Modern Intimate Practices in Online Dating Apps

According to previous research on online dating app practices, there are two groups of users. Some are seeking casual sex, while others are seeking a committed relationship, as an imposed normative framework suggests.

Intimate Relationships in Online-Mediated Cultures

Sociologists have long discussed the impact of technology on personal life in the context of online dating apps. Initially, they welcomed the internet’s emancipatory potential, predicting increased safety, control, and freedom. The internet’s romantic freedoms have made intimate relationships less traditional, thus weakening patriarchal sexual and gender orders.

However, some authors have negative and pessimistic views on the emergence of dating apps. They believe that such mobile services can damage intimate relationships.

Social networking and dating apps reclaimed the popularity of Christopher Lasch’s ‘ ideas of a culture of narcissism’ in the late 1970s. (Lasch, 1979) Increasing individualization and excessive consumerism have led to personal relationships crumbling due to emotional weight. It is asserted that technology has damaged interpersonal skills. The technologies prevent men and women from being fully present in relationships due to phone and internet-mediated distractions.

How Dating Apps Divide Love and Sex

The technological tools of dating apps allow us to organize intimate contacts by using rational procedures and question catalogs to calculate match probabilities. These tools have evolved from online dating to mobile dating, reducing physical and digital space. Many researchers focus on how people use dating apps and whether this challenges traditional commitment patterns.

According to some evidence, many users use online apps to engage in casual sex in addition to looking for a committed partnership. Mobile dating facilitates temporal, goal-oriented encounters for the easy establishment of relationships.

On the other hand, ‘real’ or authentic love seems possible only within romantic relationships, which some authors present as something to be preserved and protected. It is contrasted with casual sex as a commodified social form (Illouz, 2020) that accumulates capital in the form of multiple sexual partners.

Dating apps can help organize casual sex, avoiding long-term commitment. These sex-focused practices and relationships seem to be neoliberal, focusing on pleasure and satisfaction without real romance. These practices are aimless and fluid. They lack the goal of romantic relationships.

Casual sex, for many, is the choice of non-choice. Sexual partners relate to each other without pursuing a specific goal, such as initiating a romantic love relationship.

Some researchers suggest expanding traditional understandings of relationship formation and development to include the changes in interaction afforded by mobile dating.

How Affectionate Touch Influences Our Romantic Relationships

Men and women express their love for a partner in a relationship in a variety of verbal and nonverbal ways. Affectionate touch of various kinds is among the important nonverbal channels for lovers to express love in the intimate relationships. The previous article explained how affectionate touch in a relationship expresses our love for the loved one. Now we are talking about how interpersonal touch influences our romantic relationships.

What Affectionate Touch Tells Us About Love

Partners in romantic relationships often use touch to express their affection and intimacy. Touching various parts of the body, such as the abdomen and thighs, can evoke pleasurable feelings in both those who touch them and those who are touched.

A recent cross-cultural study found that touching behaviors like embraces, caresses, kisses, and hugs are universally present in various cultures around the world. Cultural differences, however, exist in how and when men and women affectionately touch each other. Even when lovers imagine a partner’s touch, they experience pleasurable and erogenous feelings.

Strangers can’t touch as much of your body as your romantic partner. Most people don’t mind when their partner touches their stomach and thighs, but they don’t like it when other people do. There are also more ways to show affection for a partner than in other social situations. A slow stroke is given to a romantic partner.

What Is Affection Exchange Theory?

Researchers employ the Affection Exchange Theory (AET) to understand the important effects and implications of affectionate touch in a relationship. The theory says that affectionate communication promotes the formation and maintenance of strong human pair bonds.

Expressions of affection are especially common in romantic couples. Such expressions affect the quality of a romantic relationship. Partners who are highly committed in a relationship often express various kinds of affection, including physical affection. Physical affection also positively affects relationships and partner satisfaction. However, partners with attachment insecurity less often use affectionate touch.

Most studies refer to affectionate communication as an array of behaviors and verbal displays of affection. For example, hugging was the only behavior explicitly related to touch among several affection communication domains which Horan and Booth-Butterfield’s study components examined.

How Touch Affects Our Relationships and Well-Being

In the study that specifically examined touch in romantic relationships, researchers found that the desire for touch is positively correlated with relationship quality. However, when partners experience attachment avoidance, they feel less desire for touch.

These promising results and the obvious value of touch in close interpersonal relationships encourage us to better understand the role of affectionate touch in romantic relationships.

