Swipe Fatigue: How online dating is failing us

Source for image: Chelsea Beck on TheAtlantic.com

I hit a breaking point a few weeks ago. I was on a first date with a devastatingly handsome boy who looked like a cross between a real-life Prince Eric from “The Little Mermaid”, Paolo from “The Lizzie McGuire Movie” and someone with a really good ass. He was a former Harvard baseball player with a healthy crop of dark brown tresses and a strong, athletic build, and when I first saw him I thought I had hit the online dating jackpot. At dusk, we sat atop a hill in a park near my house, and we watched the sun set while hitting his sativa vape, the glittering skyline of San Francisco poised before us. It was a scene out of a Nora Ephron movie. I shrugged it off when he talked so much about himself, his rambling start-up ideas or his douchey gym rat lifestyle (I mean, for those looks, I could forgive him). But then he said something that caused both my high and initial attraction to dissipate.

“I should tell you, I live in my car. ”

There always is something, isn’t there?

“But I mean, it’s a Porsche. It’s not like I’m living in a Toyota.”

And thus ended another fruitless date in San Francisco.

Since graduating from college in 2016 and moving to San Francisco as a newly minted single gal, I had optimistically and practically embraced dating apps as a viable way to find my next great love. I had downloaded six apps, labored over writing the perfect bio and selecting pictures that of me that were attractive but not overtly sexual, and that demonstrated that I was a chill, interesting chick who liked things like “hiking” and “cooking.” Since then, I have gone on over 25 first dates, half as many second dates, and had dozens more unproductive conversations over text. Designating this as a healthy sample size from which to draw a conclusion, I have gathered that dating apps are a wholly ineffectual and inefficient way to meet your potential mate.

I thought it was a number’s game. The more dates in a week I could accumulate, the better my chances of meeting the elusive “one” — or at least a guy who actually wants to get to know me for a bit before ghosting me. I wanted to pretend I was a character on Sex and the City, weaving through city life with glamour and charm, a new man and new insight every week. Of course, life was not a big budget, well-scripted TV show. Dating at this frantic pace only made me exhausted. All these app dates were unremarkable, and I went home at night knowing that we would not see each other again, and that I had no interest in doing so. I had duped myself into believing that algorithms could help speed along what was the natural process of forming a connection and falling in love.

Part of our fascination with the tools of online dating must arise from some form of millennial anxiety. I recently had read a study that claimed that the peak of attractiveness for women (to men of all ages) is the age of 23. Then I realized, I was 23! I had to get moving fast, this anxiety told me, because I was not getting any more attractive to men, and the further I got away from 23, the smaller my chances got.

This in large part was why I was so desperately clammering for a romantic connection in the first place, throwing myself at the many attractive and successful guys who half-consciously had swiped right on me, and then realizing that just because someone was successful and attractive or interesting on paper did not mean I could connect with them in any meaningful way. Still, I was lonely. I longed for a deep acceptance and attention. I missed my ex, and was trying to replace him quickly. I thought, I don’t have time to sit around and wait for someone. I told myself that my good looks and my perky body had a shelf life like a soft cheese in a warm fridge. But this was the wrong way of thinking about things.

Often when I was on a bad date, I dazed off and remembered how I’d met my ex. We had first met in passing at a party, then in class, then at another party, and another, before any romantic moves were made. Between these spaced out interactions, there was buildup, mystery, the thrill of vague flirty texts and dissecting them with my friends, sly smiles when we walked past each other on campus. And when the first dates arrived, even if we were sitting in the corner of our dingy college cafeteria, they were electric. We couldn’t stop smiling. I hung on his every word, and he did the same, at least in the beginning.

And therein lies a major problem with dating apps: the inorganic, forced nature of the interactions they generate. The magic of happenstance was gone. There was no interpersonal foreplay, no chance encounters — only the date. Two people go into a date with the pressure of knowing that there must be something romantic right away or there isn’t anything at all. Coming into any situation with such black and white expectations promotes failure: there is a small chance that immediate sparks fly. There is a larger chance that, despite the excitement of the potential of a companion, things will fall flat. Contrast this with the way most young people claim to meet their romantic partners: through mutual friends, out at a party or at work: all places where a person is not armed with any specific romantic expectations. Getting to know someone outside of a strictly romantic context without said pressures is almost necessary to facilitating a genuine connection.

While dating apps might have facilitated easier hooking up, I don’t think they have drastically changed the love market. There are some things technology is not equipped to improve. Dating apps have not solved or even mildly mitigated the fundamental struggle of finding a romantic connection. They only have produced an illusion, which, as more people seem to find, dissipates quickly with their continual use.

I never texted the Harvard baseball player again. I’ve been taking an indefinite and perhaps permanent break from these apps, ignoring the beckoning notifications. I couldn’t care less if Henry liked my picture, or if Rob asked about my upcoming trip to Asia. These interactions were doomed to fail from the beginning. I used to think this old adage was a bunch of hooey, but maybe there is some truth to it: Things come to you when you’re not looking for them.

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