January 27, 2019 at 08:30AM by CWC
When I was 24, in a classic 24-year-old move, I started hooking up with the Tinder Emperor of my borough. His cyber seduction skills checked every box in your list of dating app clichés: We’re talking shirtless selfies, topless pic requests—things I would scoff at (and then hike to Bushwick to meet up anyway like a damn fool). But what I couldn’t get over is that I was number 84 on his list of conquests. (He had a literal list of every woman he’d been with; he showed me once.) Eighty-four. When his number would flash on my phone, I’d wonder, “Did he scroll through all those names and think, Hmm, I’m in the mood for #84 tonight? Like I’m a McDonald’s order?”
Shocker: This tryst ended with a disastrous heartbreak. But I’ve been able to keep that bit of the past behind me. Until, that is, a new dating trend like “cookie jarring”—when a dater keeps one hand in the proverbial cookie jar, making sure to always have someone on reserve in case their main squeeze doesn’t work out—crops up in my feed, and it all comes rushing back.
Suddenly, I remember…Online dating is just Seamless for People.
Let me put forth a scenario for you: It’s Tuesday night, you’re home from an arduous day of work, and the couch is calling. You figure you should do that whole dinner thing, and maybe even did some healthy meal prep over the weekend. But oh, Chinese food sounds so much better, so much easier, like so much less work, and you settle on ordering something quick. When we use an app to find love, this is approximately the amount of effort many people put into finding a partner.
According to Camille Virginia, founder of the relationship coaching service Master Offline Dating, when we start to “order” dates the same way we do dinner, we come to undervalue the people involved. “There’s a direct correlation between the investment of effort to meet someone and how much value gets placed on that person,” she says. “When you put the same amount of effort into swiping on a dating app as you would into ordering Chinese takeout for lunch, you’re going to subconsciously value the person in that moment about the same as you do the food. I’d actually argue most people would value their Chinese food even more than the people they’re swiping on.”
I’ve witnessed friends ditch their dates for Broad City and General Tso’s chicken, so this sounds real.
You can even get super specific about which burger you’re in the mood for, and find one that’s within five miles of your current location, is light on the cheese, over six feet tall, and really loves hiking.
Like a scroll through Grubhub, the dating app experience brings us face to face with options, options, options. Not feeling General Tso’s chicken? You can get pad thai, tacos, sushi, or burgers. You can even get super specific about which burger you’re in the mood for, and find one that’s within five miles of your current location, is light on the cheese, over six feet tall, and really loves hiking.
It’s this overload of options that has us filter human beings by their most superficial qualities—a name, a number, a picture—and some line about how they recently vacationed in Iceland. And that could lead to a dangerous shift that has us valuing quantity over quality.
“Online dating has created a seemingly endless pool of singles and an overwhelming amount of options,” Virginia continues. “They were designed to be that way, modeled off slot machines to become addictive and keep you endlessly playing. But instead of hitting a casino once in a while and playing the slots for fun, people are using them to make the most important decision of their lives: who their future partner is.”
Now, this isn’t a “Death to all dating apps!” rally cry. Maybe your BFF met her S.O. on Hinge and they’re very happy, thank you very much. But while it is possible to swipe your way to true love, it’s far from the norm—certainly without experiencing a few tummy aches along the way.
When we order love on-demand, we choose what will be satisfying in that particular moment, rather than considering what will feel good in a sustainable way.
When you order a Crunchwrap Supreme at Taco Bell, you’re not like, “Wow, I’m totally shocked by the explosive diarrhea this gave me.” So I’m not exactly sure why anyone is surprised when the person with whom they’ve exchanged only a handful of messages before meeting for a drink ends up being a dud.
Online dating allows you to play the field from the comfort of your own home and without having to engage with people, says Chris Armstrong, relationship coach and owner of Maze of Love. “But you know nothing about [the person] except what they write. Once you do meet, you have to go from No Talk to Large Talk if you’re going to find out anything substantive about them. Small talk doesn’t come into play,” he says. “The dating app experience has left us impatient.” When we order love on-demand, we choose what will be satisfying in that particular moment, rather than considering what will feel good in a sustainable way.
Ultimately, you’re the keeper of your body—including your heart—and no one will die from choosing Taco Bell every day…probably. But if you realize that swiping is merely satisfying your thirst while, deep down, you’re hungry for something more substantial, maybe it’s time to put down the phone and put yourself out there IRL.
I get it, we are so wired-in that the thought of interacting with people is paralyzing. But it’s all about baby steps, Virginia says. “Start with what I call a Compliment Drive-By, which is when you go up to someone who caught your eye with something they’re wearing, give them a genuine compliment about it, and then walk away before they can respond,” she recommends. “This takes the pressure off you to think of the next thing to say.” Start by approaching people you’re not interested in romantically and work your way up to people you find attractive.
And if you’re still afraid of talking to strangers, Armstrong suggests that you get by with a little help from your friends. “While it can be understandably hard to get off the app and move right into one-on-one interactions, it is exceedingly easier to move into meet-up groups or go to places with friends where you don’t have to carry the day,” he says. “You can still be somewhat in the background and observing while you get used to being in the dating world mix.”
Like Virginia said, baby steps. Nobody goes from Big Macs to chia seed pudding overnight.
When one editor entered the world of online dating after a 15-year relationship, she says she felt like a time traveler. Here, she asks her younger co-workers for swiping tips. And here are our picks for the best dating advice of the year.