Love is better IRL: Swipe dating is toxic, but it’s not the only option.

In the last year I’ve written at least three articles on why swipe/online dating (SOD) doesn’t work very well. Hell I even recorded a low budget podcast to that effect — and why it’s lousy for guys in particular.

But now I’m convinced it’s bad for everyone: on a societal/human level.

There’s no reason to rehash everything I’ve written before, but the TL;DR is as follows. On SOD:

  1. People are irrationally picky
  2. There are lot of lemons to sort through (seriously: A LOT)
  3. It kills/becomes people’s social life
  4. As sellers we become the cheapest of commodities
  5. As buyers we become capricious box checkers

If you want a more detailed explanation check out the links or listen to the pod, but it wasn’t until I read another article on Medium in which author Manpreet Kaur made two disturbing observations that I realized what a truly toxic platform swipe dating apps have become.

The first:

Online dating, with its abundance in matches and convenience in scheduling dates, operates from an innate, fundamental principal that people are disposable, that relationships are temporary and the next date could be an even better date.”

On SOD: “People are disposable.”

The truth in real life (IRL), however, is that people ARE NOT disposable.

Perhaps this fact has been lost in the modern age of identity politics, but we are not merely compilations of our race, sex, height, weight, degrees, job, and six pictures.

No.

We are writers, guitar players, artists, kayakers, coffee snobs, beer aficionados, political junkies, aspiring chefs, world travelers, and karaoke stars — rappers and Salsa dancers and crossfitters and dog lovers and weekend warriors of every possible variety.

To use myself as an example: I’m a novelist, blogger, high school English teacher, fly fisher, skier — a Christian in the most unconventional way possible, and an existentialist. In real life these qualities are assets — reasons, activities, and aspects of my character most women find interesting and unique. On SOD, however, every single item on that list becomes a liability: grounds to swipe left, a piece of information that can be read into and seen as a flaw.

A reason I’m disposable.

And so we miss the interpersonal aspect of attraction: the nuances about an individual that we would grow to love and adore in a relationship — things we can appreciate IRL — become flaws on screen: reasons to be skeptical, things to read into, justifications for swiping left. It’s like everyone suddenly thinks they’re a Navajo code talker who can decipher the vital essence of human beings based on a handful of doctored pictures and a contrived bio.

But the reality is this: whether or not you have professional photos will go farther in determining your success on SOD than who you are as a human being.

At least, initially.

Because the opposite is true IRL, where it turns out, personality and compatibility do matter. But with swipe dating we are, by the very nature of the platform, choosing convention and propriety over novelty — we are making the shallowest, most capricious of choices. Indeed, those who spend a lot of time on Instagram or Snap Chat taking pictures of themselves and otherwise inhabiting the virtual world are probably more successful matching than those of us who don’t.

The problem is they usually aren’t very interesting.

Let’s face it: we live in a world where a large proportion of our society spends far more time scrolling through social media or playing games or taking pictures on their phone than they do reading books, having deep conversations, or even just thinking about the world around them.

This isn’t making us better.

No, our smart phones are making us shallower, less interesting, more anxious people who are increasingly cynical and skeptical and unrealistic — separated from our better nature by a glowing screen and a seemingly unending array of human-esque bots to choose from — which brings me to the second chilling observation by Ms. Kaur:

“These repeated intimate interactions of connecting and disconnecting with strangers leads to dating fatigue and mistrust, ultimately resulting in a hardened individual. As a byproduct from being told, ‘you’re special’ repeatedly, I don’t react when someone says something genuinely kind or flattering. It’s as if they said something about Cardi B. I am completely and utterly disinterested.”

Because on SOD we are seen and view others as disposable commodities, we treat them that way, and over time it leads to the feelings expressed above: disinterest and cynicism. Even antipathy.

And it’s totally understandable.

How can we look forward to one date with one individual — or bother caring too much about them — when we’ve got three more lined up for the weekend? How long can we spend analyzing the text message that goes unanswered? And how many times can we have someone we’re interested in ghost us without starting to feel like one?

When I read or talk to people about their experiences on SOD, it’s clear dating is no longer it’s no longer the fun, sexy, exciting experience it should be.

Instead it’s a job.

Like tracking down the perfect outfit on Amazon, we sift through profile after profile as if a partner, too, were merely an accessory — a something not a someone — to complete the perfect picture of our perfect life, a useful prop to insert into stories on Instagram.

