On the 20th anniversary of The New York Times’ popular Vows column, a weekly feature on notable weddings and engagements launched in 1992, its longtime editor wrote that Vows was meant to be more than just a news notice about society events.
It aimed to give readers the backstory on marrying couples and, in the meantime, to explore how romance was changing with the times. “Twenty years ago, as now, most couples told us they’d met through their friends or family, or in college,” wrote the editor, Bob Woletz, in 2012. “For a period that ran into the late 1990s, a number said, often sheepishly, that they had met through personal advertisements.”
But in 2018, seven of the 53 couples profiled in the Vows column met on dating apps. And in the Times’ more populous Wedding Announcements section, 93 out of some 1,000 couples profiled this year met on dating apps—Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, Coffee Meets Bagel, Happn, and other specialized dating apps designed for smaller communities, like JSwipe for Jewish singles and MuzMatch for Muslims. The year before, 71 couples whose weddings were announced by the Times met on dating apps.
Matt Lundquist, a couples therapist based in Manhattan, says he’s started taking on a less excited or expectant tone when he asks young couples and recently formed couples how they met. “Because a few of them will say to me, ‘Uhhh, we met on Tinder’—like, ‘Where else do you think we would have met?’” Plus, he adds, it’s never a good start to therapy when a patient thinks the therapist is behind the times or uncool.
Dating apps originated in the gay community; Grindr and Scruff, which helped single men link up by searching for other active users within a specific geographic radius, launched in 2009 and 2010, respectively. With the launch of Tinder in 2012, iPhone-owning people of all sexualities could start looking for love, or sex, or casual dating, and it quickly became the most popular dating app on the market. But the gigantic shift in dating culture really started to take hold the following year, when Tinder expanded to Android phones, then to more than 70 percent of smartphones worldwide. Shortly thereafter, many more dating apps came online.
There’s been plenty of hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth over how Tinder could reinvent dating: Maybe it would transform the dating scene into an endless virtual marketplace where singles could shop for each other (like an Amazon for human companionship), or perhaps it would turn dating into a minimal-effort, transactional pursuit of on-demand hookups (like an Uber for sex). But the reality of dating in the age of apps is a little more nuanced than that. The relationship economy has certainly changed in terms of how humans find and court their potential partners, but what people are looking for is largely the same as it ever was: companionship and/or sexual satisfaction. Meanwhile, the underlying challenges—the loneliness, the boredom, the roller coaster of hope and disappointment—of being “single and looking,” or single and looking for something, haven’t gone away. They’ve simply changed shape.