Whee swipe

Dating apps have increased in popularity over the last decade, marketing to more and more groups of people – from farmers to religious groups. The college demographic is no different.  

Although dating apps are a common part of college culture now, they didn’t start that way.  

Dating app popularity grew rapidly after Tinder’s 2012 launch. A year after the launch, communication professor Candy Noltensmeyer began teaching at WCU. 

“I remember way back when, probably 10 years ago now, I would tell students, ‘When you leave here in a few years your dating pool is going to get smaller and you’re going to turn to dating apps.’ And they laughed at me,” Noltensmeyer said. According to Pew Research Center, Noltensmeyer wasn’t wrong – college graduates are more likely to use dating apps to find a committed relationship. 

“I got to see the rise of people engaged in the use of those apps for better or worse,” Noltensmeyer said. 

Originally, students believed dating apps were for “old people” something they would never use, especially while enrolled and living on campus. Over time, college students’ attitude towards the apps changed and many people began to embrace the apps for many kinds of connections with peers. Now, over 48% of college students use dating apps in search of a relationship. 

When dating apps first became popular on campus, they were used primarily to find hookups or friends with benefits. 

“We were still very social on campus back then. Now what we have seen is people pulling back,” Noltensmeyer said. “COVID put a real dent in our willingness to be face-to-face.” 

According to Noltensmeyer, that is when students’ use of dating apps began to evolve into a place to find romantic relationships and, shockingly, friendships. Around 20% of college students use dating apps to find a romantic partner. However, most students still used the apps to find hookups, especially on apps like Tinder or Grindr. 

These changes were a perfect solution to the social anxieties many people developed after the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Dating apps evolved to embrace its younger audience’s changing needs. Tinder began marketing as more than a dating app, saying on its website, “It doesn’t matter if you want to find love, a date, or just have a casual chat, you still want to find an app that’s the right match for you.”  

Bumble improved its Bumble BFF feature, a part of the app designed specifically to find platonic friends. 

Though the changes bring good, they can also lead to chaos when app users are not completely communicative of their goals with the app.

“From what I hear from college students, that because we use it for so many different things, it’s really confusing to know why anyone is on here,” Noltensmeyer said. 

Noltensmeyer is not the only person who has witnessed this confusion. Jinn Hilliard is an anthropology student at WCU who uses Hinge. 

Despite Hinge marketing itself as “the dating app designed to be deleted,” Hilliard has never met a romantic partner on the app. 

“I’ve made lots of friends off of Hinge, I’ve had a decent amount of hookups off of Hinge. I’ve pretty much had no romantic partners off of Hinge,” Hilliard said. 

Despite Hinge’s purpose, Hilliard is okay with these results because they are not in search of a romantic relationship. 

“90% of the time that I use [Hinge] it is because I am entertained by the little people in my phone who think I’m pretty,” they joked. 

Hilliard is not the only one with this intention. A good portion of users do not intend to make any connections on apps, but instead look for the confidence boost that comes with knowing someone thought you were attractive enough to match with you. 

Emma Meister is a sophomore studying English education at WCU who promised herself at 17 because of a past bad relationship she would never use a dating app. 

“I graduated high school and all I had left was the summer before becoming a student at Western.  I ventured out a little bit and tried Facebook dating. It was not for me nor is it really for anyone who had just turned 18,” she explained. “I recognized that I was not at the right maturity level in order to be taking this step in a relationship. So, that was the last time I interfered with a dating app.” 

Meister didn’t see much harm behind dating apps, she just didn’t feel they were for her. “The only harm I see dating apps causing is a damage to self-image,” Meister said. She noticed how upset her friends would get when they swiped right on someone and didn’t get a match. 

Though Meister never used dating apps and continued to “meet people organically,” a lot of her friends used dating apps. Though she continued to not use them, occasionally she would swipe for her friends. 

This trend of users letting their friends swipe for them became so common Tinder made it a feature. Dating app users can send a link to their friends making them a “matchmaker.” These friends are presented with profiles the user hasn’t seen yet and can swipe left or right depending on who they think would be compatible. Later, when the user is swiping, they can see which profiles their friend swiped right on. 

 The feature almost turned dating apps into a multiplayer game. 

Charles Coffey, a second-year film and television production major, already thought of the process as a game before the feature had come out. 

“The relationships were serious, but the actual process was presented to you as a mobile game,” Coffey said. 

Coffey used dating apps after he graduated high school in 2020 to have conversations and make friends during quarantine. Though he had a few good conversations, no friendships stuck. 

“It seems like everyone is either trying to hookup or have a long-term relationship. Very few people, in my experience, were just trying to meet people and have conversations,” Coffey said. 

After arriving at WCU, Coffey began using dating apps to look for a relationship. Both he and Skylar Lankford, a third-year English major, had been swiping for 2 to 3 months when they matched. 

Lankford and Coffey matched Jan. 20. Coffey opened the conversation with Lankford with the question, “what cryptid would you be?” 

The line seemed silly but Coffey felt the need to approach conversations carefully. “Being a self-aware man on a university dating app platform, there’s a need to be careful in how I approach people because I don’t want to come off as predatory or weird, but I also don’t want to be a stick in the mud.” 

Coffey tried to communicate this to Lankford a few conversations in but realized how hard it was over text. “I almost ghosted him,” Lankford said, “I remember showing the message to two of my friends and saying, ‘I don’t know how I feel about this y’all.’” 

Coffey and Lankford went on their first date Jan. 31. What was originally supposed to be dinner and a movie, turned into a 12-hour date where they both talked and got to know each other. They’ve now been dating for over a year. 

Telling friends that they met on a dating app was no problem to either partner, in fact they both think it’s funny. However, for Coffey, telling his family seemed like a problem he would rather avoid. 

“My family is just very traditional,” Coffey explained, “so, if I had to go through the process of explaining how a dating app works, how I met Skylar and how I trusted it – it’s just not worth the conversation. Especially, all that my mom cares about is the fact that I’m happy in a relationship.”