Voices: Dating app relationships are harder to make work because people are lazy

Picture the scene. A man walks into a bakery on a crisp Saturday morning, in search of a pain au chocolat. He is weary-eyed from the night before and in desperate need of his favourite pastry.

Except, after aimlessly scrolling through Instagram in the queue that always forms outside this particular bakery, he arrives at the counter to find they’ve just run out of pains au chocolat. “That lady over there took the last one,” says the woman behind the till, pointing towards a tall, willowy redhead, who is elegantly picking at said croissant, smiling at the man. They start chatting. She offers him half her croissant. And the rest is history.

Anyone who’s ever watched a romcom will be familiar with scenes like these. Meet-cutes: those spontaneous, unexpectedly magical meetings between two people that kickstart their love story. For many, myself included, they’re the epitome of romance. And any other type of meeting feels drastically dull by comparison, none more so than those that happen on a dating app. And yes, even though these little digital love games have been on our phones for more than a decade now, I’d say that’s still the case for most of us.

But beyond being a little less romantic, it now transpires that dating app meetings could result in lower-quality love. A new study conducted by researchers at Arizona State University looked at a sample of 923 American adults, half of whom had met their spouse on an online dating service. The results found that the online daters had less satisfying and stable marriages compared to those who met their partners offline. Ouch.

It’s not the first study to make such a suggestion, either. In 2021, market consultancy firm Savanta ComRes found that those who married someone they met on a dating app were six times more likely to get a divorce within the first three years compared with those who met via friends, family or neighbours.

None of this surprises me. But it’s not because I think all dating app relationships are doomed to fail; they aren’t – and I know plenty of happy couples in stable, loving relationships with people they met online. But I think it generally requires a bit more work to get to that point with someone you met on an app compared to someone you met offline, and not everyone is cut out for that work.

Think about it. Chances are if you meet someone on an app you have no ties to them. This is probably someone you wouldn’t come across in your normal life. That means no mutual friends, no career crossover. The point is that it’s much easier to isolate this person from the rest of your life, because they seem so separate from it at the outset. Therefore, it’s going to require a little more work to integrate them into your life, and really nestle them into the fold of your daily existence.

The trouble is that when problems arise, it’s also going to be much easier to take them out of that fold. A social media block here, an “I never want to see you again” text message there, and bam. Job done.

Of course, things might not be that dramatic. But my point is that I fear dating app culture has made all of us a little bit lazy when it comes to relationships. These people are introduced into our lives as avatars, comprising six photos that may or may not be a decade old, and a few random facts that may or may not even be true.

That level of intimacy you get from meeting someone in real life is completely different to that rush of dopamine you get from swiping right and getting a match on an app. And yes, I do think it sets a precedent for the relationship that follows. Not always – but in order to be an exception to this rule, you have to be either really lucky or really dedicated to your partner and to making the relationship work – ideally, you’d be both. It is a truth universally acknowledged that this is not the case for everyone.