Self-love, community, and joyful connections — when dating apps aren’t just for dating
In partnership with Tinder.
“There’s this Filipino word, kilig, that describes the feeling of having a crush and getting to know someone and that specific vibe when every little thing is so emotionally charged,” says student Jo*. 21 years old. “It’s like that moment of taking a hand in Pride and Prejudice. I missed getting that buzz with people, so that was really the impetus for me to get into dating apps.
The first kilig-esque thrills of dating — a notification alert, the first suggestion to meet in person, a conversation about a shared love for a musician — are what lead many of us to download a dating app first. met. However, connecting with strangers via apps can also lead to more unusual and less categorizable connections: one-off spontaneous encounters that leave an impact, a lifelong friend, or an experience that reaffirms someone’s sense of self. a. In particular, for people with marginalized identities, apps can be a lifeline to make friends, build communities, and feel less alone.
“In particular, for people with marginalized identities, apps can be a lifeline to make friends, build communities and feel less alone”
Jo quickly discovered a surprising and impactful connection after signing up for a dating app. “I paired up with someone who I then saw at my queer studies seminar. They messaged me after this class asking if it was me from the app. From then on, we had something in common and started hanging out. We started organizing students together and volunteered to be part of a group that occupied a building during the university strikes. We found ourselves sitting in this building at night during the occupation watching a French silent film. Nothing ever happened between us and we’re still friends now, but it would have been such a cute origin story if a relationship had happened!
Likewise, for Rhona*, who is also 21, dating apps opened up a new world of connections, as well as a community of people of color, when she started college in Glasgow. “After high school, I was desperate to use dating apps and was especially excited to meet girls on apps because there hadn’t been a lot of same-sex dating at my very suburban, very white school. and middle class,” she explains. “The thought of someone at school seeing my profile made me nauseous, so stepping away from the high school bubble was a big moment for me. Glasgow is predominantly white, but going on apps , I could see people of color in Glasgow that I didn’t recognize. A lot of my close friends are now people of color that I met on apps and ended up running into later.
Even though Rhona doesn’t always go on in-person dates with everyone she matches on apps, she’s used them as a guide to same-sex dating in real life. “I didn’t really start going on dates for a while, but I would often run into someone at a club who I had previously corresponded with and maybe had a chat with, but the conversation failed online. It was more about using apps as a way to recognize that a mutual attraction might be there if I saw them around.
Jo has also discovered that dating apps can remove the often anxiety-provoking ambiguity of same-sex dating. “I think if you’re looking for a non-heteronormative relationship, that removes a lot of the uncertainty,” they say. “Apps may feature people you already know but, in this online space, you connect with a specific understanding.”
“I think especially if you’re looking for a non-heteronormative relationship, it removes a lot of the uncertainty”
For 23-year-old Kat*, dating apps have helped him rethink the boundaries drawn in society between different types of relationships. “In college, I used dating apps a lot and sometimes I would correspond with someone and think, I just want to talk to you and hang out,” they explain. “I’ve met quite a few of my friends through them and I’m grateful for what those relationships have taught me about relationships in general. I think there’s a strong line drawn in today’s society. today about platonic and romantic relationships, and I think that says a lot about how we see the hierarchy of relationships. But I think there’s so much overlap between platonic and romantic relationships and now I think I want more platonicity in romantic relationships.These two things are so intertwined, it’s something I’ve come to understand from using dating apps.
Although Kat is candid that their experience on the apps hasn’t been entirely positive – “there are very few trans people of color on the apps which can be a lonely experience”, they say – the experience of using them had a profound impact on their perception of one’s own identity. “When I was queer, but didn’t really know what that meant, I was talking to a trans girl on an app. We clicked on so many things and talked so many things about movies and weird facts, and although nothing ever came of it, it was a euphoric experience for me. At that time I was trying to figure out my identity and it really excited me to connect on a level that I never had on dating apps with this person. This experience made me feel like I could be attracted to who I felt attracted to, not who I was told to feel attracted to.
“This experience made me feel like I could be attracted to who I felt attracted to, not who I was told to feel attracted to”
Rhona also had some less-than-perfect experiences on apps, but through them she also developed a keen sense of boundaries when it comes to dating. “I remember back in 2020 when the Black Lives Matter protests were happening, people were using that as a way to start a conversation with me,” she says. “Maybe if it was an in-person date I could forgive it, but in the concentrated space of a dating app I realized it wasn’t okay. I got it what I’m comfortable with and what I’m not comfortable with, what’s been really good for me, and what I want from dating.
Dating apps have also given Jo newfound confidence in the relationships they want in life, whether romantic, platonic or otherwise. “It let me know what I wanted more and it made me feel more at peace about how I connect with people. Every encounter, whether it’s with a friend, in a work setting or on a dating app, don’t have to be so important. It’s a profound lesson I’ve learned from apps: that people are just people!
*Names have been changed to protect identities.