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One participant indicated, (30 years old, female, heterosexual, living in Sydney), ‘I’ve never cried this much before

One participant (female, heterosexual, 30 years old, living in Sydney) indicated:

This is the beginning of what we term the jagged love cycle, where the majority of participants became trapped in a cyclical loop. alt This involved downloading dating apps (sometimes multiple apps), vigorously swiping, matching, starting multiple chats (with low level personal investment), becoming quickly bored or exhausted with the process and their matches, deleting the dating apps, and then after approximately two weeks of experiencing FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) and loneliness, re-downloading the apps. The cycle would then begin again and occurred on repeat for several months during the lockdown period. Many participants recognised this cycle to some degree, particularly the ‘down time’ and would talk about being ‘on a break from dating apps’ (21 years of age, heterosexual, female, living in Sydney). However, they found it hard to pinpoint the reason for the loop, or the loop itself. The cycle itself, and the emotions experienced, were heightened–high-highs and low-lows were described almost side-by-side. Participants detailed swings from extreme elation at having experienced a dating app connection, to utter ambivalence, and deletion of dating apps. There was nothing fluid about the shifts, the experiences reported seemed elevated and intense. ‘

One was the low level of investment in potential matches, which led to participants feeling bored and exhausted by their in-app interactions. Berlant (1998, pp. 282–83) argues that intimacy ‘involves an aspiration for a narrative about something shared, a story about both oneself and others that will turn out in a particular way’. This idea of ‘sharing’ is echoed by various scholars in relation to intimacy. McGlotten (2013, p. 1) indicates intimacy involves sharing something that is ‘inward to our personhood’. Giddens (1991, 1992) describes the need for mutual self-disclosure, with which Jamieson (1998, p. 1) concurs, contending that intimacy is characterised by ‘constantly revealing your inner thoughts and feelings to each other’. As participants sought to keep their ‘numbers high’–often a strategy to ensure that at least one of the matches would ‘come off’, or a ploy to guard against ‘obsessing over someone’–this mutual self-disclosure and sharing of intimate details required to form an intimacy did not occur. Instead participants were stuck in what they described as ‘boring’ and often ‘exhausting’ and repetitive chats which involved colourless discussions and topline details about their lives.

There were several key factors which led participants from the high end of the jagged love cycle, as discussed above, to the low end, where they became disenchanted with the apps

I also hate the mundane chat, and I lose interest going through that phase of that small stuff. And it’s fine when you’re on a first date and you’re face to face, because you can pick up on a vibe from them and have a joke … it’s just really artificial online. It’s like the middle level has been removed, and then the two levels on either side are still there. It’s like that game with the shuffle board, like you’re throwing it to them and they’re throwing it back.

We see here that the dating app paradigm not only removes some the key milestones and signposts of the romance narrative (the in-person first date, for instance), but also the accompanying emotional context. One of the core narrative promises of romance is excitement (think, for instance, of the blurb of the quarantine romance quoted above), but what participants are experiencing here is the opposite: boredom. This mundane, low investment chat was a key factor for the deletion of dating apps. Participants lost faith that the dating app paradigm could provide them with the entry point to the romantic masterplot, and they found it very difficult to reach the level of communication required to build any kind of intimacy in the digital space of the app.

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