our toes into a pool of water signs. According to a press release from Bumble’s chief brand officer, Alex Williamson, this controversial move took the aim of “creating a more personalised experience for users, and hopefully makes starting a conversation with someone just a little bit easier.” Meanwhile, Once and Happn predicate their appeal on the romanticised notion of stumbling across someone we feel attracted to in the street (and finding them shortly after on Happn), or falling in love or lust with someone at first sight (with Once, both users experience matches simultaneously in real-time).

But as we brush off Facebook’s desperation to dissuade users leaving the platform after revealing Mark Zuckerberg as the IRL Voldemort of Silicon Valley, are we convinced by this wave of initiatives adopting a pretence of corporate care and responsibility? Let’s not forget that these sites share the common denominator of putting the data in dating, and, like Facebook, can easily make a profit selling our data by the millions. At the end of the day, there remains the debate of whether algorithms pre-empting human behaviour are determining mainstream dating as a monogamous, oversimplified and discriminatory place to be.

The increase in apps hoping to mimic that sensation of meeting someone face-to-face as a slow-point in a turning world might mean such nuance is sacrificed. So where does this leave us? I guess all we can do in the meantime, other than placing our overused index finger on this issue, is take a deep breath and open the next shiny new app to find out.