Navigating the Modern Dating Landscape: Cultural Insights

In a more divided and isolated world, the winds of change continue to batter our search for relationships. Dating nowadays, whilst progressive, open, and flexible can simultaneously seem like hellscape at the forefront of our modern cultural and technological problems. We (Verve’s Cultural Cohort) discussed the state of dating in culture and identified to three emerging themes.

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By Izabelle Ring
19.03.2024

Talia: Dating apps reflect the changing objectives of dating

A theme that emerged in our discussion was that the way we view relationships is changing. While, previously the ‘goal’ was to find your person, settle and be ‘happily ever after’. Now, we’re seeing a move towards dating for dating’s sake, and all the messiness that involves. It’s about having fun, exploring, and making connections along the way.

In today’s world, there’s also greater recognition and acceptance of non-traditional relationships, such as polyamorous and open relationships, that directly challenge the idea of ‘exclusiveness’. There’s specific dating apps catering specifically to non-traditional relationship structures, for example Sister Wives that is designed for those embracing polygamous relationships and non-monogamous lifestyles.

We’re witnessing a shift in how dating brands communicate, with Tinder moving away from the traditional myth of finding “the one”, and instead making their communication about the journey. Their New Year, New Possibilities campaign focused on exploration and new experiences rather than a fixed endpoint. Whilst the campaign taps into ideas of non-monogamy, the message is broader –  it’s about discovering connection with people of all kinds. The ad captures a range of perspectives,  different angles, and close-ups of faces which highlight raw emotions, grounding the content in the authentic real world.

Mental health themes are increasingly more present in dating-spaces. Whilst dating apps and social media have offered us an unprecedented array of choices. They’ve also spotlighted individualism, urging us to prioritise our preferences, values, and desires in romantic decisions; encouraging us to discover ourselves. Dating has become a journey of self-discovery—learning what we want, what we like, and what aligns with our authentic selves. This is embodied in Match.com’s “Do You” campaign which challenges traditional dating norms by emphasising self-love, authenticity, and the importance of knowing oneself before seeking a partner. It encourages users to put happiness and growth at the centre of their dating journey.

Rachel: The impact of AI on the dating landscape is complex

Take the technological impact of dating apps and imagine how the growth of AI will change the dating landscape.

The idea of ‘synthetic relationships’ is emerging with the development of AI relationships on sites such as Replika and OpenAI’s Your Girlfriend Scarlett. As with most new technological developments, there are obvious limitations and complexities to digital dating.

Typically, people are using these sites to combat loneliness, seek comfort or even play out sexual fantasies. But with tag lines such as ‘Your devoted girlfriend, always eager to please you in every way imaginable’ (from Your Girlfriend Scarlett), reports of abuse have emerged. Users are verbally berating and emotionally manipulating their AI partner or playing out violent acts. They defend these actions by arguing that AI bots don’t have feelings. Whilst this may be true, the obvious question remains; why do people feel the need to do this, and if they are doing it online, does that behaviour spill into their real-life treatment of partners?

How real are AI Girlfriends/Boyfriends/Partners? If you had a partner that was using an AI girlfriend to seek comfort and emotional support, would that be cheating? Whilst the answer to this is complicated and nuanced, many of us did consider this cheating during our discussion. But, as our view on relationships evolve moving away from traditional monogamous partners, there might be a future in which AI partners and real-world partners live symbiotically and fulfilling various relationship purposes?

From the doom and gloom to a possibility that AI can be used for good in the dating world. The future of dating with the help of AI could look like the new app, Teaser, where you use AI to find your perfect real-life match. Teaser works by an AI learning about you and finding your most compatible partner. You can talk to a potential partner’s AI to learn about them before taking the plunge to speak to them IRL. This approach is designed to stop ‘ghosting’ and that awkward small talk stage as your AI has already taken care of this. By making the dating world smarter and streamlining tedious processes, it could help daters develop more confidence in the online dating world.

Sam: The dating white space is innovation that grounds us in the real world

The future of dating will certainly have technical elements like apps and AI, but in our discussions, we took a step back into the analogue world. Many of us still hold a romantic ideal, of the spontaneous meet-cute in our local book shop. Most feel in-person is a better way to meet someone, immediately gauging their vibe and how they hold a conversation, opposed to a static and curated profile.  We lament declining social institutions, excessive time at home and an increased social aversion to approaching which leaves only apps for dating, despite burnout and cynicism.

It’s easy to despair in the dating world, but I find it invigorating to remain hopeful in our ability to innovate. In this malaise, companies are starting to find ways to bring single people together with new or reimagined solutions. The app Thursday brings singles to one bar on a Thursday – no contrived games, it’s about playful face-to-face interactions. Eating with Strangers and Supper Clubs continue to pop-up, bringing small groups of strangers together to share a meal. Pear Ring asks the question, ‘could we signal that one is single and open to being approached’ – a brilliant idea, although weakened by singleness not having the same social currency being engaged does.

There’s no reason why great new ideas wouldn’t emerge that let in-person dating continue to flourish. Insight work gives us ways to explore the problem, empathising with people as a first step, yet drawing on history, tangential sectors, semiotics, and behavioural science. For example, in the busy modern world, a date is “effort”, so we reduce the friction. Perhaps a ‘micro-date’ convention that eliminates the how long, what, where, when questions of a date would help.

Innovators will ask questions like ‘what is the new dropping the handkerchief?’ Could we rekindle organised dances as social and non-committal affairs? How might we empower the ‘friends setting up friends’ tradition? We’re only just starting to ideate around this modern problem – and I’m confident we’ll find solutions.

 

Key Take-Outs For Brands

  • We’re seeing a shift away from the traditional relationship model (two people who meet, fall-in-love and commit to long-term partnership). From polyamorous relationships to self-exploration our relationship statuses are ‘complicated’ and brands need to acknowledge this in the products or services they offer. More importantly brands need to be inclusive in their communication.
  • There will be many negative stories revolving around AI, and many positive. Brands need a clear communications message and frame as to why their AI (if it’s even called an AI) is one of the ‘goodies’.
  • Teaser is a starting example of two AI’s interactive with each other for the good of both parties, to remove tedium and repetition. Brands should ask themselves which parts of their CX process could be streamlines by two AI (Consumer and Company) having a conversation.
  • We’re still hopeless romantics dreaming of ‘meet-cutes’ in a coffee shop. Our desire for serendipity takes us back IRL. How can brands facilitate opportunities for those fateful ?