"Should I Use Tinder Or Nah?" This is The Great Question for most single people in 2016. It certainly is for me. And I need to talk about it because honestly, guys, I'm lost.
Historically, my dating app MO has pivoted between two opposing principles with me in the middle, swinging like a beguiled Single Guy Pendulum. I simply can't decide: Are dating apps my friends, necessary romantic connectors in a cold digital age? Or is my natural inclination to banish these dehumanizing, love-shopping algorithms the way forward for me? The only thing I know for sure is that I must settle on an answer ASAP, lest this endless back-and-forth leave me permanently confused and frankly, a little nauseous.
Let me explain.
My first mode of operation when it comes to dating in 2016, my more natural state, is something I call "Julia Roberts Fantasy" mode, or JRF. In JRF, I gleefully forsake all dating apps, clearing them from both my consciousness and phone. I allow the belief that love should happen organically, that it appears when you're simply living your damn life. This idea is either based in a deeply held understanding of my core humanity OR in the insidious meet-cute tropes I've been sold by Hollywood Rom Coms. As a '90s child-- an unwitting victim of the corporatized pop culture machine, and a Chick Flick sucker-- I am not entirely sure.
Either way, though, JRF is all about giving it up to God or the Secret or the Universe or whatever all-knowing guru life-force is cracking that year. When I'm living the JRF, I know that the stars will align when the time is right and The One and I will make eyes from across a dimly lit bar. We'll reach simultaneously for the same perfectly ripe avocado at Whole Foods. Perhaps a young Hugh Grant and I will be assigned as hand-stand partners at yoga class, take a perfectly snowy weekend getaway to a Vermont B&B, have two perfectly flawed children, and die perfectly in each other's arms knowing that we lived and loved to the fullest. Or, like, happen on each other in some other unexpected way and get a solid decade out of it before going our separate ways. Whatever's clever, I'm down.
But then, as it always does, reality strikes. After months with exactly zero simultaneous avocado grabs, zero romantic Vermont getaways, and the yoga teacher constantly pairing me with some NYU naif, I remember that, duh! JRF is nothing but some Julia Roberts Movie bullshit. No one meet-cuted me, I certainly met-cute no Young Hugh Grants and, hello, 2016 is not 1996 or 1966 or 1906. I can't expect to be wooed, courted, and then delivered to my husband, dowry in tow.
Then the pendulum swings and I enter the second of my two dating app modes, my oft-assumed state of late, something I call: "Get Real, Bitch" mode, or GR,B. It begins with me looking in the mirror and shouting, "Get real, bitch!" It's very cathartic. "Fuck You, Julia Roberts!" is something I also yell at this time. Julia Roberts almost never answers for her crimes.
After the shouting stops, I pick up my phone like a good Millennial and download literally all the dating apps: Tinder and whatever else is hot that month. At first, I feel good! I feel proactive, like I'm Out There, I'm "making myself available," I'm "opening myself up to love" and all that. I feel relief, because I'm no longer avoiding reality. This is just how people meet these days. Accept it and move on.
I start swiping away on humans. Or digital representations of humans. I swipe a few times and inevitably, match with a cutie. Or an apparent cutie. I guess a Cute Pic is a more apt descriptor. In some swipe sessions, I match with, like, a solid ten Cute Pics! I'm empowered. I can take this whole dating thing by the horns and wrangle me a boyfriend, no problem! WATCH OUT, FELLAS.
But then, ugh. Then things start to derail. After spending far too much of my precious time swiping, my Cute Pics and I start texting and I have the same revelation I had during my last GR,B session: a whole bunch of these Cute Pics are flakey fuckers who don't answer a text. Even more, a solid half of them are cool sticking at the "hey what's up hello" phase of conversations (Was "Hi there" the wrong greeting? Maybe I shoulda said "Hey"?)
Another chunk yammer on and I'm like, "Yay! Chemistry!" (which, boo on me for thinking you can have chemistry with a Pic), then fall off at the prospect of an actual IRL date. They just wanted to be pen pals, I guess? Another swath is definitely confusing Grindr and Tinder ("sooooo, Netflix and chill?"). But you know what? It's cool! Life isn't Notting Hill, says I to me in GR,B.
Then sometimes, although, honestly less often than I expect when I start GR,B, a Pic and I get to planning a date. I think to myself, "Damn Louie. Check YOU out. You've been avoiding this app game and now look: You got yourself a drinking partner for the evening!" We lock down the meetup, I buy some overpriced facial moisturizer and feel good about life.
Then the dates happen. I've been in GR,B for the last two months and have gone on six app dates in eight weeks. And it's not like their bad dates, per se. On the whole, they're perfectly fine dates. There's just usually something... off, chemistry wise.
One guy was literally a different person from the picture he showed on the app, which, come on fella. Two others, plucky and hilarious in our text convos, were nervous and introverted to an uncomfortable degree in person. Two more were perfectly fine gentlemen, but very clearly not matches (I did, however, force myself to make out with them anyway, thinking maybe I could will the chemistry into existence. Sidenote: you can never will chemistry into existence).
