This story first appeared on Medium.
In late 2012, during my senior journalism seminar in college, I noticed a flyer on the bulletin board advertising an online dating site for students. The first few times I saw the flier, I scoffed — who would ever go online dating? I mean how desperate are you?! But after staring at the cute guy on the flyer for a few weeks, I decided that I had nothing to lose by setting up a profile. I mean… I’m single. I’m in college.
And thus, I became the first of my friends to start online dating. I only divulged this dark and embarrassing secret to my most open-minded friends, many of whom judged me for a minute before creating profiles of their own. Within a few weeks I had an OkCupid profile, too, as my friends and I decided that that was the best platform.
Over the next few months, after a lot of bad coffee and worse dates, I fell for someone. We both deleted our accounts and lived happily ever after… for about 10 months.
I won’t bore you with the details of all of my relationships and pseudo-relationships — I’ll save that for another time — but I’ll give you the TL:DR of 2012–2015: Online dating frenzy for a few months; date one of them exclusively for a few months; online dating frenzy; date one exclusively; rinse and repeat.
I tried every app in the app store, and some that were in beta. I tried Tinder, Hinge, Bumble, My Cute Friend, and countless others that probably don’t even exist anymore. I was addicted to swiping and searching. And not really that into actually dating. By the end of 2014, I was #overit.
“Enough with your shitty coffee!” I , proverbially exclaimed, proverbially pounding my fists on the table. In January of 2015, I quit online dating cold-turkey, vowing to take the year off.
At first I felt uneasy. Unlike in 2012, when I felt like a pariah for having a profile, this time I felt like a freakshow for not having one. Who doesn’t use Tinder? What’s wrong with you? All my single friends were swiping left and right and without that swipe life, I felt like all I could do was sit back and twiddle my otherwise idle thumbs.
After my longest pseudo-relationship of 2015 ended with a bang (or rather an emoji), I didn’t know what to do with myself. My former post-break-up-coping-mechanism of frenetic swiping was out of the question. A few of my friends acted like devils on my shoulder, whispering “Just get back on Tinder. Dooooo it.” But I wouldn’t cave. It was the year of offline dating.
And with so much time, and so little swiping, I got out into the world and learned a lot about online dating, and dating in general.
And if you’re reading this, you must want to take dating advice from a (single) stranger on the internet, so here’s what I learned:
- Identify your desires and needs. In my time off of online dating, I realized that I had never actually thought about why I was doing it. I began to ask my self the tougher questions — what am I looking for? Do I actually want to be with someone or do I just want attention? Am I confusing sex with affection? Always dig deeper until you find your honest answers. You’ll know once you’re there.
- Don’t undervalue your time. One of the strongest cases made for online dating is that it saves you time — you’ll stop wasting time going on shitty dates because you’ve pre-screened all the candidates. I’m gonna call bullshit. By swiping and skimming and scrolling and texting, you’re actually adding a lot of time onto the dating process, before your first date even happens. If you meet someone IRL and you agree to go on a date with him, your chances of actually liking him are higher than if you’d tried to ascertain that from a few texts or pictures of him in front of the Golden Gate Bridge. Just remember: the hours you wasted at home on your couch, swiping strangers, are hours you can’t get back.
- Think big picture. While we’re on the subject of time, I learned to view quality of my time, as an average of random intervals taken over a longer course of time. In other words, if I was dating someone and the good times were awesome but the bad times were equally awful, it doesn’t average to a very productive use of my time. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Or something. (P.S. In all the time you save, you might just learn a new skill, take a class, or make a friend in real life!)
- Treat every person you go out with as an independent entity (but don’t ignore patterns.) I realized that I had been going into all dates with baggage from other dates or experiences. It’s almost impossible not to accumulate emotional baggage during adulthood. But logically, it shouldn’t exist. Statistically speaking, when two events are independent of each other, the probability that one event occurs in no way affects the probability of the other event occurring. (Mathematicians out there, this theory assumes that each relationship you’re in is independent and that your own craziness or bad hygiene isn’t affecting the outcomes). On the flip side, don’t ignore patterns if they’re there. For instance, if you always cheat on your boyfriend, one after the next, then this is definitely your fault #personalproblems. Keep an eye out for patterns, but don’t let your baggage take over.
In conclusion: you’re welcome and I’m sorry. You’re welcome, everyone I convinced to set up an OkCupid profile four years ago. You’re welcome if you met someone great or if I helped to lessen the stigma around online dating. But I’m also sorry for all the time I convinced you to waste and for all the assholes you met and all the hearts you broke. But this essay is my redemption. So you’re welcome.