A self-proclaimed resident of dating apps talks about the best (fleeting validation) as well as the worst parts (the emptiness after attaining said validation) of online dating. He reflects on why he continues to use them intermittently despite how they invalidate his notions of self-worth. As a Muslim, he also offers insight into the world of halal dating apps.
Covid or no covid, what makes us human is our sociality. It is our yearning for that elusive connection with another human being. I say it’s elusive because with the aid of technology, anyone can be anything. You can curate your identity. You can fool anyone and by the time they find out, it’ll be too late. Their heart would have already been broken by a fake person.
Enter dating apps, the perfect platform to misrepresent yourself and to talk to others who misrepresent themselves too. Everyone who downloads a dating app is doing so for a sole reason, presumably: that is to find love. Sounds innocuous right? That’s because it is.
In this piece, I share my experience of being a resident of dating apps. Needless to say, my residence is very intermittent. The funny thing is, I enter when I’m bored, and leave when I’m bored. I have dabbled with OkCupid, Coffee Meets Bagel, Tinder, and even Bumble. As a Muslim, I have also used two of the Muslim dating apps, Muzmatch and Minder.
Validation Is Just a Click Away
In the good old days when dating apps and the internet didn’t exist, you had to wait days to tell someone you liked them, and even longer to hear their response. With the emergence of the grand handphone, this process became much more instantaneous. Fast forward to the 21st century, dating apps make this process almost effortless. Don’t get me wrong; I know there are couples who dated online or were in long distance relationships before they got married. The struggle they went through was hard, to say the least.
Dating apps were, and are, my temporary solution to feeling unworthy. They’re a source of (very momentary) validation. I was more interested in having a girl “like” me than in having a meaningful conversation with said girl.
Now let’s talk about me. Why did I sign up for dating apps? Am I looking for my wife? Nope. Dating apps are just a fad. It’s cool to talk to a girl online, to receive a notification that ‘cutiebooty’ or ‘Princess Amy’ liked you back or messaged you. I first tried out dating apps in September of 2018. I was going through a breakup, which, mind you, I initiated. I lost a source of ego boost and I needed to bounce back. Dating apps were, and are, my temporary solution to feeling unworthy. They’re a source of (very momentary) validation. I was more interested in having a girl “like” me than in having a meaningful conversation with said girl.
Dating apps challenge you to get as many likes as you can. They are also great company during a global pandemic. Incredibly, when I browse girls’ profiles on apps such as OkCupid, many of them admit they’re on them because they’re bored and can’t go out of the house during this period. When you’re vulnerable, bored and lonely, you’ll do anything to feel even a tiny bit less so. Tinder welcomed me with open arms. The concept of swiping on girls was so radical. It gave a broken and vulnerable me so much control.
Of course, Tinder welcomed me with open arms under one condition: purchasing their subscriptions. If I wanted unlimited swipes and the resultant unlimited control, I had to pay a monthly, semi-annual or annual subscription. The saint in me was against such a ludicrous deal. How could I buy romance? Was I really that cheap? Turns out I was, because I did pay for a subscription. Now I had unlimited control to swipe right and mostly, swipe left. I didn’t feel more powerful after that. I felt more worthless and this bring me to my next point.
We Are Cherished yet Commodified
The developers of these dating apps create them on the premise that they want people to find true love and be happy. The intention is noble; the method, next to plain evil. I know I’m a hypocrite for criticizing them since I partake in their scheme but what the heck. In the rare moments that I did match with a girl, I felt great. I felt desired. Like, WOW. Someone swiped right on me. I did match with a girl on Tinder once. We talked for maybe two weeks and then, nothing else happened. I asked her why she swiped right on me. She said I was cute. The thing is, if she had asked me the same question, I would have given the same answer. Tinder is notorious for friends with benefits and one night stands, so looks assume a high degree of importance. You’re essentially reduced to your looks. You may have to write a profile of yourself but it’s really the profile picture that catches one’s attention.
Dating apps don’t just commodify us. We also self-commodify. By paying for subscriptions, we’re saying that we are willing to spend on girls or guys who might or might not accept us. We’re putting a price tag on love we are capable of offering and receiving when that love should be priceless. But no, it has to be $11.99 a month.
