How Dating Apps Changed Romance in the 2010s

It's cool to be vulnerable–sort of.


Why is Sharon Stone, one of the world's most prominent "sex symbols," using a dating app?

If you're not sure, then you're out of touch with how online love will be in the 2020s. Since the dawn of online dating in the mid-1990s, we've come full circle from shaming online romance to trying it out "ironically" to swiping right on possible mates while waiting in line at Starbucks.

When the 61-year-old actress (of salacious Basic Instinct fame) took to Twitter to lament that she'd been blocked from Bumble because users were reporting her profile was fake, we were collectively reminded that online dating's become too prosaic to exclude celebrities. "Hey @bumble, is being me exclusionary? Don't shut me out of the hive," she tweeted. Soon the company reinstated her account, with Bumble's editorial director Clare O'Connor stating, "Trust us, we *definitely* want you on the Hive."

In fact, the hive is buzzing, and not just on Bumble. Seven years ago, five dudes and one woman launched Tinder. Today, dating apps are estimated to be a $12 billion dollar industry in 2020. As swiping has creeped into our daily rituals, critics have fretted that dating has been superficially "gamified" by Tinder, killed off the subtlety of courtship, and resulted in a "dating apocalypse" that's prioritized sexual gratification over genuine human connection.

Earlier this year, writer Derek Thompson tweeted a simple graph showing Stanford sociologist Michael Rosenfeld's 10 years of research on how modern heterosexual couples meet. While he expected the data to point out the obvious to people, the general response was despair at the emptiness of modern existence, marked by "heightened isolation and a diminished sense of belonging within communities," as one user noted (which is an impressive impact for a sociologist to have on the Twitterverse, so kudos to Rosenfield, who received a barrage of messages on his own social media accounts). It's the opposite of the 1950s' "stranger danger," Thompson noted, to the extent that finding a partner is like ordering on Amazon. Like online shopping, we're struck with choice paralysis when confronted with seemingly every conceivable fish in the sea.

Is modern love emotionally bankrupt? Is our reliance on technology trapping us in isolated bubbles of ids and impulses? Eh, maybe. But one overarching effect of searching for a potential partner online is that we have to get very clever at communication, or at least faking it through shorthand. From cringey neologisms like "sapiosexual" or "lumbersexual," listing your Meyers-Briggs personality type, or inexplicably sticking your baby photo in the middle of your profile, what makes us stand out from the nameless, impersonal crowd is personal details–or, as Brene Brown loves to say, "the power of being vulnerable."

For instance, as universally appalling as identifying as a "sapiosexual" (one who is attracted to intelligence) is, the unfortunate trend took off because it "fill[ed] a gap between the language we have available and the language we need to find connection in the online dating world," Mashable noted. Psychologist, author, and sex coach Liz Powell emphasized the importance of communication via dating app: "On the internet, all you have is words. So while IRL you can watch how someone interacts with others or dances, online you just have what you type at each other." She added, "Sapiosexuality is a highly controversial term these days because of the ways it can enshrine classist, ableist, sexist, and racist ideas about what it means to be 'smart.'" But, at its core, the word is emblematic of our desire to be seen as individuals rather than a profile picture. The CEO of a dating app exclusively designed to appeal to self-identifying sapiosexuals, called Sapio, even acknowledges, "For many, defining oneself as sapiosexual has become [a] statement against the current status quo of hookup culture and superficiality, where looks are prized above all else." It's a white flag of surrender to hookup culture and an odd plea to be seen holistically.

Similarly, the CEO of Hinge has noted that the latest approach to online dating values "authentic and vulnerable" profiles. The app grew in popularity because of its requirement to answer distinct and personal questions on your profile, such as "the most personal thing I'm willing to admit," "pet peeves," "I will never tell my grandchildren," or "what I am thankful for."

Undoubtedly, we're still grappling with the linguistic challenges of presenting a curated online version of ourselves that appeals to strangers within the average three to seven seconds we have before being sentenced to a swipe left or right. But maybe the bright side of our Instagram-laden, commodified, and robot-driven daily rituals is that our banal, unsexy humanity is becoming one of our most appreciated assets—even if we don't look like Sharon Stone.


I don't really use Facebook, because they're famous for mishandling and abusing user information.

