Just … it was like my phone was constantly pinging throughout the day, like with people. So it alerts you when this person or that person has liked you… and it was just interesting because like it did that solid for like a week and a half … so I think it was like initially people were thinking, oh shit, I need to line someone up for isolation.
However, this desire for security was quickly followed by a period of ambivalence and/or disillusionment, before the desire to look for love re-emerged again. As in the time before the pandemic, dating use was characterised by episodic behaviour, but there was little liquidity or flow to the way in which people approached relationships. Instead, what emerged was the paradigm we have termed ‘jagged love’, as participants see-sawed rapidly and violently between desperately wanting a romantic partner to navigate this difficult period with, and being disenchanted with the difficulty of dating during a pandemic and their own potential (or lack thereof) as a romantic protagonist.
Data collection occurred across and consisted of two iterative focus groups, and twenty one-hour in-depth interviews. Eight participants were also required to journal their experience of using dating apps across the month of ple was aged 18–35 years of age (reflecting the heaviest users of dating apps in Australia) living in NSW, and must have used or were currently using Bumble and Tinder (or both) dating apps. An invitation to participate in the research was issued at the end of a series of articles [researcher name, redacted for blind review] (2020a, 2020b) wrote for digital publication 10 Daily and Fairfax national publications.
This research topic lent itself towards conducting iterative focus groups, to gather shared understandings of dating apps but also to shake out any new and different ideas or ways of thinking around dating apps. The focus groups were conducted in Sydney city, and regional participants were provided the option of connecting via Zoom. Participants were asked set questions in the first focus group around their dating app experience, usage practices, personal presentation on app, expectations, and desires. Questions were tailored for the second focus group around trends that emerged, and participants were also asked to design their ideal dating app architecture and functionalities in groups. In-depth interviews were conducted over Zoom, and were approximately an hour in length, following a semi-structured format. Eight participants also journaled their experience during the month of March and were asked to do so for at least one hour per week, capturing screen grabs of their experience if they desired.
Sample and Limitations
Two participants were consensually-non-monogamous, the rest were ‘single’ or were in the preliminary stages of dating (‘talking to’) someone. The research intended on capturing heterosexual dating app practices, although it did not seek to exclude other sexualities or ways of being.
It should be noted that there is a clear heteronormativity in the romance masterplot and its milestones, including its impetus towards the couple norm (Roseneil et al., 2020). The effect of this has been grappled with at length in queer theory, in particular through Tom Boellstorff’s (2007, p. 228) theorisation of ‘straight time’: ‘an emically salient, socially efficacious, and experientially real cultural construction of temporality across a wide range of political and social positions… shaped by linked discourses of heteronormativity, capitalism, modernity, and apocalypse’. Questions of straight time were particularly interrogated during the debates over the legalisation of same-sex ;marriage is a clear marker in a narrative governed by straight time. As Boellstorff (2007) notes, there was significant tension between the desire of equal rights (ie. the right to marry) and the desire to resist the imposition of a heteropatriarchal temporal narrative. There are not enough LGBTQ + participants in our sample for us to make any substantive claims about how app users belonging to these communities interact with the romance masterplot and how any resistance to ‘straight time’ might complicate this. The results in this paper should be read as speaking predominantly to heterosexual dating practices, with further targeted inquiry to capture practices in queer app-based dating.