‘An emotional stalemate’: cold intimacies in heterosexual young people’s dating practices

Authors:
Alicia Denby Manchester Metropolitan University, UK

Search for other papers by Alicia Denby in
Current site
Google Scholar
Close
and
Jenny van Hooff Manchester Metropolitan University, UK

Search for other papers by Jenny van Hooff in
Current site
Google Scholar
Close
Restricted access
Get eTOC alerts
Rights and permissions Cite this article

In this article, we consider how heterosexual young people navigate emotionality in their early dating practices. We draw on the ‘cold intimacy’ thesis (; ; ; ) that posits that emotions have increasingly become things to be evaluated, measured, quantified and categorised. Within the context of intimate relationships, research suggests that while young people are often open about the physical aspects of casual sex, they are reluctant to demonstrate emotional attachment, with vulnerability deemed shameful (). Drawing on in-depth interviews with UK-based dating app users aged 18–25, we find that emotional attachment is rarely articulated, and is seen as a sign of weakness in the early stages of a relationship. For our participants, emotions become bargaining chips, with the ‘winner’ being the party with the least to lose, the least invested and the least emotionally attached. While this applies to both the young men and women interviewed, our findings demonstrate a gendered imbalance of power in intimate relationships, as female participants express a fear of emotional hurt, while male participants work to avoid potential rejection and humiliation. As a result, most connections remain suspended in what we identify as the ‘failed talking stage’. This is underpinned by the removal of channels of accountability, coupled with entrenched heteronormative sexual scripts shaping gender roles at this stage.

  • Ackerman, J., Griskevicius, V. and Lin, N. (2011) Let’s get serious: communicating commitment in romantic relationships, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100(6): 107994. doi: 10.1037/a0022412

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ahmed, S. (2010) The Promise of Happiness, Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

  • Alvesson, M. and Sandberg, J. (2013) Constructing Research Questions, London: Sage.

  • Bauman, Z. (2000) Liquid Modernity, Cambridge: Polity.

  • Bauman, Z. (2003) Liquid Love, Cambridge: Polity.

  • Bauman, Z. and Raud, R. (2015) Practices of Selfhood, Cambridge: John Wiley & Sons.

  • Berkowitz, D., Tinkler, J., Peck, A. and Coto, L. (2021) Tinder: a game with gendered rules and consequences, Social Currents, 8(5): 491509. doi: 10.1177/23294965211019486

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Buchbinder, D. (1998) Performance Anxieties: Re-Producing Masculinity, St Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin.

  • Carter, J. (2013) The curious absence of love stories in women’s talk, The Sociological Review, 61: 72844. doi: 10.1111/1467-954X.12082

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Chan, L.S. (2018) Ambivalence in networked intimacy: observations from gay men using mobile dating apps, New Media & Society, 20(7): 256681. doi: 10.1177/1461444817727156

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Chung, D. (2005) Violence, control, romance and gender equality: young women and heterosexual relationships, Women’s Studies International Forum, 28(6): 44555.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ciocca, G., Robilotta, A., Fontanesi, L., Sansone, A., D'Antuono, L., Limoncin, E., Nimbi, F., Simonelli, C., Di Lorenzo, G., Siracusano, A. and Jannini, E.A. (2020) Sexological aspects related to Tinder use: a comprehensive review of the literature, Sexual Medicine Reviews, doi: 10.1016/j.sxmr.2019.12.004.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Clark, L.S. (1998) Dating on the ‘Net’: teens and the rise of ‘pure’ relationships, in S. Jones (ed.) Cybersociety 2.0, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, pp. 15983.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Furedi, F. (2004) Therapy Culture: Cultivating Vulnerability in an Uncertain Age, London: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.

  • Furedi, F. (2012) Why the ‘couples where women do more housework stay together’ study isn’t shocking, Independent, 1 October, www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/why-the-couples-where-women-do-more-housework-stay-together-study-isn-t-shocking-8192069.html.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Gabb, J. and Fink, J. (2015) Couple Relationships in the 21st Century, London: Palgrave Macmillan.

  • Gagnon, J.H. (1990) The explicit and implicit use of the scripting perspective in sex research, Annual Review of Sex Research, 1(1): 143. doi: 10.1080/10532528.1990.10559854

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Gagnon, J.H. and Simon, W. (2005) Sexual Conduct: The Social Sources of Human Sexuality, 2nd edn, London: Aldine Transaction.

  • Giddens, A. (1992) The Transformation of Intimacy, Cambridge: Polity.

