Human communication

“Online dating after the pandemic is like Squid Game for singles”

Opinion: Dating has always been a social and personal quagmire, but post-Covid online dating is a whole different beast

squid game is Netflix’s South Korean sensation that launched in September 2021 and is the streaming platform’s most-watched series to date. Demand for more has seen the show’s creators confirm a second season, with Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos saying “the squid game the universe has just begun”.

But many of us have been living in this hellish tournament for quite some time now and the novelty has definitely worn off. Online dating – and specifically post-Covid online dating – is real life Squid game.

Dating has always been a social and personal quagmire, but online dating is a whole different beast. This is not the reproach of a millennial generation of snowflakes. We are ready to be rejected, molded and scarred by the dreaded approach and habitual snub of the dance hall, teen club or disco scene.

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From RTÉ Radio 1’s Ryan Tubridy, Peter Gorey talks about his search for love using online dating

Online dating seemed child’s play in comparison. Meet in the comfort of your own home? Yes please. Avoid face-to-face rejection? Excellent. We were completely unprepared for what awaited us. It’s not child’s play. It’s a game of psychological twists, squid game for singles.

It all starts out innocent enough. It will be a little fun. Sign up for a few apps like Plenty of Fish, Tinder, Bumble, or Hinge and upload some photos. The ultimate prize of meeting that special someone glistens alluringly before us. We don’t think about the nature of the game or even the other competitors, the millions of people who also hope to find their needle in a haystack. We ignore these probabilities.

Are we desperate like the players of squid game? Add two years of relative isolation and the answer to this question is yes. Desperate to connect, to smile, to feel another’s touch again.

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From RTÉ 2fm’s Jennifer Zamparelli, Zoe Desmond talks about FROLO, her dating service that connects like-minded local single parents

So, we register and enter the arena. It starts immediately. To glide. It seems easy enough. Swipe left if you’re not interested, swipe right if you’re interested. But you need to be careful. Too fast and you can accidentally like or reject someone. The most experienced players are quick and discerning. No profile picture? Swipe left. Extremely beautiful? Catfish, swipe left. Dog in photo? Swipe right.

The latter has become a less reliable determinant of a decent human being in recent times. Recent research has shown the popularity of dogs in dating apps. 70% of respondents believe a dog in their profile picture increases their chances of a match, while 63% say they are more likely to match with someone who features a dog in their profile picture. German Shepherds top the poll as the most popular singles in dating app profiles. Armed with this knowledge, many gamers admit to borrowing dogs for their profile picture. Results? Beware of the Dog.

Game two. You match. Red light, green light. Who takes the first step? There are prompts and tips on how to open messages, which is the perfect opening to spark a conversation. There are apps where only the girl can make the first move. You take the first step, no response. They take the first step. You don’t want to answer, the opening question is too banal. You realize the creators are right, that the opening message is key. This first game is the longest and most soul-destroying of the games. The attrition rate is high.

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From the RTÉ Radio 1 Liveline, callers shared their love stories, most of which started on a bus!

The next game is risk. The conversation has started and now you have a decision. Do you leave the app and go to WhatsApp, sharing your cell phone number with that person? This could lead to easier discussions and a possible face-to-face meeting. Or it could lead to the person being blocked and/or reported for inappropriate message content. But you hate checking the dating app for notifications, it drains your battery and whatsapp is so much easier. If you take the risk, three categories await you: socially unstable, sexually perverse, and kind human. You have a one in three chance of reaching the next match: the meet up.

It is the simplest of games. You choose a visible, open place with lots of people. You send your location to your friends. You plant another player nearby, ready to provide an escape route if needed. And then you wait.

To my standard ‘are you a smoker?’ question, I now add ‘are you vaccinated?’

squid game for daters, it’s a matter of survival. For those of us with a disability, games have added complexity. As a person with cystic fibrosis, I must now disclose this personal fact almost immediately. To my standard ‘are you a smoker?’ question, I now add ‘are you vaccinated?’. Otherwise we can’t meet because you could literally kill me. To be fair, it weeds out inappropriate matches pretty quickly. It quickly advances the conversation to at least three or four pre-online encounters.

During the games, you learn many transferable skills. How to deal with rejection, how to deal with ghosting or the disappearance of an adult who cannot handle human interaction/communication. How to decipher the meaning of an emoji sentence. How to communicate your feelings through said language of emojis.

Season 2? Game on.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