Also, there appears to be a paucity of research on the psychological factors that influence the use of affectionate touch between partners. It is logical to assume, for instance, that loving partners would touch each other in their relationships. This would enhance communication and bring the benefits commonly associated with affectionate touch. In accordance with a study indicating that one’s own and one’s partner’s approach motives for touch predict greater daily relationship well-being, touch may also promote love between partners.

In an older study, Dainton, Stafford, and Canary found that physical affection (including touch behaviors) performed by a romantic partner and satisfaction with physical affection displays were positively associated with self-assessed love levels.

Thus, we see that our affectionate touch substantially influences our romantic relationships. How does our partner feel when we touch him or her? The previous article explained how affectionately touching the loved one lets him or her know about our love for them.

Surprisingly, however, little we know about the direct relationship between interpersonal touch and love, one of the most essential components of human romantic relationships, outside of this study.

In their recent study, Agnieszka Sorokowska and her colleagues investigated how affectionate touch influences romantic relationships across various cultures.

How Expressive Is the Culture of Intimacy in a Relationship

The feeling of intimate belonging fulfills people’s needs for intimacy. However, people can satisfy their need to belong in various ways in different cultures, depending on their norms. A distinction between collectivistic (interdependent) and individualistic (independent) values is especially important for our understanding of intimacy as a fulfilled need to belong.

The Cultures of Intimacy in Collectivistic and Individualistic Societies

People in an individualistic, independence-oriented society like the United States are constantly assured from childhood that they belong and are loved. Yet, as they grow in childhood, parents encourage them to be independent and autonomous. Over time, they feel proudly autonomous, yet they may feel a little lonely. Parents are busy with their jobs and own problems. Therefore, teenagers strive to break through such lonely autonomy and look for other intimate bonds, such as moving in with someone else, marriage, and family.

People in a collectivistic, family-oriented society like Japan feel embedded in a family group from childhood. They implicitly feel these intimate ties with other members of the family. Therefore, they do not really need the reassurance of intimacy in family bonds. This is why they don’t really feel the need for another source of reassurance of intimate belonging from their marital partner, at least not to the same degree as people in individualistic cultures do.

What Is Special about Japanese Intimacy?

Some studies have shown that Japanese intimacy is not low – just different from North American and Western European views and notions of intimacy (see for review, Karandashev, 2019).

As I said above, Euro-Americans living in individualistic, middle-class, or urban cultures are proud of being independent in relationships. However, despite this feeling of being autonomous, they feel an obvious need to belong to their parents’ family.

When pushed out of their parental nest, they look for another source (a partner) to whom they could belong. And, as before in childhood, they need to feel from others that they are accepted and doing a “good job!” And they frequently do this to each other, both verbally and explicitly. It is because they have an implicit feeling of autonomy and independence. They need to hear that “they are doing great!” explicitly and repeatedly. Yet their need to belong must also be assured through direct verbal communication.

On the other hand, Japanese people have different cultural socialization strategies and childrearing philosophies. Children living in a collectivistic culture from birth already feel embedded in their family ties. Their model of attachment in childhood is culturally different. They are already aware of their intimate connections with other members of their family. Therefore, they don’t need constant and explicit verbal confirmation that they belong, as European Americans do (see, for instance, Keller, 2013, 2018).

This is why the Japanese may appear less direct in their intimate communication. It is because they understand it implicitly. However, Japanese couples in committed love relationships are high only in such qualities of intimacy as mind reading, compassion, assurance, and social network support (Roland, 1988).

Expressive versus Low-expressive Intimacies

The comparison of Japanese culture, as an East-Asian collectivistic culture, with European-American culture, as a Western individualistic culture of expressions of intimacy, might be simplistic. Many other non-collectivistic cultures can still be reserved and emotionally inhibited in their communicative preferences.

The difference in high-contact versus low-contact cultural values could be another explanation. Not only are Asian societies low-contact cultures (Barnlund, 1975; Klopf & Thompson, 1991; McDaniel & Andersen, 1998).

The Cultures of Low-Expressive Intimacies

People in Scandinavian and Nordic societies also display a low-expressive style of interpersonal interaction (see more in Karandashev, 2021).

Finns, like Norwegians and Swedes, prefer silent speech with relatively long pauses and slow-moving turns of speech. They often listen to each other without external evidence or feedback, yet this is their way of listening most attentively (Nishimura, Nevgi, & Tella, 2008; Tella, 2005).

For instance, in Finnish culture, people use the word “rakkaus” (love) only occasionally. Several other Finnish words implying the emotions of love without direct reference to the word “rakkaus” are also used by Finns (Haavio-Mannila & Roos, 1999).

Here is a folklore anecdote on Nordic marital intimacy. A Finnish couple, husband Eino and wife Aino, are celebrating their 5-year anniversary of marriage. She asked:

  • Eino, do love me?

