I’ve always found it odd when people knock dating apps for “only” being about casual sex because a) they’re not pretending to be LinkedIn (though people hook up there, too); and b) there’s nothing wrong with consensual hookups, but you won’t find your average app user indulging as much as you imagine. The problem with the apps isn’t casual sex – it’s casual communication.
Conversations start up, then trail off. Matches are made, only to expire 24 or 48 hours later. A ‘date’ is floated, but never confirmed, because someone – maybe you, maybe me – has gone awol. I’m as guilty of this as the next swiper, btw.
Dating apps can be liberating and life-changing. I’ve been to Tinder weddings. I know individuals who’ve felt outliers all their lives, then found “their people” and/or a partner this way. Not to mention a woman who lost a great love in her 20s and lived alone for decades before meeting her happy-ever-after online.
But they can be exhausting. It’s taxing enough keeping up with your friends and enemies on Whatsapp and Twitter, without attending to a load of dating admin with strangers who might be looking for an ego-stroke, nothing more. In a sex study by Esquire, 63% of people said they only log on out of boredom.
Hardly surprising, then, that the people most excited by dating apps aren’t the ones using them. Last summer, I left my Bumble open in the vicinity of a coupled-up friend and came back to find her engaged in a swipeathon on my behalf. “Ooh, an actor!” she cried, thumbing right on a man I’d recently met on Tinder and to whom I’d sent a polite “thank you, but no thank you” after he spent our first and only date reading extracts from his own reviews.
Soon after, tired of the time suckage, I deleted both apps from my phone. But I didn’t give up on dating. Instead, via friends (and friends of friends), I’ve been embracing the power of the set-up, aka the blind date.
And it’s been kind of eye-opening. Here are five lessons I’ve learned if you’re also contemplating a nap from your dating apps.
1) Delete the apps. All of them.
You’ll not only free up valuable storage space on your phone, but the mental space to live your life a little more “congruently” – as a therapist might say.
What will you miss? Tinder and Grindr okay: all of life is on there, but how many of those torsos or tigers are for real? Happn is fun, until it feels a bit stalkery. By all accounts, Match struggles to live up to those cute ads and eHarmony to its dating science. And Soulmates – well, I’ve not been on this one either, but an old flatmate used to refer to it, semi-affectionately, as Soul Destroyers.
Yes, Bumble is supposedly “the feminist one”. But lazy Sunday swiping soon becomes the Monday morning realisation that your match will expire in 15 minutes if you can’t summon up a conversation starter on your commute.
As for Hinge, someone at a party told me it hosted a “higher calibre of date”. Please channel Groucho (or Karl) Marx for a moment and consider whether a club that welcomes this person is one you actually want to join.
2) Enjoy your own company.
Why not date somebody you haven’t taken a chance on for a while – you.
Take yourself off to the cinema on half-price Monday and spend the difference on a good glass of wine. That book you’re struggling to find time to finish? Cosy up with it in a cafe on a weekend afternoon. Head out for a nice short walk that turns into a lovely long one. Or simply go out to eat on your own. “Feast on your life,” as Derek Walcott wrote in this beautiful poem – it’s all foundational.
One of the joys of this past year has been watching my beloved Liverpool FC in the pub – its own kind of poetry. Sometimes I’ll go with friends, but I’ve become comfortable flying solo, experiencing little hassle even in this demonstrably male environment. You’ll never walk alone, etc.
3) Don’t shy away from a set-up.
Seek out introductions. It’s as simple as saying: “Do you know anyone I should go on a date with?” Not could, but should. That way people will think beyond the usual suspects and their Rolodex (hat tip, Carrie Fisher) and recommend somebody only when they’re worth it because, crucially, so are you.
Plus, going on a date with someone who even vaguely knows someone you know nudges the rule of engagement. It encourages commitment. Not to a long-term relationship or even a second date necessarily, but to turning up and tuning in. You already have a connection. Explore it.
4) Blind dates can be fun.
We grew up on the TV show. I love the newspaper column. So, as and when a friend suggests a set-up, I don’t ask to see a photo. That feels too much like scrolling all over again. If they believe in the match enough to make the introduction, I’ll take a chance.
If Ashley Banjo can teach his Flirty Dancers to body pop together without seeing each other first, I can manage a pint and a pub quiz.
5) Keep an open mind.
Who knows who you’ll meet? I’ve been on some great set-ups with kind, interesting people from different parts of my city – different continents, even – and a whole range of jobs (including one I discounted entirely when online dating in the past – hello, Mr Banker). I ended the year as I started it, single, but feeling less lonely and far more positive. I’ve even made a new friend in one of my dates, who lives just up the road from me and knows where to buy the best Polish dumplings in all of London. What more can I ask for than human connection and a decent serving of carbohydrates?
Read on to hear from a HuffPost reader who deleted her apps, too, and finds dating more exciting “out in the wild”.
‘Apps can really distance you from reality’
Emily Lavinia, 29, is a writer and content consultant who lives in London and was in long-term relationship when dating apps first became a thing.
“When my partner and I split up, I was actually excited to give apps a go,” says Emily Lavinia, 29. “To begin with I thought they were great. I actually preferred Bumble and Hinge to chatting with strangers in bars – and I found the way people presented their ‘best self’ online really fascinating.”
She met some “lovely” people and made some friends, she says, but after a while started to feel fed up: “People asked the same questions, had the same filtered photos, used the same lines. The whole experience lacked personality. It felt performative and removed from reality, like we were all playing a game that none of us was really that invested in or cared much about.”
After a year, she deleted all her apps and “tried just to be a normal person out there in the world” – and says it worked out quite well. “I do think dating apps are great in theory but the people that use them become lazy and complacent because the whole experience doesn’t seem real. Apps can distance you from reality and prompt behaviours you wouldn’t adopt in the real world. You have to put the effort in if you fancy someone out in the wild.”
Compassion matters when dating, she says. “Online or IRL, we’re all out here, seeking human connection of some sort, we’re all being vulnerable by doing this, so just try to be kind and self aware, set healthy boundaries and go with the flow, even if you’re just looking for a one-time hook up.”
She is feeling positive this new year. “I’ll be starting a new decade among people I really love and will hopefully meet new people who’ll make a positive impact on my life. No apps for me – 2020 is about the realer side of romance.”