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By Thomas Gessner
Dating apps have quickly become a staple of phone lock screens around the world, and they are being used by all types of people, different genders, sexes, and age groups more than ever. But how are these apps being used amid a pandemic? The antithesis of romance that is the COVID-19 virus, a disease that spreads through close contact and touch, stifled many lovers' options to meet potential partners in conventional manners. But, apps like Tinder, Hinge, and Bumble are providing new opportunities for individuals to participate in dating and relationships. In particular, one large demographic taking advantage of these services has been, none other than, college students.
Robert Kelchen, a blogger, professor and researcher who discusses higher education, has said that “campus life will be a combination of a monastery and a minimum-security prison”, and while there is plenty of evidence to support the latter comparison, college life for many is not celibate. Perhaps Kelchen underestimates both the lack of control and oversight a college has on its students, as well as the determination of students who may be away from any parents or guardians for the first time in their lives. This series of anonymous interviews with college students (all North Carolina residents who attend four-year institutions) asserts the idea that college-aged youth are continuing, or attempting, a proactive lifestyle.
The students were asked questions about their usage of dating apps in college during the pandemic, and from among that group there were a range of reasons for downloading these apps (Tinder being the most popular), but still, plenty of commonality remained. Hookups while being in an open relationship, friends with benefits, friends with no benefits, new relationships, long term sexual relationships; all were goals given in regard to dating app usage.
“The pandemic has made it hard to meet people so I’ve met some guys through there who I’m just friends with,” one interviewee said.
Every student interviewed said that they intended to physically meet people they met on dating apps, despite the potential dangers involved with such an act. This is something not supported by most major dating services, who have been advocating for socially-distanced meetups or online dates, but college students are not on these apps to keep their distance from people. Every interviewee had already met someone they found on the app in person with the intention of a relationship and/or sexual activity.
They also clarified that using these apps was “not necessarily because of the pandemic,” however. Maybe these excursions aren’t something that’s premeditated or particularly thought out, as one student seemed to infer.
“I don’t really think about why I’m using dating sites, I just kinda use them,” he said.
This statement suggests that this new crop of Tinder and Bumble users might not have a plan, especially in a more spontaneous period of their lives.
Every student interviewed cited COVID-19 as a reason why they began using dating apps, or started using them more frequently, but that’s not to say that students wouldn’t be on these apps if the pandemic never happened. In general, the college lifestyle has an undeniably large influence on the usage of dating apps. The middle section of Generation Z is entering a time in their lives without the same levels of supervision, and with a continued desire to connect with people on a romantic, platonic, and sexual level.
That being said, college-aged students are having less and less sex, per a 2018 study by the National College Health Assessment, which showed a five percent drop in sexual activtity among college students since 2000. For the fall of 2020 survey, only 6.7 percent of surveyed undergraduate students said they participated in vaginal intercourse in the past year, but this is higher than the percentage for the spring of 2019, which was 5.5 percent.
Now, it seems counterintuitive, but maybe people like Robert Kelchen are looking at the impacts of the pandemic incorrectly. An age group that has been participating in sexual intercourse less and less every year could be motivated by a greater lack of human interaction to become sexually and romantically active. In this respect, the pandemic almost serves as a catalyst for college-aged kids using dating apps. Maybe the pandemic has reinvigorated college students, students who grew up with iPods and cell phones, students with a more intimate understanding of technology and apps than anyone else on the planet, and because of that have turned to something they can understand: Tinder, Bumble, etc.
Of course, what is being seen here is a lot of correlation and circumstantial conclusions made using rational thought in the absence of hard facts. But the small group of students interviewed is helpful on an anecdotal level for comprehending this movement to dating apps. My hope is that these ideas presented will allow for greater thought and contemplation of how students have found connection in a world lacking just that.
So don’t brush off these students’ mid-pandemic dating lives, because maybe they’re just ahead of the curve. Pretty soon, your own phone screen may be filled with some more yellow and red. ●
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