Wrapping up the Debate: Have Dating Apps Killed Romance?

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Do dating apps kill the romance of dating, or are they actually helping bring more people together? A lively debate on this topic was held the night of February 6th in New York, with a panel of experts arguing for and against the motion: Dating Apps Have Killed Romance.

Let’s face it, if you’ve tried online dating, or had a friend who’s dabbled in it (more than 49 million Americans have), chances are you’ve heard a few horror stories. This was the focus of the argument from Eric Klinenberg, co-author with Aziz Ansari of the book Modern Romance, and Manoush Zamoroti, podcast host and journalist who argued for the motion. Citing stories of dates and relationships gone wrong, they argued that not only have dating apps killed romance, they have killed civility among daters. Ultimately, apps have changed the dating culture, and not for the better.

They argued that online dating specifically breeds bad behavior, because people are able to hide behind a screen – or worse, they have stopped interacting or knowing how to interact in real life. Zamoroti gave an example of one of her podcast listeners walking into a bar and seeing a line of single men ordering drinks and swiping on Tinder, ignoring the people around them completely. Plus, some online daters have become emboldened to send lude messages online, which makes the experience even more painful and depressing for other daters.

Because people are behaving poorly with the rise of dating apps, Klinenberg and Zamoroti argued that romance has disappeared. Many daters are too afraid to state their real wants, fears and needs when it comes to dating apps because they have been burned too many times. Instead, they see what they can get out of each date, whether it's sex or a dinner, for instance. They argued that this has created a culture of "transactional dating."

Tom Jacques, an engineer from OkCupid, seemed to steal the debate stage with his differing opinion of dating apps. He presented the numbers in a compelling way to show that more people than ever are connecting and forming relationships because of dating apps. He cited himself as an example, an engineer who had trouble talking to women in person. Online dating helped him date and become more confident, and he met and married because of it.

He also cited traditionally marginalized people, like those with disabilities and transgendered people, arguing how online dating has allowed them to meet people outside of their social circles to find love. He also noted a recent study that found an increase in interracial couples in the US, thanks to the rise of online dating.

Helen Fisher, Biological Anthropologist and consultant to dating site Match, also presented the numbers in a compelling way to show the audience that apps are an effective way to meet people, and the romance element will always be present because it's biological. When you meet in person, it’s up to chemistry and physical response – which are the markers of romance. As she argued, you can introduce a new technology like dating apps, but you can’t alter a primal response like attraction and chemistry, which are (and always will be) the touchpoints of romantic love.

The debate was hosted by Intelligence Squared US, a non-profit whose mission is to host debates that give both sides a chance to present their arguments so people can decide for themselves how they feel about a particular issue, whether it’s dating, politics, the effects of technology, or any number of challenges we face today.

The debate also featured a lively conversation with Daniel Jones, longtime editor of the New York Times column Modern Love.