Dating apps beyond the romance: finding platonic connections online

Photo of phone iwth Bumble loading screen.
Photo of phone iwth Bumble loading screen.
Photo by Katerina Oosterwijk

I’ve always had a prejudice towards online dating. Maybe I’m an old romantic, or maybe I’m just cynical about today’s hookup culture. Either way, I refused to download any dating apps for the longest time. 

Let me preface this article by stating that I haven’t had any drastic changes of attitude…but I’m less skeptical about finding relationships online than I was before. 

And when I write the word “relationships”, I’m not limiting the term to romantic partnerships. I always liked it better in reference to a broad range of human connections anyways. Particularly  in relation to platonic ones. 

It seems that many are indeed gravitating towards dating apps to find all kinds of relationships –  from committed partnerships, to situationships (yes, it’s considered a real word now) to casual hook-ups. 

And with every year, there is an increase of people using online dating. In 2021, 44 per cent of singles across Europe and North America tried dating products, a nine per cent increase from 2015. The surge of activity on apps such as Tinder, Bumble and OkCupid that occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic has not maintained quite the same extreme levels as it did at the time. All the same, online dating has embedded itself into the fabric of our social life. 

I admit, I’ve tried out Bumble and Hinge. I downloaded them with the impression that it would be a bit of silly little fun, but using dating apps has felt like more of a chore to me than anything else. As an introvert, my time spent with other people is precious and limited.  The superficial conversations that are unfortunately inescapable when using online dating can bedraining. 

Not to mention how terrifying it can be to put yourself out there. You’re talking to, and maybe meeting up with, complete strangers. Unless some next-level communication is established right off the bat, our personalities, interests and intentions on the app are a mystery to the people on the other side of the screen. Further, we are left just as much in the dark. 

Of course, this is the tough deal that comes with finding relationships online. I’ve begun to realize my tendency to place overly high expectations on the poor souls of Bumble who don’t deserve my harsh judgement.  

In fact, creating expectations about our ideal romantic or sexual partners may prevent us from establishing relationships that otherwise may be very valuable. 

I’ve witnessed (and experienced) some lovely connections that have been established after meeting online, without the expectation of a long-term commitment or the pressure of a meaningless and soul-sucking hookup. 

Sure, these kinds of connections may develop into something different over a longer period of time. The point is, they start out being honest, open-ended and platonic. Friends without benefits if you will. 

The typical expectations of dating and romance have long been ingrained in me.  I’ve honestly struggled to grasp this concept of online “friends without benefits”. However, I’ve also received some relevant words of wisdom that I’ve very much taken to heart. 

Essentially, I’ve realized that our youth should be about meeting people as they exist right now and valuing them as such. No pressure or expectations, just enjoying the relationships that flow in and out of our lives. 

Dating apps are a part of the culture that often tell us the opposite about love. According to our society, time is running out, we are worthless if we are single and consequently, we must actively seek out validation in the form of dating. 

But what if we were to flip that notion on its head? What if we used online dating not as a source of superficial validation, but as a source of simple, human connection, repurposing these apps with different personal intentions? 

I’m still an old romantic, perpetually skeptical about using dating apps. I will never not adore the idea of a love at first sight, or one that is fatefully hanging in the stars. 

But ultimately, we do put too much emphasis on romantic connections, and I don’t want to miss out on any more relationships that have been waiting to achieve the same value. I just might have to put my skepticism on hold this time around. 

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