It's not the app
When Tinder lit up back in 2012, it changed the way we date.
The app swooped in to facilitate first-encounters and shag fests without users ever having to utter a real word; it gamified how we “approach” people (swipe left or right, shoot, and score); it flattened our natural energy into a bio and curated photos; it sped up the getting-to-know-you-process; and, unsurprisingly, it put us in more direct competition with everyone else at the digital bar.
And for all those reasons, I don’t date online.
But I’m a pariah of sorts. Some 40 million Americans use online dating services, and the usage trend is on the upswing. A Pew study conducted over ten years noted a fourfold increase of dating app users aged 18-24, and a doubling of user numbers aged 55 to 64 (push through, boomers!). With an increase in adoption rates among the Tinder and Match’s of the world, there’s also been a shift in love-swipe perceptions — only 23 percent of Americans find dating app users “desperate,” a dip from the 29 percent in 2005. Moreover, half say that they know someone married or in a long-term relationship with someone they met while online dating.
One interesting fact, however, is that 80 percent of the singles who took the Pew survey still have not found love. So what’s the problem? Why have so few found success swiping? Is the issue with us, or the apps?
I spoke about digital dating with multiple people ages 23-70. Some were offline daters who relied solely on physical encounters to meet people. Others have swiped for some time now, noting an overall positive experience connecting with other users. And many remained romantically frustrated – serial online daters who are awash in a vicious cycle of hope, heartbreak, rinse, repeat.
THE VIRTUAL WALL OF LIES AND DECEIT
From my conversations, it seems that the world of virtual dating invites false truths. Kaitlin*, a 48-year-old who works in financial services downtown, was sideswiped by the amount of young people I spoke to who felt just as negatively as she does about dating via an app.
“[Dating online] is horrible. But I would think dating on apps would be easier for your age group because you grew up with the internet. It’s all you know,” she told me over drinks. She’s right. Millennials have always communicated behind a virtual wall since AOL’s AIM.
With our profile names taking on the persona of our best selves (GLittERgrrrrl, or GapKid, for example), we formed online identities that did not match our offline skins. As time in virtual reality scaled, away messages, statuses, photo albums, and, soon, immediate validation followed. “The truth is, the pool of people [on apps] helps us detach from reality,” New York based psychotherapist and "Express Yourself" author Emily Roberts told me. They don’t help us live in it. Life & Relationship expert Cheyenne Bostock expounded saying, “Online we can curate our social media and dating app accounts based on what we want people to believe, whether [the information] is true or not.” Not the best way to start off dating on the right foot.
Lauren*, a 70-year-old widow who uses online dating apps, described a recent encounter where she matched with a guy whose profile featured a bunch of photos of him hiking. After setting up a hike date, he later confessed that he actually had not hiked in five years. “I wasn’t turned off by the fact that he didn’t hike," she said. "I was turned off because he was putting on a front.” They never wound up going on their date. “He vanished,” she told me. "You can have all the dating apps aimed at seniors, but if people aren't secure with themselves, there's going to be a disconnect."
Pew reports some 54 percent of online daters believe that someone else has presented false information in their profile.
Elena Murzello, author of The Love List: A Guide To Getting Who You Want, points out catfish-like boasting stems from the fear of being single forever. “They think this is my last chance, let me beef up this profile to attract someone.”
These types of lies and deceits are hard to mask when an offline date becomes a real one. Some don’t show up for the date altogether, fearful of not matching up to their online selves, and others flounder because, as Kaitlin quipped, “Though you connect and disconnect on apps is real-time, in person you can’t disconnect that easily.”
DATING IS A HIGH SPEED CHASE
We don’t use dating apps any differently than we do Snapchat or Instagram – call it high speed scrolling, or successional swiping. A 2014 study found that women will swipe for about 8.5 minutes before closing Tinder, while men clock about 7.2 minutes on the app. But unlike Insta or Snap, where most of us seek the simplicity of visual satisfaction, dating apps should have the intent of providing us with a wee bit more mmph...a connection deeper than good looks.
Bari Lyman, the creator of the Meet To Marry method says the mistake many people are making in the wake of online dating is going out with someone before really assessing what one wants out of a relationship.
“People are having a fun time on these apps, but they’re failing to have meaningful conversations,” she tells me. “It’s up to each individual to be an empowered dater - where you’re really asking the right questions from the beginning, so you have this very clear vision of who you are and what you need and what you’re looking for.” But with the possibility of 20 connections at once, is there really any time to think about ourselves as we court others?
Murzello says that there needs to be, suggesting that every dater create a “love list” outlining “the list of qualities and characteristics you want from a partner” for the most success on and offline.
“[On dating apps] I have never had so many people try and and hook up after only asking me my favorite color,” Angel Sport designer Kimani Bellamy told me. Bellamy says that she’d rather meet people offline, and at events where she can build a conversation based on common interests and “get an idea of who this person is first so there’s something we can build off of.”
