Why is Gen Z abandoning dating apps?

In their quest for authentic connection, young people are opting for IRL dates

Hero image in post
Hero image in post

In their quest for authentic connection, young people are opting for IRL dates

By Darshita Goyal31 Jan 2024
5 mins read time
5 mins read time

Clean girl is out and the mob wife aesthetic is in. Quiet luxury is out and loud budgeting is in. In the internet era, trend cycles change at the speed of light. But hold on, there’s also something brow-raising at play: Gen Z – yes, the chronically online generation – is ditching dating apps to favour in-person meets. Why, you may wonder? Well, apparently there’s little good left to them.

As TikToker Keara Sullivan said in a video with 4.5 million views, “If you’re someone who met their partner off a dating app in the last two years, you caught the last chopper out of ‘Nam. You got the last lifeboat.” Thousands of comments from other young people resonate with Sullivan’s prophecy, citing ghosts, breadcrumbers and catfishers as the reason behind the growing doom of online dating. A recent study by market research consultancy Savanta also shows that 90 per cent of Gen Z are feeling frustrated with dating apps.

“Lately I’ve only heard sus stories come out of dating apps, where’s the romance? It’s just ghosting and catfishing galore,” 21-year-old Eli Fang tells woo. The receipts can confirm: first Tinder gave us the manipulative swindler (who even got his own Netflix show as a warning sign) and the infamous Tabi swiper. Then Hinge brought us a series of date fails: the woman who walked away because her date refused to pay for extra cheese, the guy who said he’s going to park his car and never returned and the couple who couldn’t decide where to meet and made it everyone’s problem.

While online dating has always had its caution stories, now more than ever, people are sharing their experiences widely on the internet – whether that’s through Facebook groups like Are We Dating The Same Guy? or viral claim-to-fame videos. As a generation that uses TikTok over Google, young people are influenced by these narratives, subsequently creating an echo chamber of why dating apps suck. The more you see it, the more you believe it.

“Many young people have reported that dating apps cause them anxiety; the fear of rejection through ghosting and public humiliation can deeply affect someone’s self esteem,” says relationship expert Chantal Gautier. 2023 also witnessed the rise of ‘for the plot’ dating; showing up for a date despite knowing it’ll never work out, in the hopes of creating content. This further disillusions people who are looking to find real connections on apps.

As per Instagram and WGSN’s 2024 trend report, 63 per cent of Gen Z users confirmed that they are single and hoping to strengthen their relationships. Dating website eHarmony also conducted a survey which showed 47 per cent of Gen Z singles listed “dating intentionally” as a priority. This, along with the slow death knell of one night stands, suggests that young people are looking to build authentic and sustainable connections, and dating apps no longer seem like the right place to look.

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Then there’s the excessive hot-or-not, swipe-swipe culture that mainstream apps propagate, which can make dating feel like a competitive sport where the winner gets the most matches. “You know how malls died because there were too many options and so the grass always felt greener in another shop? That’s how dating apps feel right now,” Leila Conrad, 24, shares. “I want to find a real connection, and apps just aren’t giving.”

This lack of trust is only amplified as dating apps increase their focus on monetising features. Tinder recently introduced a $500 monthly subscription, while Hinge is urging users to pay for virtual roses that boost their profile. All this in the midst of cozzie livs and rising inflation only convinces young people that the odds are stacked against them on the online dating algorithm. But as Gen Z moves away from traditional apps, IRL connections are gaining clout.

Eventbrite reported a 21 per cent rise in in-person speed dating events over the last year. J’Nae Phillips, the insights editor at Canvas8 backs this claim: “In the UK, face-to-face singles events are on the rise in response to swipe fatigue, and in China single daters are turning to matchmaking events to meet people.”

Thursday, the dating app that only comes alive one day a week and urges people to get off the phone and meet offline, is also seeing an uptick in users. In addition, social interest groups are at an all time high. Themed book clubs, run clubs, sewing clubs and pottery circles are soon becoming the place to be, all set up with the intention to help people meet others who pass the vibe check.

As relationship psychologist Dr. Emily May says, “People are finding the transactional nature of apps tiresome. The move towards real-life experiences signifies a longing for genuine, long lasting relationships that can in turn benefit their mental health and wellbeing.” The death (or, at least, hibernation) of dating apps, the rise of more intimate socials and an underlying loneliness epidemic all point to the same truth: cheesy as it sounds, Gen Z just wants to love and be loved.