Have dating apps killed the crush?



Killing my sixteen-year-old self softly.

I remember my first crush – Jacob. It’s always a J name, isn’t it? I was eight and it was unrequited, of course. All the best crushes are. On Valentine’s Day, we were each allowed to ‘send a letter’ to someone we liked (I’m assuming our teachers were angling for friendship here, as we were eight, but I’m a romantic), which was then slotted in a pink cardboard box and distributed post-afternoon tea.

Upon reflection, it was kind of a cruel practice. As always, there were two or three ‘Jakes’, ‘Joshs’ and ‘Jacobs’ who received all of the letters – and with that, a slew of heartbroken schoolgirls. I had a crush on Jacob for five years and never did anything about it.

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Was it difficult to suppress my unbridled desire to play footsies with him under the desk every day? Absolutely. But without much more than the occasional “Hi Lizzy” (my name’s Izzy, but it didn’t matter) or “Can I look at your homework?”, Jacob got me through those primary school years.

When I’d accidentally watched a horror movie trailer and couldn’t sleep, I thought of his freckles and sun-bleached hair. I woke up genuinely excited to go to school and when we had to sit ‘boy-girl, boy-girl’ as punishment, I relished in the opportunity to be a little bit closer to him. It was all-consuming, completely obsessive and absolutely wonderful – my own little secret.

Many crushes occurred after Jacob; subpar men I delusionally glorified and allowed to occupy my brain throughout my teens and early twenties. It wasn’t until I downloaded Tinder in my first year of uni that I felt a shift. Why was I not caring about hot strangers on public transport? Since when do I go to a bar without trying to look mysterious, waiting for somebody to catch my elusive gaze and fall madly in love?

The idea that dating apps are killing ‘classic romance’ certainly isn’t a new revelation – but it’s one we’ve all mutually agreed to move past. Remember when it was weird to be on Tinder? When the only testimonial was your friend’s cousin’s boyfriend’s best friend, who swore he met his wife on a dating app? It was hard to believe. But as it became less okay to arbitrarily hit on strangers IRL, society slowly but surely starting hovering over the ‘download’ button.

It’s an understatement to say we’re now accustomed to the world of dating apps. A 2020 report showed that 1.7 million Australians were using them – most of them between the ages of 25 and 34. Now we all know a Tinder (or Bumble, or Hinge, or Feeld, or Raya) success story and swiping right is second nature. Say what you want about digital dating algorithms – they’re clearly serving some kind of positive purpose.

I’ve been in a relationship with my last Hinge date for a year and a half now. He’s brilliant, beautiful and I’m totally in love, but I don’t think he was ever a crush – at least one by my definition. We’d talked online for so long before we met in person that by the time we met, I knew I liked him and he liked me too. It was an (almost) sure thing. From before we’d even started talking, I knew there was mutual attraction (we matched), we had similar interests and a good sense of humour (his bio made me laugh). So why question a system that’s so efficient?

Pre-lockdown, I went to drinks with a friend of mine who expressed that online dating was boring her. “You go on a date, you know you like each other, you sleep together and then figure out if it’s worth seriously pursuing. I miss having a secret crush.”

I get it. Having a big ol’ crush in your life definitely adds a little *spice*. There’s intrigue and excitement in that all-encompassing, butterflies-in-the-stomach, scribbling-on-schoolbooks lust. A little sad sometimes maybe (I’m not bitter, I swear), but so much fun. But if my dumpster fire of a dating history has taught me anything, it’s that crushes are often made up of a misguided fantasy.

I learned a word from the fabulous women of the After Work Drinks podcast: limerence. As the ‘Living with Limerence’ website defines it, it’s “a mental state of profound infatuation”. It’s that completely unhinged, thought-ravaging, obsessive feeling you get around your ‘limerent object’  – or, as I see it, your crush. You build up this person so much in your mind that you begin to look away from the obvious red flags, choosing instead to barrel towards them.

My last ‘limerent object’ was a skater boy (of COURSE) that I was unhealthily obsessed with. Had we ever engaged in a real conversation? No. But it didn’t matter, because the Earth began and ended with him, the pile of Vans in his room, the ashtray beside his bed and the stained Fucking Awesome T-shirt he wore every day.

He didn’t really like me back, but I held on to the hope that he’d have a change of heart. I invested my time, money and energy into the non-existent relationship – buying tickets to events he might be at, wearing clothes I thought he’d like, learning about the topics I thought he was interested in. After all of this, we finally went on a date – and had nothing in common. Glasses were clinking and the conversation was not flowing. So back to Hinge I went.

It’s easy to lust after a person and it can happen for any number of the wrong reasons – validation, boredom, delusion. Does the screening process kill the crush? Maybe. But meeting someone before a life-ruining obsession is probably better for you.

Read more about crush problems here.

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