According to recent statistics, it’s estimated that 377.6 million people worldwide use online dating sites or apps. It’s estimated that one in every four relationships now begins online and with 180,000 Irish people on Tinder, it’s easy to see why. As well as that, the popularity of ‘First Dates Ireland’ could be a sign that Irish people seem to be more interested in actual dates as oppose to a drink down the pub. So is it the ease of the hook up via Tinder that has strangled our dating culture or did Ireland ever have a dating culture to begin with? Are Irish people more interested in an American style dating culture? I decided to ask around and figure out exactly what tickles the fancy of Irish singletons and whether or not online dating has changed the way we interact with each other.
Has Ireland ever had a dating culture? The concept of a dating culture has always seemed rather American, where it’s casual to ask someone out or for their number on the spot in everyday instances like waiting in a queue for a coffee. The way I’ve found partners is usually through meeting people at parties, adding them on Facebook and then talking to them non-stop until the next party where we shift (or something along those lines anyway). But is that a fair reflection of the Irish dating culture?
Niall Swan is a 28 year old reporter for the ICIS podcast and former Tinder user who met his current girlfriend there. He believes that our approach to dating has been shaped, like many things, by the Catholic Church. ‘Too many people approach it in a nervous, rigid way instead of treating it as the fun, eye-opening and horizon-broadening experience that it should be.’
Jess Quinn, a 22-year-old Pharmacology student and University Observer columnist, met her girlfriend on a night out in the George and takes a different view. She thinks the rules are different for those who identify as straight: ‘I’d have friends who would consider shifting someone sober to be a more significant advancement in the relationship than sleeping with them’. She met her previous partner online but that didn’t change how the relationship formed, ‘every relationship I had started with date, after date, after date.’
Claire Leydon-Roche, a 34-year-old primary school teacher believes that times have changed entirely since she was in college. She’s been with her husband for 14 years and thinks that these changes she’s witnessed are for the better, ‘people seem to be “seeing” other people now and maybe seeing a few people at once and then after seeing someone for a while then they might decide to be going out. When I was in college you were either going out with someone or you weren’t. You might kiss someone on a night out and that wasn’t a big deal but you didn’t go for coffees and cinema trips and the like unless you were ‘going out together’.’ She also makes the point that the culture of seeing a few people at once can be heathier for your relationship in the long run, ‘it gives people a sense of how they gel with other people, what’s good for them in relationships and I think then when you choose to be official with someone it’s because you really feel there’s something good there’.
Irish dating culture if it can be described as such, relies heavily on the confidence elixir of alcohol. A drunken shift in Coppers may not lead to your next relationship but it seems to be the stepping stone that many of us start with if we’re not using Tinder. It could be argued that Tinder removes this awkward first encounter by lubricating the cogs of conversation, but I myself have come across many a creep on it. I once had a guy open with the line ‘Wow, you’re a bit of a c**t aren’t you?’. To this day I still don’t know what angle he was going for. That’s not even the worst story I’ve heard about Tinder and while it’s probably not an entirely fair reflection of the people on Tinder, it’s enough for me to leave it lounging in the App store.
Is there still a stigma attached to having met your partner online? Niall doesn’t think so, ‘not many people have asked when we’ve both been present but the odd occasion that they have I’ve seen no change in their attitudes towards us. I think it’s a more than acceptable method of finding a partner nowadays’. But that wasn’t always the case as he explains, ‘I met a girl online back in 2006 when I was 18 on one of the original social medias, Faceparty and I got quite a few comments from people asking why I couldn’t meet someone in a normal way’.
Claire recounts the story of how a work colleague who met his wife online 10 years ago got a mixed reaction when he said how they met, ‘some people raised their eyebrows and thought the whole thing was a bit nerdy. They couldn’t believe he would admit to ‘having to go online’ to find a girlfriend but others were totally cool with it. I really admired how open he was about it. Loads of my friends have met their other halves online now and it’s just not a big deal anymore’.
On the other hand, Jess believes that there’s no stigma to being in a relationship that started online having been in one herself. However, she believes there is a stigma about Tinder in particular, ‘somehow ‘a Tinder date’ is less genuine than a non-Tinder date. Like I know a guy who wouldn’t ‘make it official’ with a girl he was dating for months because they met on Tinder. He found it somewhat less of a connection because it happened over Tinder’.
So is our problem just with Tinder or are we still not used to people getting together in the ‘non-traditional’ sense? It seems that it differs between people and can also depend on how much exposure you have had to social media and online dating. It’s also important to note that age can be a factor too. I do find that hard to understand though. Would you rather tell your granny that you met online or that you met drunk at a party and went to the spare room? I suppose it does depend on how much you tell your granny to begin with but both of those situations seem like perfectly normal situations to me.
Perhaps as more of our peers begin to date because of Tinder, we might be able to take it seriously but until then it seems that the image of it as a hook-up app rather than a serious dating app is hard to shake.
But what do people seem to think of online dating? Claire believes that on the whole, it’s probably a good thing. ‘I think they must be good because they allow you to access a much wider range of people so you’re probably more likely to find someone you click with’. She mentioned that 3 people in her friend circle are getting married to people they met online and believe it could be an important tool for those in their late 20s and early 30s. ‘I think for people my age dating apps have a big advantage because so many of our social circle are already coupled up, it’s hard to meet anyone new if you’re just depending on your circle of friends and their acquaintances’.
Jess agrees and says that she felt safer using an online dating app like Tinder because if someone was being creepy, she could just unmatch them. She also highlighted the ease of meeting other LGBTQ+ people, ‘I mean I see dating apps as just a more convenient way of meeting people. I mean imagine a more traditional setting, like at the bar. Imagine if you could just swipe left to all the people who aren’t interested or single, swipe left to the people outside of your desired age range, swipe left to the people you don’t find attractive and then you’re just left with the people you’re talking to’.
Niall disagrees and says while dating apps have worked for him they’re not for everybody. He believes that both they and social media have contributed to the detrimental effect on how we see ourselves and potential partners. ‘Too many people are worried about how they might look in pictures alongside their potential other halves. The sheer number of people who had height restrictions in their Tinder profiles was equally baffling as it was infuriating, not that I’m a short person or anything, but if you seriously wouldn’t consider dating someone for fear of looking taller than them in photos, that’s just strange’.
As with many things in life, there are benefits and drawbacks to online dating. There is the age-old myth that you never quite know who you’re meeting online and from my limited watching of MTV’s ‘Catfish’, I can see why this belief still holds some truth to it. As Jess said, online dating apps allow you to strike up a conversation with someone who you share mutual interests in much quicker than your average party or bar. If your interest involves ‘studying at the university of Banter’ well you’ve made my decision for me so thanks for your time.
Overall it seems that Irish people are open to online dating. It seems that technically and social advancement go hand in hand. While our view of Tinder may still be evolving, there is still a certain stigma associated with meeting and dating people using the app. That being said, online dating is proving to be a faster method of creating a connection as Niall explains. ‘With my current partner I definitely felt like we connected a lot faster. I’m not sure why, but perhaps it’s easier to be more honest and open with someone when you know that there’s some level of attraction there already based on the mutual swiping. When you meet someone in a bar or whatever, you tend to be more closed off initially in terms of expressing yourself’.
Is that a fair assessment? Perhaps it’s we who have changed rather than the dating culture itself. Either way, Irish people remain awkward both in person or online because as we know, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Rachel O’Neill Features Editor