Furthering the process of this commodification is the criterion apps offer us that help us decide what kind of people we want to talk to and date. Tinder doesn’t really have this. OkCupid does. My favourite checklist on OkCupid is the ‘hotness’ level of a person. I mean, it’s ridiculous! First of all, how do you decide if someone is below average, average or above average. Thankfully, I’m comfortable with my looks so even if OkCupid decides I’m below average, I’m cool with that. But what about guys and girls who aren’t comfortable, and then they see the ‘below average’ filter? What message is it sending to them? The message is if you don’t tick some arbitrary boxes of attractiveness, get off the app.
Is it just me or does every other girl seem to like dogs, Netflix and have an INFJ personality?
The banal also lies in the profiles I come across. Is it just me or does every other girl seem to like dogs, Netflix and have an INFJ personality? I’ve not looked at guys’ profiles, but many girls seem to have a dog in their arms on their profile picture. Some up the ante by saying they are parents to furry kids (another common phrase). There’s just no originality. I also learnt a new term: ambivert. I think all six billion of us are ambiverts. Some days, we want to be on our own. Other days, we want to socialize. End of story.
Maybe this is my Muslim bias talking here, but every girl sees wine as a form of relaxation. It’s also an assertion of socio-economic class. I get it: you’re a connoisseur. My curiosity led me to search for girls on OkCupid who were non-Muslims but didn’t drink. And there were. Overall, alcohol seems to be a marker of one’s personality on dating apps these days. Maybe there’s romance in alcohol.
I got tired of browsing dating apps where it was difficult to find Muslim girls. I used to scoff at Muslim dating apps, thinking they were just trying to duplicate the Western dating scene in general. I stopped doing so after I signed up for Muzmatch, a dating app that caters solely to Muslims. I signed up for Muzmatch not for matrimonial reasons, but for the same reasons I signed up for other apps: validation.
Muzmatch gave me more opportunities to talk to like-minded people. You know, Muslims. The way Muzmatch works is different from other apps. Muzmatch caters to those looking for their other half. In fact, many girls say this on their profile: “Looking for someone to complete my deen (faith)”. I cannot hide my disgust at this. Is she saying that without a marriage she feels incomplete?
Like other apps, Muzmatch also asks you to fill in details about yourself. Hard-hitting questions such as how often you pray, which Muslim sect you belong to and when you want to get married. When I’m looking for girls, I can choose from a lengthy checklist that includes her age, race, sect and location. There are other checkboxes I can select but I will have to pay to do so. These include the women’s dress sense. On this hierarchy of decency, there is the category of ‘hijab’ and the category of ‘modest’. Since there is even a distinction, I am assuming that hijabis (an affectionate term for Muslim women who wear the hijab) are ultra-modest. Either that, or ‘modest’ is a euphemism for women who are not religious enough. The distinction is in any case arbitrary. There are other categories to choose from, such as her height, her education level, her prayer level and her marriage plans. I choose the ones that don’t intend to get married within the next one to two years.
Many Muslim girls expect their husbands to lead them to paradise. Ugh, please, that’s not my job. I don’t even know if I am going to heaven.
Muzmatch may be halal, but it still works according to the same logic as any other app. It makes no difference whether a Muslim girl or a non-Muslim girl likes me; I’m just after the validation. Like on other apps, profiles on Muzmatch can be cheesy too. Cheesy and annoying. Many Muslim girls expect their husbands to lead them to paradise. Ugh, please, that’s not my job. I don’t even know if I am going to heaven. Girls of different religiosities exist on Muzmatch, catered to guys of different religiosities (and vice versa of course).
I don’t pray five times a day, so I’m more comfortable talking to a girl who says she ‘moderately practises’ as opposed to ‘strictly practises’. The conversations never last long, because dating apps, at least for me, are not conducive to meaningful conversations. Currently, I am on and off with dating apps until I find the strength to cut the chord with this source of validation.
Here is my friendly advice to you single lovebirds: if you want love, dating apps are worth a shot. If you are bored and looking for validation, they will ultimately make you feel even more worthless. I know what I’m talking about because I’ve felt it.
So don’t pay for dating apps. You can earn a person’s love for free. You can also be rejected for free. Either way, you shouldn’t have to spend money on something that is supposed to be priceless.
Feature image by Sherryl Cheong
For more articles like this, check out our Modern Love/Loneliness column.
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