  • Gill, R. (2009) Lad lit as mediated intimacy: a postfeminist tale of female power, male vulnerability and toast, Working Papers on the Web.

  • Gill, R. (2017) The affective, cultural and psychic life of postfeminism: a postfeminist sensibility 10 years on, European Journal of Cultural Studies, 20(6): 60626. doi: 10.1177/1367549417733003

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Glenn, N. and Marquardt, E. (2001) Hooking Up, Hanging Out, and Hoping for Mr. Right, New York: Institute for American Values.

  • Haywood, C. (2018) Men, Masculinity and Contemporary Dating, London: Palgrave Macmillan.

  • Hobbs, M., Owen, S. and Gerber, L. (2016) Liquid love? Dating apps, sex, relationships and the digital transformation of intimacy, Journal of Sociology, 53(2): 27184. doi: 10.1177/1440783316662718

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hochschild, A.R. (1979) Emotion work, feeling rules and social structure, American Journal of Sociology, 85(3): 55175. doi: 10.1086/227049

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hochschild, A.R. (1983) The Managed Heart: The Commercialization of Human Feeling, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

  • Hochschild, A.R. (1994) The commercial spirit of intimate life and the abduction of feminism: signs from women’s advice books, Theory, Culture and Society, 11: 124. doi: 10.1177/026327694011002001

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Holland, J. (1993) Sexuality and Ethnicity: Variations in Young Women's Sexual Knowledge and Practice, London: Tufnell Press.

  • Holland, J., Ramazonoglu, C., Sharpe, S. and Thomson, R. (1992) Pleasure, pressure and power: some contradictions of gendered sexuality, Sociological Review, 40: 64574. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-954X.1992.tb00406.x

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Holmes, M. (2011) Emotional reflexivity in contemporary friendships: understanding it using Elias and Facebook etiquette, Sociological Research Online, 16(1): 13748. doi: 10.5153/sro.2292

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Illouz, E. (2007) Cold Intimacies: The Making of Emotional Capitalism, Cambridge: Polity.

  • Illouz, E. (2012) Why Love Hurts: A Sociological Explanation, Cambridge: Polity.

  • Illouz, E. (2018) The End of Love: A Sociology of Negative Relations, Cambridge: Polity.

  • James, N. and Busher, H. (2006) Credibility, authenticity and voice: dilemmas in online interviewing, Qualitative Research, 6(3): 40320. doi: 10.1177/1468794106065010

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • James, N. and Busher, H. (2012) Internet interviewing, in J. Gubrium, J. Holstein, A. Marvasti and K. McKinney (eds) The SAGE Handbook of Internet Research, 2nd edn, London: Sage, pp. 17792.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kanai, A. (2017) The best friend, the boyfriend, other girls, hot guys, and creeps: the relational production of self on Tumblr, Feminist Media Studies, 17(6): 91125. doi: 10.1080/14680777.2017.1298647

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kass, L. (1997) The end of courtship, The Public Interest, 126(Winter), 3963.

  • Lahad, K. (2012) Singlehood, waiting, and the sociology of time, Sociological Forum, 27(1): 16386. doi: 10.1111/j.1573-7861.2011.01306.x

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Lahad, K. (2017) A Table for One, Manchester: Manchester University Press.

  • Lasch, C. (1979) The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations, New York: W.W. Norton & Co.

  • LeFebvre, L.E. (2018) Swiping me off my feet: explicating relationship initiation on Tinder, Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 35(9): 120529, doi: 10.1177/0265407517706419.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Lewis, J. (2005) Perceptions of Risk in Intimate Relationships at Entry to Partnership and with the Arrival of Children: The Implications for Social Provision, London: Economic & Social Research Council.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Monaghan, L. and Robertson, S. (2012) Embodied heterosexual masculinities, part 1: confluent intimacies, emotions and health, Sociology Compass, 6(2): 13450. doi: 10.1111/j.1751-9020.2011.00447.x

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Mongeau, P., Jacobsen, J. and Donnerstein, C. (2007) Defining dates and first date goals, Communication Research, 34(5): 52647. doi: 10.1177/0093650207305235

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Nahon, D. and Lander, N. (2016) The integrity model: working with men, their intimacy issues, and their search for community, The Journal of Men’s Studies, 24(1): 89116.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Newerla, A. and van Hooff, J. (2023) Mobile intimacies? Uncertainty, ambiguity and fluidity in the intimate practises of German and British dating app users, Sexualities (forthcoming).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Oliffe, J. and Mroz, L. (2005) Men interviewing men about health and illness: ten lessons learned, The Journal of Men’s Health & Gender, 2(2): 25760.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Pascoe, C.J. (2011) Resource and risk: youth sexuality and new media use, Sexuality Research and Social Policy, 8: 517. doi: 10.1007/s13178-011-0042-5

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Reid, J., Elliot, S. and Webber, G. (2011) Casual hookups to formal dates: redefining the boundaries of the sexual double standard, Gender & Society, 25(5): 54568. doi: 10.1177/0891243211418642

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ronson, J. (2015) So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, New York: Riverhead Books.