One however, was good. It was a good date! I'd been particularly encouraged by the fact that he'd written to me first and that his profile read "long term relationship-oriented." We had a drink or two, laughed a little, came out of the closet about loving the new Bieber album, then split earphones while sharing a cigarette under his coat outside the bar. Then he kissed me. For like, an hour. It was nice. Then I texted him the next week for a follow up. He never responded.
The bottom line was that none of these guys were exactly what their Cute Pics, their twee blurbs or their clever texts advertised. Considering the power we have to carefully choose how we represent ourselves on these things, I wouldn't be surprised if they all felt the same about me.
It's a law of averages: Dating apps are like being set-up on a series of blind dates, already a precarious proposition, except instead of a wise yenta doing the matching, it's some sort of ethereal computer that no one's ever seen. If a comp's setting you up with a bunch randos, what are the chances of real chemistry? Even if you go out with someone you've met drunkenly in a bar, you're making a go off the je nais se qua, that intangible zazazoo (thank you, Carrie Bradshaw).
The next wave of GR,B is the overwhelming numbness. The dead-end dates pile up, which somehow makes swiping right or left, guy after guy, pic after pic, human after human, even more perilously addictive. A K-hole opens inside my mind. Who are all these people? How do I know if they're eligible or not? What if they're cuter than their blurry photo? What if they're not nearly as hot? What if they're just not good at picking photos of themselves? I'm certainly not! My sister picked these for me over meatballs last weekend. What if they're incredible conversationalists if you actually met them, but are just terrible at small talk with strangers on the Internet? Hello!? This guy!
I start to get that patented Seamless.com sensation: There are so many options, most of them seem sketchy, and I'd rather just starve. Who needs this kind of stress? And what the fuck do I do now, Julia!?
Upon completing my GR,B cycle, I'm usually left lonelier than when I started and, worse, pretty discouraged about dating on the whole. This is partially because, of course, as you know by reading this article, I haven't succeeded in the mission I set out to achieve during GR,B.
But I think my dissatisfaction with dating apps is also because of that very "mission" inherent in using them. The quest of endless swiping exploits the idea that I'm missing something, that my life is lacking. They also sell the idea that the only way to meet a match is by spending an exorbitant amount of time serial dating, swiping for hours and having drinks with an endless series of possible profiles when I could be doing any number of amazing activities that this world has to offer. They turn finding love into an assignment, a task. I mean when you think about love, should finding it feel similar to choosing which Indian place has the least terrifying curry?
"But Louie, I met my boyfriend of five years on Tinder!" you might be crying, indignantly. And rightfully so! It is of course possible to meet someone you connect with on an app. Meghan Trainor has had four Top 10 singles. Anything's possible! But the lack of human-to-human interaction, pheromones intermingling in that incomprehensible way, makes it far less likely. Is it worth the time and energy we pour into them for such a remote chance at success?
Worse still, I believe an entire generation of Singles, myself included, have lost our ability to meet people in the real world. I don't know about you, but I'm scared shitless to approach the Breezy on the subway who I happened to see is also listening to Janet Jackson on his iPhone. What would I even say to him? "Got a nice package alright, guess I'm gonna have to ride it tonight?" I mostly just start shaking, then beat myself up for being ball-less once he gets off a stop ahead of mine.
Dating apps allow you to avoid that fear. They allow you to sift through infinite potential mates from the comfort of your toilet. They allow you to avoid the awkwardness of making eyes or even approaching someone you think is cute in public. They allow you to protect yourself, at least on the surface, from rejection.
As we've relied increasingly on apps, though, the supposed discomforts we avoid also deprive us of the magical, terrible, unexpected and human things that can only occur by two people stumbling upon each in the real world. I don't know if we even "read the signs"-- a glance, a hair flip, a knee tap-- anymore. Sometimes, the most attractive thing that about a person is the awkward response they give because they haven't had time to craft a perfect one. And last weekend, I went to gay bar and approached a guy who, as I got closer, was nose deep in his phone, looking at Grindr. In a gay bar! Surrounded by real, horny cuties (including the one, me, who was approaching him and totally dtf).
So as someone who is interested in love in 2016, do I need to just shut up and embrace the reality that we've lost this language of IRL love to time? And if so, do I also accept the new normal and pray that a Cute Pic and I might have some actual chemistry? Do I make GR,B my default mode?
Or do I be the one who fights through my own awkwardness, my own fear of approaching someone, my own fear of rejection, and attempts to regain this real life dialogue of attraction? Maybe if I let it be JRF or Bust, I'd be enhancing my own life by taking a risk, by being vulnerable, and adding to a world that looks more like I wish it did--one where a good-hearted prostitute can be picked up by Richard Gere in a limo one night and find true happiness.
It stands to reason that for all of their ridiculousness, meet-cutes aren't just filmic fantasies. The premise of Julia Roberts movies must have started somewhere real, somewhere human. Maybe meet-cutes are just happening less than they were during Peak Roberts because we're all too afraid to meet-cute. What do you think?
Seriously. I'm asking. Because right now, this merry go round has me feeling like I'd rather just pop in Runaway Bride and live in nausea-free solitude.