When I first started dating online, it was awesome. Gone were the days of time wasted on men who were Republican or conservative, religious or superstitious, more submissive than dominant in bed, or just not into cuddling. Gone were men who had bad taste in music, books, TV, movies or food.
Because OKCupid and dating apps like it fixed this. Thanks to match questions, I could decide whether or not I would be compatible with someone based on anything from their ability to answer a math question correctly to their perspective on nuclear war to their preferences in bed.
OKCupid gave me what I had always wanted. I was inundated with messages from dating-starved men. I didn’t have to go to bars or community events or friends’ parties or anywhere at all to meet handfuls of men each day. They showered me with compliments, flirted away, dove into sexting, and planned actual dates. And if one went poorly, there were plenty more lined up.
And Tinder? With Tinder, it was even easier. Thanks to dating apps, I never had to worry about finding a new guy. Thanks to dating apps, I was never really single ever. Thanks to dating apps, I developed a false sense of confidence that this relationship would be The One while the other half of me convinced herself she was completely fine with casual dating — because if this one didn’t care enough, there were plenty more where that came from!
Because I walked into dates knowing how much I had in common with a guy, which I believed was reflective of our compatibility, I ignored my first impressions. I didn’t notice the warning signs of an abusive relationship, because what kind of feminist is abusive? I couldn’t let go of another guy who didn’t want kids because he was my top match within 200 miles! And I almost missed meeting someone in a bar because I was swiping away at Tinder while my friend was talking to him in real life.
The guy in real life was named Chase. Chase was a Republican with an NRA sticker on the back of his pickup truck. He was a biology major who, naturally, believed in global warming. He was a laid-back atheist. He was a veteran. He liked playing video games and didn’t read much. He liked cuddling and was more submissive than dominant. Chase was a guy who I would have never matched with online, even though we had a lot in common, because there was too much we didn’t have in common. I had already told OKCupid: I didn’t like Republicans, guns or video games. I didn’t know any of this, though. So I gave him a chance.
Chase was the first guy in real life I’d gone out with in about three years. And … it didn’t work out. But it was so much fun. My attraction to Chase was automatic and natural, not due to some cool turn of phrase on a dating profile. It was the scent of his cologne. His brown hair and full beard. His jokes and laugh and kindness. He was a Republican, but he was pro-gay rights and pro-choice. He had an NRA sticker, but that was pretty cool because he’d been a semi-pro shooter and knowing he could shoot a gun made me feel safe. He was sort of cute when he played video games.
The things that were different about him, the things I would’ve said hell no to on OKCupid, were exotic and exciting in real life. My reason for quitting online dating was simple: It wasn’t natural. I believed I was expediting the process of meeting Mr. Right, but here I am, still dating years later. I believed I was making sure I was with men I was compatible with, but how in the hell did I know what compatibility looked like? Somehow, advertising and desperation had convinced me that an algorithm had any insight into something as insanely complicated, mysterious and wonderful as love. Just as Facebook had me looking at Facebook more than living a life worthy of such excessive and narcissistic documentation, dating apps had me spending more time dreaming up what made a guy someone I wanted to be with rather than going out into the world, ready to bump into him at a bar or grocery store checkout line or friend’s party or dog park or wherever.
I’m sure online dating works for some people. I don’t look down on anyone who uses dating apps, and I'm not 100 percent averse to trying it out again someday. If you’re sick of it, though, why not try something different? Put your phone down. Talk to strangers at the bar about the game on TV or that corny song that you’re both sick of hearing everywhere. Talk to the guy at the grocery store checkout line about how much you love that brand of beer he’s getting. Talk to that cute friend of a friend smoking a cigarette on the back porch. Let your dog play with his dog. Just go. Put yourself out there. Who knows? Maybe you’ll fall in love with a gun-toting Republican, or maybe you'll just find a really good new friend.