That might be a harder task for New York's gay community, says rapper Cakes Da Killa. "I don't think there are apps that tend to gay relationships, that's not anyone's fault but young [millennial] gay men," he told me. "Most men are focused on fucking and [a relationship] may go from there."
So if it's all gloom and doom for those who want to find love in a digital world, why even go on apps? “Dating apps should serve as a means of an introduction that’s quicker than the time and effort it takes meeting a person face to face,” says Murzello. "Simply step outside your front door, and go to places you think your significant partner will be," Bostock added.
And, while that might sound analog, he might be on to something.
According to another report, 88% of Americans met their partner offline—without the help of a dating site. And in yet another, Mic surveyed 2,373 18-34 year olds, finding that 22 percent of people met their significant other in a social setting compared to the 9.4% that met online.
“IF YOU CAN’T LOVE YOURSELF, HOW IN THE HELL YOU GONNA LOVE SOMEBODY ELSE?" - RuPaul
Throughout these conversations, there seemed to be a correlation between those who harbored insecurities and those who desperately wanted to find someone via an app. Lauren blamed “feeling out of the loop” from the culture of her age, Ryan*, felt like he “has no game”, Kaitlin felt like she hadn’t found someone because she wasn’t pretty enough, or young enough, and the list goes on.
RuPaul ends every episode “Drag Race” by quoting himself, “if you don’t love yourself, how the hell are you gonna love anybody else?” While it feels reassuring to get super-liked on Tinder, or messaged on Match, once we unplug, we’re left with who we are in reality.
I had to ask : Are the unhappiest of online daters looking for people to fix their insecurities?
The concept of the inner saboteur—that wave of negativity that strikes whenever you’re headed towards personal growth—was brought up a lot during my chat with Bari Lyman, expert dating coach and creator of Meet to Marry. According to Lyman the saboteur exacerbates the dating blindspot.
“There is something within us that keep us from not only attracting the right people, but we’re attracting people who reflect our fears and our limitations rather than our possibilities,” she told me. “We take rejection, the fear of dating, a previous relationship, and we bring it into the present, and ultimately that closes off all future possibilities.”
Lyman’s “Make It Happen this Year” begins with working on the inside first. Clients discover how to tear down the blockages keeping them from finding love through diagnostic quizzes and her own unique step-by-step method. In part two, clients are clearer and more focused on what they want, so together they work to create a vision that’s reality based. “You know you’re not looking to meet everyone in the world, you just need one person.”
THE LOVE FIXERS
To fill the personal voids that make their way online are a new slew of digital dating experts that cater to singles who are facing specific hurdles to love.
“Because there is such overwhelming stimulation from Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, dating apps, and all the ways we’re connecting, people don’t use their judgment call anymore,” Barbie Adler founder of Selective Search pointed out. “People need a third party person to sift through all the noise and find a person of substance.”
Dating experts, like Laurie Davis Edwards of eFlirt, tackle three problems plaguing daters: online deception, fear of entering the dating world, and busy time schedules. For Joey, a 30-something year old banker who made the switch last year from online app to offline matchmaking service, Dating Ring, a third party makes all the difference. “I just didn’t have that much time to spend on Tinder, swiping through all of those photos can be really time consuming and shallow.” “The dates feel more tailored because [matchmakers] go beyond just the physical,” he says of his experience. “I tell them what I’m looking for and we have a conversation about my hobbies, what I like and don’t like - it feels more customized.”
Dating Ring stands out as the most affordable (membership starts at $40/month) and most popular among millennials in New York, but there are a slew of others like Tawkify. “Essentially, we're trying to harness tech to facilitate real, in person-human connection,” certified matchmaker, Michele Presley told me. Instead of using tech to make the matches, a la Tinder, Hinge, etc, it just helps Tawkify’s team of matchmakers “narrow down the options and reach out beyond our own database to find the best candidates wherever they are…because we've found that intuitive, empathetic humans just are - and probably always will be - better at doing that for other humans than the cleverest of machines.”
But how do you love yourself more? While there's not really an app for that, Thomas Edwards has some ideas. He launched Professional Wingman to coach his clients on embracing their passions, and effectively communicating them to potential suitors. "The pressure of walking up to someone in the bar and sweeping them off their feet is a very daunting task compared to just swiping right." It's important, he says, to build someone up to the point that they can be transparent about who they really are. "I always help my clients understand the value of transparency, no one is going to be responsive or create a connection unless you create the space for that to happen."
While the business of love is booming, for the matchmakers, the dating experts, and the app creators, there's no right algorithm that can remove the hurdles to finding love. Throughout the ages, falling for the right person really has been up to you...and you might be the biggest hurdle of all.