My first experience with dating apps happened when I was studying abroad: I decided to use Tinder to make friends. I’ve always been a guy’s girl, so I figured that in chatting up a certain type of man, I could establish — or at least feel out — a place for myself in creative London. Presenting photos with my best angles and an About Me that stated I was from New York and a fan of hip-hop and whiskey, I had no problem roping in multiple drink offers from journalists, DJs, and innovators. I was able to bypass the need to peruse blogs and magazines to discover where, and with whom, I ‘should’ be hanging out.
Later in the semester, I specifically used Tinder to get over a broken heart. My American accent was a magnet for happy hour-goers, but I was all-consumed with the idea of running into the one person I wanted to see every time I left my apartment, even though I knew this was extremely unlikely. My longing made me distracted, and when I woke up the next morning, hungover and having met 0 guys that, well, were him, I only felt lonelier. In Tindering, I could remind myself of all the other fish in the sea while enjoying the deliberate, sober isolation of my bed. “New York!” the messages read. “I can tell you’re fascinating already.” Or, “You’re beautiful. I’d be honored to take you out for a drink.” In a face-to-face scenario, I’d call these guys operators. In moments of feeling like I wasn’t good enough, these were the exact sorts of things I wanted to hear.
Therein lies the problem: dating apps are a playground for ulterior motives. Much like the way Instagram personas present only one facet, the best facet, of a person’s multidimensional life, Tinder, Hinge, Bumble, and the like allow users to show and say exactly what they know will have a positive effect on potential partners. They are a whitewashed version of the romantic pursuit, one in which vulnerability, any significant amount of money and the risk of rejection are eliminated from the equation: minimal effort with maximum result.
Experts say that dating apps should instead be called ‘introduction apps’, because the parties will eventually have to meet in person and “court the way you did a million years ago.” That said, both stints of swiping right led me to meet men whose company I deeply enjoyed but with whom there was little spark; it all felt too contrived, too dependent on appearances and fantasized outcomes. Unlike a traditional blind date, apps give you an ‘idea’ of what you’re getting into, which decreases spontaneity and increases sexual or romantic expectation. On the flip side, I met The Heartbreaker drunk off my ass at 1:30am, on a night where I had gone out with no intention of meeting anybody. Yelling Ke$ha lyrics in a conservative black outfit with eyeliner smeared from January wind, he approached me when my guard was down, and it set the tone for the rest of our interactions. It didn’t work out the way I wanted, but as with most other men I have met organically, I actually felt something, because I allowed myself to.
Back in America, Tinder and Hinge led me to two guys I genuinely liked. This time around, the issue lay in the fact that, thanks to schedules and travels, we texted daily for weeks before meeting. As a result, I painted a picture based solely off the way that they typed and the social media accounts that I quietly stalked. (Good humor? Check. Sports fan? Check. Posted a picture of his mom? Check.) I felt comforted by our inquisitive exchanges, and frantic when we didn’t have them. I grew dependent without having hugged these men or even looked them in the eye. By the time we went out on a date, it felt as though we had already skirted the uncertainty and discovery that comes in the preliminary stages of a relationship. In both scenarios, I got attached too quickly, but constantly asked myself whether it was to the person in front of me or the person in my mind. I didn’t know who these people really were.
The internet is a choose-your-own-adventure; it allows us to explore our deepest fantasies and overcome our greatest insecurities. We can set our browsers to “private” and be as tall, thin, outspoken, conservative, sober, kinky, and anonymous as we want to be. The web doesn’t discriminate against socioeconomic background or criminal record. It also doesn’t know what you were like in high school, unless you’re tagged in the evidence.
Though smart and cute with interesting careers, both of these dudes admitted they were fundamentally damaged from spending years in the ‘friend zone’. When someone is granted access to dozens of women he believes otherwise would have rejected him, a door of redemption opens. In comes an addiction to swiping. In comes Google searches of “how to have threesomes.” With the ability to see when a person was ‘last active’, in comes constant paranoia about how many other women they’ve been sleeping with, even if you hang out sober and they tell you they like you. It became clear that, much like my prior quest to meet ‘cool’ people, these men liked the idea of me more than me.
This isn’t to say that using wi-fi as a matchmaker is always bad; I am specifically writing from the perspective of a 22 year-old woman in a metropolitan area wanting more than casual sex. Not everybody has the time or ability to go out to a bar and strike up a conversation with a stranger in pursuit of this. I have friends who met people they have come to love on dating apps; I also have friends who have found the great sex with no strings that they are looking for.
Like most ‘productivity’ apps, I acknowledge that dating ones just simplify the ins-and- outs of basic human dynamics. I also see the appeal of having the ability to reach further than one’s regular circumstances allow. But when technology is making all other parts of our life robotic, don’t we want to be reminded that we are made of flesh? Don’t we still want something to make our hearts beat, not count the number of times it does per minute? We need to learn to fail again, so that we can grow.
For now, I’ve deleted Tinder and Hinge off my phone. That’s not to say that I’ll never re- download them, but I’m ready to rediscover my human instincts. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Ali Weiss lives and loves in the U.S.A.