How I closed the apps and opened my eyes.
“You’re against the apps, right?” Someone asked me this recently and I wanted to be careful with my response. My gut says yes—set them aflame—but I’m not everybody and there’s a chance that at least some of everybody likes these things. I’m not against dating apps, if you’re enjoying them. I think if you’re a single woman and dating apps are adding something positive to your life, keep going. Just because I would rather remove my own pancreas with the dull end of an Ikea spatula than participate in them ever again, far be it from me to deny others their smiles where they find them.
If you’re not enjoying the dating apps, if they’re bringing you disappointment, frustration, disgust, perhaps a rash, and in general a whole lot of nothing good, then you my friend should sit down next to me. I don’t like the dating apps because they are simultaneously a cesspool sampler of humanity’s worst offerings, and somehow also “the way everyone meets now.” That makes absolutely no sense to me. But we keep going, and keep trying, because of the carrots.
Carrots are the couples who met on an app and got married. You know three of them and at least one is pregnant. It worked for them, therefore it works, so keep swiping, honey—come get it, come get your carrot. They’re what we remember when we look at the last 26 messages we’ve sent and not one guy has responded. Or we’ve swiped for three straight weeks without a match. Or a stranger asks us to sext him through his morning erection. We remember the carrots, and we keep trying. Until we need a break.
We call deleting the dating apps “taking a break.” They’re so toxic that complete avoidance is the only gas mask we’ve got. I always did it, I took breaks from fruitless effort and constant disappointment, I breathed unsullied air for a moment. Never once saying to myself that if I needed a “break” from something that was supposed to lead me to love, perhaps I was on a bad path altogether. A few weeks after deletion, panic would always set in, and I’d go back to swiping, messaging, and going on watery dates four times a year. The apps always tempted me back—always. Because I knew a truth: I’ll never meet someone if I’m not on the apps. The apps are how people meet now. If I don’t motion my thumb through a square on my phone while I’m on the subway or the toilet I’m never going to meet my husband. Everyone meets on the apps. I have to be on the apps. Right?
In January of 2019 I began evaluating my self worth, and the impact the dating apps were having on it. A clearing of things no longer serving me had to happen, and the dating apps were the first, though not the only, thing to go. I deleted them all. They’re still gone. Shifts in perspective can be caused by anything, and my perspective tallied 11 years online and not one relationship to show for it and felt a bit sick to its stomach. The weight of what I’d wasted, all those years, all that effort, was so humiliating and hard to accept that I had to start a podcast to have a place to store and share what I’d experienced, and how it had changed me. There had to be a reason for going through 11 years of online dating without a single relationship. Content wasn’t what I was going for, but so be it.
So how do I reconcile it, the knowledge that dating apps bring nothing to my life, and the societal groupthink that makes those same apps feel necessary? I have actually done it, I have found a way out of the apps for good, a way to bring myself back to a real life that I’d been glazing over with red wine and 5G service for a long time. For me, deleting the dating apps finally worked because of a theory.
I have a theory that if you interviewed 100 couples, you’d find 100 different stories of how they met. I formed this theory because I needed to know that there’s more to human connection than screens and emotionless messages and swiping. I needed to believe that more was possible in the world of human connection and love than what lives inside my phone. So far, I’m right.
I’ve never heard the same story twice, nor do I ever think I will. When I came around to seeing this as a truth, rather than dating apps as the extremely narrow, feces-riddled path we have to walk “these days” in order to meet someone, it was like I’d let myself out of a box of my own closing. Every story of how a couple met strengthens the confidence that I’ll meet someone in a way that doesn’t require I suffer through any more dating apps first. I’m telling you, this is working.
How We Met stories used to hurt. I’d never dare ask someone how she met her partner because I knew it was just going to make me sick with longing and painfully lonely, completely stuck in my never-ending dating app hole of despair and dick pics. But now, I ask everyone. I want to know. I want to prove the theory, because I have to know that the way people find each other is infinite, rather than locked behind a swipe I haven’t made yet. That idea is just too tiny for me.
They met at a party. They met at work. They met on the ferry that broke down and they were stuck for three hours and everyone was seasick but the wedding’s next fall. It really is endless, with endless variation. And rather than see these stories as constant blows to my jealousy jugular, the way I retain my sanity and hope for my future is by choosing to see them not as what hasn’t happened to me, but as examples of what could happen to me, because they happened at all. If other people met someone, I can meet someone, because I am someone. The more I dig, the more I see endless possibility. I like the idea of endless possibility.
I have a friend who met her husband because the friend she was having a glass of wine with went on a ski trip him five years prior. He walked into the bar, her friend made an intro, and now their kid is a year old. I know couples who met at rock shows. I know a woman whose mother met a guy on an airplane and suggested he meet her daughter. They’re married now. I have one friend who married a guy who lived two doors down from her with his grandmother. My parents met country-western dancing. Today is their 20th anniversary. Whatever idea you have about how people could potentially meet, I can assure you that it’s possible. Anything is.
Yes, I do know lots of couples who met on dating apps. And many of the stories I hear start that way, too. But compared to the thousands, if not millions of people on dating apps, I don’t like the odds. I don’t like some stories happening to only some people. I want the possibility of anything happening for everyone. So I opened up the idea for myself, the possibility of meeting someone from just “on the apps” to “literally any way imaginable,” and things started looking a brighter, fast. Also, even the dating app stories are more layered than just “eh, you know…Bumble.” There’s always a story there, something layered on that led to real connection between two people.
In order to end 11 years of endless app-based nothing, I had to change — my mindset had to change — and the stories that used to make me feel like a failure became the reason I was no longer willing to participate in dating app culture. I don’t actually know how I’m going to meet someone, but I do know that battery life will have little to do with it, and that my self worth will stay intact the whole time.
If you’re single, and you don’t want to be, the options available to you seem very few. The apps are really all we’ve got in terms of resources. There are dating “tips” aplenty, but not one of them can tell us the thing we really want to know: where the hell to actually meet our partner. That guide doesn’t exist, because it’s not possible. What is possible is a change in mindset, and an opening up of our mental aperture. I’ve done it, I feel infinitely better as a result, and moving forward I hope to tell more stories that make other single women feel better, too.
The longer I’m away from the apps, the happier I am that they’re gone. I’ve found it, the way out. It has a lot to do with a change in mindset, a sense of self worth, and stories. These stories are my proof, and a version of one of them is my future.
I received this message on Facebook about an hour after I sat down to write this post: