November 17, 2017

Has sex replaced love in the age of Tinder?

Traditional dating is dead. The proliferation of dating apps is part of a wider trend: we’re rejecting monogamous, committed relationships for short-term casual encounters. We’re told we no longer start dating to find the one, but to find the next one to spend the night with. But is this true? Has sex really replaced love?

Tinder. Happn. Bumble. Coffee meets Bagel. Or Bristlr if hairy men are your thing. Dating apps have taken over. With more than 1.4 billion swipes each day on Tinder alone, you’re more likely to find your latest squeeze by swiping or clicking online than anywhere else [1]. These apps give us unfettered access to thousands of single people, available at the touch of a screen and filterable to your preferences. With this comes a constant stream of potential dates to evaluate, messages to read and matches to respond to, accompanied by that addictive rush of dopamine every time you receive an alert. What’s not to like?

As a result, our courtship rituals have been transformed. Traditional dating is dead. Vanity Fair called it the ‘dating apocalypse’ [2]. Gone are the long, lingering evenings at the theatre, or connecting over a sumptuous meal. Instead, it’s swiping and messaging with multiple people, a plethora of non-official hook-up buddies and late-night speculative texts with one thing in mind.

As the initial hype has died down, the general conclusion seems to be that modern dating is very effective at facilitating casual encounters, but less effective at helping you meet your one true love.

The Atlantic reported on this trend last year [3]. Bryan, a 44-year old New Yorker, was a case in point:  ‘I have had lots of luck hooking up, so if that’s the criteria I would say it’s certainly served its purpose. I have not had luck with dating or finding relationships.’ His experience is fairly typical. Finding a long-term relationship with these dating apps is hard work. In the same article Frannie, a 34-year old healthcare consultant, reported her experience:  ‘I have a boyfriend right now whom I met on Tinder. But it really is sifting through a lot of crap to be able to find somebody.’

If reports are to be believed, the proliferation of dating apps is part of a wider trend: we’re rejecting monogamous, loving, committed relationships for short-term casual encounters. Glamour magazine reported on the rise of the pre-dating ‘sex interview’, where two people sleep together to see what they’re like under the sheets before proceeding with the more time-intensive dating process [4]. We’re told we no longer start dating to find the one, but to find the next one to spend the night with.

But is this true? Has sex really replaced love?

I would suggest not. In fact, love continues to dominate our culture and our psyche, because ultimately it’s intrinsic to who we are. The headlines have confused the increased willingness of my generation to sleep with people they don’t really know with a supposedly diminished desire for love. For most people, enjoying one-night stands and seeking a long-term loving relationship are not mutually exclusive. They seek out casual encounters to satisfy an immediate need, whilst hoping to find that special someone in the future.

Helen Fisher, the biological anthropologist and scientific advisor for, suggests that underneath the multifarious practices that this generation has become notorious for, we’re still seeking love:  ‘The vast majority of people on the internet, even on Tinder, are looking for a long-term committed relationship. Marriage used to be the beginning of a relationship, now it’s the finale’ [5].

The behaviour we see is a reflection of changing sexual mores and a different conviction of how to find love, rather than a rejection of love as the ultimate goal. Far from falling out of love, we’re as obsessed with love as we always have been. The ongoing popularity of rom-coms or the enduring importance of weddings reveal that most of us are still, deep-down, dreaming of love. Our dating rituals may have changed, but our biology and our design hasn’t.

I think the persistence of love tells us something about what it essentially means to be a human. To love and to be loved is the most profound human instinct – it’s ultimately what we all want.  This desire does not only operate in romantic contexts, but exists in all our relationships, beginning with our parents. The desire to be loved unconditionally is more intrinsic than we think. Psychological studies abound regarding the physical effects of growing up feeling unloved by parents. One study from McGill University found that those children growing up with less affection were more likely to be obese. Another study from Washington University suggested those growing up with more nurturing parents had developed bigger brains [6]. Love is intrinsic to our development.

But where does this come from? Why is love such an essential part of what it means to be human?

I would argue that this desire for love is not just an evolutionary instinct, or something we’ve developed to make the world a better place, but an indication that we are made to love and be loved by God. This restless pursuit of love is a reflection of our ultimate existential purpose, hardwired into us by design, which most of us haven’t even realised. God is the source of love within us, he’s the reason any love exists within the world at all. He’s demonstrated his love for us – both in creating this world for us to live in and enjoy, and in his willingness to send Jesus into the world, to save us from ourselves and reunite us back with him.

The truth is, you’ll never find what you’re really looking for in a dating app, a casual sexual encounter, or even a committed relationship like marriage. The central thread of the universe that so many of us are missing is that we are loved by our Father in heaven. Understanding, embracing and responding to this divine, unconditional love is the solution to that most sincere desire for love that we all experience.

[1] ‘Are you being “stashed”? This dating trend makes it easier to cheat on your partner’, Evening Standard, 22 August 2017.
[2] ‘Tinder and the Dawn of the “Dating Apocalypse”’, Vanity Fair, September 2015
[3] ‘The Rise of Dating-App Fatigue’, The Atlantic, 25 October 2016
[4] ‘Five Years Later, What Have Dating Apps Really Done for Us?’, Glamour, 19 April 2017
[5] ‘Tinder Won’t Change Love’, The Atlantic, 19 October 2016
[6] ‘5 Benefits of Showing your Child Unconditional Love’, Deseret News, 27 April 2015

Jeremy Moses

Jeremy Moses
Jeremy is an Italian, Swiss, Indian, Iraqi, Jewish Londoner who has worked for multi-nationals and startups, and now helps lead a church.

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