Eino answered:

  • Yes, Aino, I already told you about this five years ago. If something changes, I will let you know.

This joking folklore anecdote is surely an exaggeration. But the reserved expression of intimacy is quite common for Nordic people, such as in Norway, Sweden, and Finland, as well as for East-Asian people, such as in Japan, China, and Korea.

Japanese Marital Intimacy

I noted in another article, “The Japanese Dating Culture of “Tsukiau” Relationships“, that men and women enjoy the tsukiau relationship to explore the freedom of intimate emotional and sexual relations. They do not feel any pressure or expectation to marry. Yet their relationship could lead to marriage.

What Is Japanese “miai”?

The tradition of “miai” (or, with the Japanese honorific prefix o- “omiai”) is a Japanese custom of relationship transition to marriage. It is similar to matchmaking in other cultures. This tradition has been modified in the context of modern Japanese lifestyles. After kokohaku (“confession”), a man and a woman enter a new chapter of their relationship development, which ultimately evolves into miai. An introduction to the parents follows, and marriage is seriously considered.

Some may see the process of “Omiai” as akin to arranged marriages. Sometimes, there is an outsider’s general assumption that arranged marriages are culturally normative in Japan. However, it is largely not the case nowadays. The real arranged marriages happen in Japan now quite rarely (probably less than in the 10-20% cases), mostly in rural areas, and substantially less in modern times (Relationships and Sexuality in Modern Japan. Last updated in 2011).

These days, many more marriages are formed out of mutual love for one another. Once the Omiai begins, actual dating means less than before. Successful “Omiai” implies that the man and woman go on a series of dates that result in a decision about whether they decide to marry or not.

  • If they decide to marry, they go through a formal marriage process called “miai kekkon.” The groom’s family typically arranges miai kekkon.
  • If they decide not to marry, they each go their separate ways.

Public and Private Sides of Japanese Intimacy

In Japanese culture, public displays of affection for a loved one—such as holding hands, kissing, hugging, or any intimate physical contact—are considered impolite, rude, or shameful. Many times, one would never guess that partners are actually a married couple. Publicly, Japanese tend to pretend that they are not in love.

This is why kissing is uncommon in Japanese films. Many people condemn kissing in public places. The majority of men would never kiss a woman in public. But if they would, they would feel embarrassed.

Any form of intimacy should be kept in private areas. In the home, children commonly say that they have never seen their parents kiss or express affection in any way.

It should be noted, however, that modern men and women of a young generation, especially in the larger cities, are slowly changing these old customs of public displays of affection.

Problems with Marital Intimacy in Japanese Culture

In general, traditional Japanese culture places a low value on psychological intimacy in marriage. Therefore, sharing one’s intimate self in companionship with one’s spouse has been less common (e.g., DeVos, 1985; Roland, 1988).

Even among many middle-class Japanese couples, psychological intimacy in marriage is still uncommon. There are two contextual factors that impede the formation of intimate relationships in marriage (Roland, 1988).

The men’s intimate psychological needs have usually been fulfilled in the circle of other men in the workplace. The intimacy of their friendship outside of work is uncommon among Japanese men.

The women’s intimacy needs have been satisfied in their friendships with other women and their relationships with their children. Because men generally spend long hours at work and then have rituals of lengthy socializing after work, it is difficult for women to create closeness in their marriage relationships.

The Japanese Way of Dating

This article explains when and how Japanese dating takes place. Courting, dating, and marital relationships are the periods when men and women expect an intimate relationship and love to evolve. Across cultures, such practices vary in terms of time and degree of intimacy (Karandashev, 2017, 2019). 

When and How Young Japanese Start Dating

In Japan, many men and women start dating only after high school. In general, students in high school take their studies seriously. They are preoccupied with school, and parents generally discourage their teenage children’s dating.

In college and beyond, dating becomes important for young men and women. In Japan, many of them feel very shy at the beginning of a relationship due to the lack of communication with the opposite sex during their adolescent period.

What Is the Japanese “Group Dating”?

Due to cultural anxiety about intimacy, starting a relationship can be tense and overwhelming for many Japanese boys and girls. The practices of “gōkon,” or “group dating,” help eliminate the tension of interpersonal encounters in a traditionally collectivistic society. This kind of dating is quite popular among young Japanese people because they are very wary of one-on-one interaction when they first meet a partner.

When a young man and a young woman want to get to know each other, they often bring along three or four other eligible friends. They all meet up together, for example, in restaurants or bars.

