This thus became one of the reasons–alongside the failure of the development of intimacy–that participants became bored and exhausted with the dating app process and the behaviours that app architecture engenders, such as multiple matches and low level investment
I probably feel more hopeful about the end of isolation. I think that the nature of online dating might slightly change, because people will be wanting to have more human contact, they’ll want to be going out more and connecting … for me I’m thinking to that phase, and I’m happy to go through this stage now.
This idea that solely digital encounters were not sufficient to determine whether or not someone was a potential partner and that physical interaction was fundamental manifested in several ways. First, participants became disenchanted with the lack of investment evident in DM conversation over multiple matches. But secondly, they were also reticent to ‘over-invest’ in one person, given they might not be able to meet this person face-to-face for an extended (and unknown) time period. Participants were concerned that they might ‘over-invest’ in a match and then discover that they had ‘no chemistry’ in a real-world environment. Participants often described an ‘animated’ quality which was lost on dating apps, a three-dimensional component which could not quite be transmitted in the digital landscape, constituting part of the potential ‘chemistry’.
There’s so much lost in the digital domain. It’s kind of harsh, because there are key things about you that just don’t come across. Like, are you polite to people? Do you have good posture? Are you a smiley person? Are you loud? Are you quiet? What if I meet them face to face and the chemistry is just not there?
There was often judgment directed towards those who had been in immersed in fully ‘digital’ romances, which lacked face-to-face components.
A certain derision was cast towards these ‘faux’ types of relationships, such as by this participant (35 years of age, heterosexual, female, living in regional NSW):
I’ve got a girlfriend at the moment who is six months into an online romance or telephone romance or video romance or whatever that is, but they haven’t met yet. But unless you put it into the real world you just never, never know. You just don’t. It can be this kind of Jane-Austen-esque life and romance, but if you don’t have that chemistry, and that smell and that attraction in real life, it’s just not going to translate.
Chemistry, here, is something ineffable which can only be ascertained in the physical realm. Catherine Belsey (1994, p. 23) argues that the promise of ‘true love as the romances portray’ is ‘to bring mind and body back into perfect unity’, uniting ‘[p]hysical sensation, the overwhelming intensity of erotic desire’ with ‘rational and moral commitment, a shared life of sympathy and support’. We could roughly equate these with ‘chemistry’ and ‘intimacy’. Participants were frustrated at not being able to develop the latter in the app space, but do seem to have maintained a belief that it was possible, albeit a fluctuating belief depending on where they were in the jagged love cycle. The former, however, was positioned as impossible without a physical encounter. The pandemic provided no opportunities for these physical meetings to occur. For example, according to one participants (30 years of age, male, heterosexual, living in Sydney):
I actually don’t know where any of this can go … I’m chatting to all of these people, but I can’t physically meet them, so ;m just talking to them out of boredom. Like it’s a little ping of excitement.