  • Rose, S. and Frieze, I. (1989) Young singles’ scripts for a first date, Gender & Society, 3(2): 25868. doi: 10.1177/089124389003002006

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Roseneil, S. (2000) Queer frameworks and queer tendencies: towards an understanding of postmodern transformations of sexuality, Sociological Research Online, 5(3): 5870. doi: 10.5153/sro.528

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Rosenfeld, M.J. (2018) Are Tinder and dating apps changing dating and mating in the US?, in J. Van Hook, S.M. McHale and V. King (eds) Families and Technology, New York: Springer, pp. 10317.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Sales, N. (2015) Tinder and the dawn of the ‘dating apocalypse’, Vanity Fair, 6 August, www.vanityfair.com/culture/2015/08/tinder-hook-up-culture-end-of-dating.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Stokes, C. (2021) ‘We want to put women in the driving seat’ - We sat down with head of Bumble UK and Ireland, Her, no date, https://www.her.ie/life/we-want-to-put-women-in-the-driving-seat-we-sat-down-with-head-of-bumble-uk-and-ireland-520065.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Sullivan, L., Camic, P. and Brown, J. (2015) Masculinity, alexithymia and fears of intimacy as predictors of UK men’s attitudes towards seeking professional psychological help, British Journal of Health Psychology, 20: 194211. doi: 10.1111/bjhp.12089

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Timmermans, E. and Courtois, C. (2018) From swiping to casual sex and/or committed relationships: exploring the experiences of Tinder users, The Information Society, 34(2): 5970. doi: 10.1080/01972243.2017.1414093

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Turkle, S. (2011) Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, New York: Basic Books.

  • Twamley, K. (2012) Gender relations among Indian couples in the UK and India: ideals of equality and realities of inequality, Sociological Research Online, 17(4): 10313. doi: 10.5153/sro.2756

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Twamley, K. (2019) ‘Cold intimacies’ in parents’ negotiations of work–family practices and parental leave?, The Sociological Review, 67(5): 113753. doi: 10.1177/0038026118815427

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • van Hooff, J. (2013) Modern Couples? Continuity and Change in Heterosexual Relationships, London: Routledge.

  • van Hooff, J. (2017) An everyday affair: deciphering the sociological significance of women’s attitudes towards infidelity, The Sociological Review, 65(4): 85064. doi: 10.1111/1467-954X.12417

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • van Hooff, J. (2020) Swipe right? Tinder, commitment and commodification, in J. Carter and L. Arocha (eds) Romantic Relationships in a Time of Cold Intimacies, London: Palgrave.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • van Oosten, J., Peter, J. and Vanderbosch, L. (2017) Adolescents’ sexual media use and willingness to engage in casual sex: differential relations and underlying processes, Human Communication Research, 40: 12747. doi: 10.1111/hcre.12098

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wade, L. (2017) American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus, New York: W.W. Norton & Co.

  • Wong, Y.J. and Rochlen, A.B. (2005) Demystifying men’s emotional behaviour: new directions and implications for counselling and research, Psychology of Men and Masculinity, 6: 6272. doi: 10.1037/1524-9220.6.1.62

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Xie, K. (2020) Chasing happiness: the role of marriage in the aspiration of success among China’s middle-class women, in J. Carter and L. Arocha (eds) Romantic Relationships in a Time of Cold Intimacies, London: Palgrave.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
Alicia Denby Manchester Metropolitan University, UK

Search for other papers by Alicia Denby in
Current site
Google Scholar
Close
and
Jenny van Hooff Manchester Metropolitan University, UK

Search for other papers by Jenny van Hooff in
Current site
Google Scholar
Close

Content Metrics

May 2022 onwards Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 1673 394 110
Full Text Views 2075 1396 33
PDF Downloads 1549 1236 22

Altmetrics

Dimensions