After initial group communication and games, men and women get together in their circles, discuss who is interested in whom, and may exchange phone numbers and/or e-mails. Many in Japan still get to know each other through a third-party introduction.

In Japanese culture, being courteous is a priority, whether a boy or girl enjoys one another at a first meeting or not. Therefore, they tend to exchange messages after their first encounter, telling each other that they enjoyed their meeting and wish to continue going out again. Alternatively, they can simply thank the other for their time together without sending an explicit message that they are not interested in meeting again.

Confession in Love Is a Step Towards Intimacy

The rituals of “confessions” are evidently present in many societies in the precious relationship episode of saying “I love you” (“I like you a lot!”) for the first time in a relationship. It is a very special moment that signifies a new stage in a relationship. It is commonly known across many cultures.

This is a step forward to the intimate stage of a relationship if the other responds with “I love you too,” explicitly or implicitly. Such reciprocity is expected and anxiously awaited. A lover hopes to turn the page of a relationship into the next chapter. Such expectations of reciprocity, however, are not always fulfilled. The latter may turn the relationship down another path.

According to many cultural traditions, a man (or sometimes a woman) first declares their love for each other. In a sense, this confession means “Would you be my lover/boyfriend/girlfriend?” depending on the linguistic and cultural connotations accepted in a special cultural context.

What Does the Japanese Word for “Confession” in a Relationship Mean?

Kokohaku, or “confession,” is an important Japanese dating custom. In the Japanese cultural tradition, a man usually initiates the confession by asking a woman to go out. However, in modern dating practices, women may confess as much as men do. The Japanese “I love you” resembles the English “I like you.” However, the Japanese have their own serious words for love.

If the “confession” turns out to be reciprocal, a man and a woman enter another, more serious stage of magkasintahan. They become boyfriend and girlfriend, or lovers in a broad sense of the word. Their relationship soon becomes more serious and intimate (in various regards).

Love and intimacy evolve in what the Japanese call “tsukiau” relationships.

What Is Emotional Intimacy? It Is Culturally Diverse.

The word “intimacy” is widely utilized in modern scholarship and public discourse. Its frequent usage is perhaps comparable to the word “love.” Both are commonly used in diverse and vague senses. Some scholars and laypeople extensively use the word “intimacy” as a synonym for “love,” even though not every love is an intimate relationship. Others often use the word “intimacy” as a synonym for physical intimacy and sex, even though not every sex is intimate.

What Is Emotional Intimacy?

Many scholars use the word “intimacy” to describe psychological closeness and emotional intimacy between people. Relationship closeness deserves special attention from a cultural perspective.

The latter is the most adequate meaning, according to modern English and psychological science. Certainly, there are other directly associated meanings, such as togetherness, emotional connectedness, and affinity. Nevertheless, these words have different meanings.

The concept of intimacy is widely utilized in modern scholarly theories and research. For example, psychologists strive to understand and measure the physical, emotional, intellectual, experiential, and spiritual experiences of intimacy in love (Karandashev, 2017, 2019).

Positive and Negative Sides of Intimacy

In loving relationships, intimacy can have both positive and negative consequences. Intimacy produces the pleasurable feelings of comfortable attachment and trust. Yet it can bring a feeling of vulnerability, for example, in the case of dishonesty and deception. Romantic novels across languages and societies are full of intriguing stories of betrayals. It seems that “no one hurts us more than those who are closest and most intimate.”

Sounds familiar?

“They know it hurts me, but they do it anyway.”

Why so? Why do we hurt the most those we love the most?

The Cultural Diversity of Intimacy

The notion of intimacy appears even more intricate once we consider its diverse cultural interpretations and values. For instance, researchers have demonstrated that Western and Eastern cultures differ in their conceptualizations, experiences, and expressions of intimacy. Some cultures encourage intimacy between lovers, romantic partners, and spouses, while others do not (Castaneda, 1993; Hsu, 1985; Kumar, 1991; Seki, Matsumoto, & Imahori, 2002).

In various cultures, intimacy is more closely associated with a broad range of practices, such as sharing, caring, giving, providing resources, cooking, taking care of the house, and other practical ways.

The views from different cultural perspectives help us explore the diversity of intimacy. As researchers suggested, the differences in intimacy might be more complex, including different cultural understandings of intimacy, because patterns of intimacy are grounded in the cultural contexts of societies. Many case studies in diverse West African and North American cultures illustrate how the experience of intimacy reflects specific constructions of social reality and self (Adams et al., 2004; Karandashev, 2017, 2019; Seki, Matsumoto, & Imahori, 2002).

The case of emotional intimacy Japanese tsukiau relationships and the case of the long path of Japanese marital intimacy deserve special consideration.