Dating in the Era of Dating Apps: The Quest for Meaningful Connections


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Dating apps have changed the dating scene. At the tap of one’s fingertips, one can search up a wide range of suitable partners in a much more convenient manner. To increase your chances of success, you can set up profiles on various apps like Tinder, Bumble and Coffee Meets Bagel, which will be delivered to a pool of potential partners, with the hopes that casting your net to a wider reach will give you a higher chance of meeting someone you click with. Yet, despite the fact that the technological tools supposedly provide increased ease compared to previous generations, dating still does not come easy for today’s youth.

Dating challenges for Gen Zs

Some blame the paradox of choice, where the freedom to choose among many options leaves a consumer more anxious or paralysed due to the difficulty in determining the best option. Those with this view say that the ease of meeting new dates makes today’s youth have little patience to stay beyond the first sign of not having a ‘spark’ or ‘chemistry’, or to spend more time learning about each other on a deeper level. Dating apps could exacerbate this mentality, as individuals might perceive an ample amount of backup options in the app.

Some blame today’s youth for being too picky, and lament the days where youth were less spoiled, and romantic relationships were simpler. These people perhaps fail to realise how finding a partner no longer stems from merely a need for someone with practical (and measurable) skills for survival, but a deeper longing for an optional but still nice-to-have companionship.

Gone are the days where ‘wife material’ meant something to the effect of cooking prowess—or ‘husband material’ pointed towards a stoic and financially stable man—save for generic qualities like being kind-hearted, even-tempered and good natured. Instead, the increased emphasis on individual aspirations in society means that youth strive to find a partner who supports them wholeheartedly in their personal journey of individual growth as an emerging adult. This could include searching for someone whose values match yours, whose humour is on your wavelength, and whose passionate spiels ignite a similar passion in you (or at least don’t bore you to death). But where conversations get repetitive and stale on the apps, and judging potential partners based on short self-crafted profiles seems akin to browsing through resumes for the perfect hire, the repetitive searching and filtering for the perfect candidate—like a job to be done long after office hours—have led to what can be known as dating fatigue.

A science solution to dating problems?

In an effort to combat the tireless search for a partner, new initiatives aim to matchmake potential partners without the need for superficial swiping. These include the Aphrodite Project, a free student-initiated and student-run project started by NUS undergraduates back in 2019. Speaking to The Ridge via Zoom video call, co-founder Aiden Low (Year 5, SoC) and core engineer and Singapore chapter lead Yap Pei Zhen (Year 3, FASS and SoC) expressed that the project was born out of a desire to help fellow students form meaningful connections with others beyond mindless swiping.

Unlike conventional dating apps where users manually swipe on countless profiles in order to get matched, Aphrodite Project uses its algorithm (built upon the stable-matching Gale-Shapley algorithm) to match participants, based on a questionnaire filled in by participants at the start of the round. All participants are put in the pool simultaneously—with the last run occurring in September 2021—before they are matched by the system. In response to dating fatigue from having to spend numerous dates filtering others out, this seems like a great solution, getting matched with who is most compatible with you!

Initially an NUS-only initiative, Aphrodite Project won the NUS Innovation and Entrepreneurship Practicum Award of $9000 and expanded to NTU and SMU this year, as well as other universities outside of Singapore. Pei Zhen, who led the launches across the three schools in Singapore (NUS and Yale-NUS students are grouped together) where there were more than 9000 participants, revealed how the outpouring demand led to their website’s external server crashing moments after the matches went live. However, despite these hiccups, she expressed that as the launch manager and face of the Project, it was heartwarming to directly receive positive feedback from participants.

Or not quite solutions?

However, in spite of the large number of participants, it is likely that due to the ease of joining, Aphrodite Project still faces similar challenges to dating apps. A scroll through Reddit or UWave is bound to surface numerous complaints of participants being ‘ghosted’ by their matches.

Chronic ‘ghosting’ 

Pei Zhen acknowledged that “fading away”—or ghosting—and simply not reaching out are both issues that their participants have faced. Drawing from his own experience living and dating overseas, Aiden expressed, “I do feel that ghosting in Singapore does seem more prominent, because in North American countries, it does feel like people are able to still have that openness in communication to let the other person know that maybe they just don’t feel like they would click that well.” He added that the dating culture in Singapore seemed to be more cautious and risk-averse.

Indeed, it seems that a desire to be non-confrontational or peace-maintaining instead translates to an undesirable trait of ‘ghosting’ others. Without external accountability and hidden behind a screen, does the perceived socio-emotional distance between participants lead some to take the easy way out of providing a truthful reason? And frankly, would the truth hurt any less?

Lack of profile pictures

While the exclusion of any profile photo for the Aphrodite Project questionnaire stemmed from a desire to make the matching less superficial and potentially allow participants to foster more genuine connections, Aiden admitted that not having the reassurance of a picture could be one of the reasons why some participants are uncomfortable to reach out to their matches. Currently, participants are given the contact information of their matches, and have to take the initiative to start the conversation on another platform like Telegram, where users are able to set privacy settings such that their profile pictures are not visible to people not in their contacts.

At the same time, this level of privacy—where one’s personal information is only shown to matches (as opposed to the whole pool of participants) and questionnaire responses are not revealed—provides reassurance for those who might be more reserved and hesitant to join conventional dating apps.

Yet, it is worth questioning if chatting via text is any less superficial, given that first impressions are still based on basic information like your course of study or hobbies. You or your match might be as quick to proclaim the match incompatible, based on other reasons that seem to boil down to not ‘clicking’, but which still harbour a subconscious awareness of appearance, faculties, hobbies, or other superficial information.

The art of dating

Evidently, there still isn’t a be-all and end-all for the dating grievances of today, and finding a partner is very much an art that science can only attempt to guide us through. At the end of the day, the complexities of dating still have to be dealt with by the individual, and we can only optimistically hope that by taking the chance to open our hearts to these experiences, it will pay off in some way or another, especially as we embark on a journey of self-discovery during young adulthood. Matchmaking technology could provide some respite and hope from the hectic life of not having any opportunities to meet someone new, but there is no foolproof method to forming connections.

We have to accept that relationships are simply a part of the human experience, and are something for us to constantly work on. The journey doesn’t stop once you meet a new friend, and the same goes for a romantic partner. Have faith as you navigate this search, and take the challenges in your stride, as preparation for the new challenges that come your way.