I'm also in a long-term, committed relationship, so when I heard about Facebook Dating, my first thought was, "Wow, there's literally nothing less up my alley than this!" But I was still kind of curious. With all the dating apps on the market, who in their right mind would want to find love through gross Facebook? I imagined a wasteland populated by only the most desperate people and boomers who can't figure out how to download Tinder. But I'm a real journalist. Imagination is worthless. I needed to see for myself if I wanted to write a Facebook Dating review.

So I made a Facebook Dating profile and documented my journey.

Facebook Dating is kind of annoying to find. It's actually part of the standard Facebook app (which, again, nobody should ever use, because it's probably stealing your data without your consent), so you have to navigate to the far reaches of the crappy mobile interface to access Facebook dating at all.

Facebook Dating

Once I made it in, Facebook wanted to know which "option(s)" I most closely identified with. This seemed pretty par for the course, but kudos to Facebook for including trans and non-binary folks (I hope that kind of inclusivity is common in dating services nowadays, but considering I haven't been on the dating scene in 7 years, I have no idea).

Facebook Dating

Then Facebook asked me who I'm interested in seeing. I selected everyone, because I'm an equal opportunist, and I don't want Facebook to have any information about my sexual preferences.

Facebook Dating

After I told Facebook which genders I'm interested in boning, they wanted to see a good photo of me. Their default selection was my Facebook profile picture, which I do, indeed, think is a good photo of me. Or as one guy said to me in a comment once, "Put down the bong."

Facebook assured me that even though my dating profile is technically attached to my standard Facebook profile, the two will operate mostly separately, kind of like China's "one country, two systems" bullsh*t. Make no mistake, Facebook will be gorging itself on the information in your dating profile.

Considering Facebook already has all my info, they're willing to help me fill in some information to optimize my sexual prospects. Thanks Zuck!

Facebook Dating

Facebook wanted me to describe myself in "three sentences, three words, or three emojis." I'm also only in L.A. for the weekend, because I'm attending a wedding. I don't expect Facebook to know that, but I feel it's an important fact to note.

Okay, I went with emojis. I chose a bicep because I like working out, sushi because I like eating sushi, and an American flag because I'm a "real American patriot" who loves our great nation and bleeds red, white, and blue.

Facebook Dating

I went with "Staff Writer" for occupation, because in L.A. everyone will think I write for a TV show, which is very cool; and also, everyone in L.A. is a liar, so I don't mind tricking them. Also, I don't believe in God, but I'm at least somewhat sure we live in a Matrix-like simulation and that I'm the only "real" person. Unfortunately, I can't prove these assertions, and Facebook's religion options don't go that deep. So I selected "Agnostic."

Facebook Dating

Facebook thought this more recent picture of me was pretty decent, too, and I agee. It's of me giving a thumbs up at an Italian restaurant, which hopefully tells prospective partners that I'm a guy who loves being in Italian restaurants.

Facebook Dating

Facebook also seemed to like this picture of me from when I shaved off all my facial hair except for my mustache. My girlfriend said I "looked like a joke," but I'm pretty sure Facebook knows better than she does.

Facebook Dating

After showing me my best faces, Facebook prompted me to "Answer a Question," which they seemed to suggest will help connect me with people who have similar interests. Facebook then asked about something I'm embarrassed to admit I love, presumably because it wants to collect fodder to use against me at some point. I answered truthfully.

Facebook Dating

After answering a few more questions, Facebook completed my profile. This will help me stand out from the crowd.

Facebook Dating

Facebook Dating also has a "Secret Crush" feature. Under normal circumstances, you won't see friends of yours in your dating pool. But if you mark your friend as a "Secret Crush," they'll get a notification that someone has a crush on them if they ever sign up for Facebook dating, too. Then, if they happen to select you as a crush, you'll both be notified. You can select up to nine friends as crushes, because the chances of f*cking your friends are better when you cast a wide net. I selected my girlfriend and notified her of my crush in person, because she hasn't been on Facebook in five years.

Facebook Dating

Facebook automatically assumed my ideal age range for a partner would be "20-34." I corrected this to "20-100+" because how dare they assume what I like? And that's it, the final step! My dating profile is complete, and I'm ready to hit the Facebook dating scene to see who else has entered this personal information-scraping hellscape.

Facebook Dating

Oh. They're not suggesting people in my area yet.'s literally just me. I'm completely alone on Facebook Dating. Might as well have a cartoon piña colada, eh Facebook?

Facebook Dating

From the bottom of my heart, f*ck you Mark Zuckerberg.