I’m just going to be blunt: SOD is a cross between prostitution, social media, and a slave auction — a system of choosing mates in which the lack of humanity isn’t a bug, but a feature. And though it’s intended to help people get together, the reality is that for many — if not most — of its users, it’s having the opposite effect.

The Good News: it doesn’t have to be this way.

The reaction, when I note these flaws, is almost always the same: “OK, but how am I going to meet people?” It’s not that people disagree — it’s that they see no alternative.

Which is entirely understandable.

It’s not easy to meet people in daily life. For many of us the most likely place is work, but that’s problematic for obvious reasons. And then there’s any number of other hangups. For some of us it’s that most of our friends are married and/or too busy to go out — or we work jobs in places where we don’t have a lot of connections. And with fewer people taking part in smaller communities like churches and local organizations, SOD feels like the only solution.

But there’s a chicken and egg problem here, because with SOD, we don’t need to figure out ways to meet people IRL — that problem’s solved. And so in a world that feels increasingly busy, people defer to spending time with friends and family with the knowledge they can do their dating a la carte. Bumble, Tinder, and all the other apps act as a crutch for the social alienation that feels inevitable, but in truth, is a choice.

Because as I’ve found, it’s quite possible — and preferable in so many ways — to meet people IRL. At first, like any muscle that goes unused, my abilities were weak, so I started out simply trying to make casual conversation with anyone I happened to come across: the elderly man choosing bananas in the produce aisle; the college kid buying cheap beer; the married couple sitting next to me in a bar; and eventually: the cute woman at the coffee shop.

Over time, my approach has become more nuanced — more effective — and I’ve had the pleasure of meeting so many smart, beautiful women I would never have known had I been in my apartment, swiping away, instead of down at the farmer’s market or out at a concert or singing karaoke at the local dive bar.

For me it’s quite simple: if I see a woman I find attractive, I’ll strike up a conversation (in a way that is polite and socially calibrated). Some people call this “cold approach”, but I prefer to think of it simply as MIRL, or Matching/Meeting In Real Life. And though we normally think of this as a man to woman strategy, there’s no reason women couldn’t or shouldn’t do the same thing .

And there are other avenues as well.

Join a gym or a club or a group or volunteer. Go to political rallies, comedy shows, concerts, clubs, coffee shops, tap houses, restaurants or bars. Take a cooking course, learn salsa, or join a choir.

The point is there are any number of things we can do to meet people IRL, but we’re less likely to do them when we can simply swipe through a seemingly infinite number of profiles while watching Game of Thrones with a glass of wine in hand. As with most things in life, easier does not mean better.

I’m not going to lie: it’s hard at first and there may be a few weekends or even months that go by without any dates. But I guarantee that if you remove the toxic crutch of SOD, delete the apps from your phone, and stick to it, you will find a solution.

Even better: you’ll become a better version of yourself — a more desirable, interesting lover.

You’ll discover what it’s like to flirt with a cute stranger, come up with little games or fun questions to ask the people you meet, develop the skill to carry a conversation, learn how capture someone’s attention.

You’ll remember what it’s like to put yourself out there, whether asking for a phone number or boldly sitting next to the handsome man at the bar, knowing that rejection is possible — but so too is success — and learning from the failure or relishing in the reward.

And instead of spending hours cultivating your photos and perfecting your bio, worrying about how you might appear to others, you’ll spend time actually doing things in your city and community.

You’ll become a participant instead of a passenger.

In a word, dating IRL requires agency in a way SOD does not, cannot, and never will. Why? Because when you’re dating IRL, people ARE NOT disposable.

For instance, when I go out on a Friday night with friends and I get a woman’s number, it’s an opportunity I’m less likely to waste. Because instead of being able to fall back on the knowledge there’s an ocean of potential matches out there in the ether, I’ve got one; but the connection is stronger than anything we could have cultivated by matching and texting online.

Could I ghost her, or her me? Sure. But again it’s less likely: we’re both more invested. Me, because it’s MIRL or bust, and her, because even if she’s on SOD, she saw whatever shine I had that day, she felt the weight of my presence — the gravity of my confidence.

And I’ll take my chances with that over six pics and 500 characters any day.

Jeff Allen is an independent author and blogger living in Portland, OR. His website is ChuckingRocks.com, where he writes about Health and Wellness, Dating, and Existentialism. You can find a few of his short stories there as well.

His first novel, Cherry City Pulp, is darkly comic take on modern American society and what happens when coincidence and human frailty break the wrong way. He’s currently working on his new manuscript, Say Yes — please visit the site for more information.