I remember way back when the smartphone was in its infancy. Apple had launched the iPhone, and while most were initially awestruck by the capability of this device, others saw it as an overpriced gimmick that didn’t have enough function to be essential to people's lives. There was a particular commercial that struck me. It was the “There’s an App for That” commercial, in which a narrator rattled off a bunch of hypothetical situations while a set of hands opened a bunch of different iPhone apps, which would serve as solutions to those hypothetical situations.
In the commercial, there was no mention of how the smartphone would change how we interact and relate with each other. There was also no mention of online dating apps. But we can all agree that these landscapes have changed radically with the creation and advancement of the smartphone. I’m confident that if the commercial were remade today, it would say, “Looking for a date on Friday? There’s an app for that.” There are dozens of online dating options these days. Match, Ok Cupid, Tinder, Bumble, Coffee Meets Bagel, Hinge, Happn, and tons for specific niches. To say that there’s an app for that, in this case, is an incredible understatement.
When I was younger, I dabbled in online dating. For years, I wasn’t particularly good with meeting women in public settings. Additionally, I worked full-time and was in school full-time, so the opportunities to be bad at meeting women in public were infringed upon by my busy schedule. So online dating—though not as prevalent a culture as it is now—was a fantastic option. I could find women who it seemed I had things in common with, I could build some kind of dynamic with them, and by the time I met them, things were much easier. Since I’m writing an article about dating, we can assume that through all of those dates I never found The One, but all in all, I felt my experience through online dating was a positive one.
A few months ago, I found myself getting back into the dating world after a long hiatus. I was out of the loop for so long; I didn’t really know what to do to try to meet women again. I worked full-time, I had a group of friends who I hung out with regularly, and all in all, I had a pretty active social life. So going back to online dating seemed like an obvious decision. I reactivated some accounts that had been dormant for years, created some new ones, put a fresh coat of paint on my dating persona, and I was ready to go!
Or so I thought. I messaged dozens of women, heard back from a few, and actually met even less of them. After those dates never heard back from them again, never saw them again. At first, I told myself it was okay. I told myself that the dating landscape had changed since the last time I was out there, and I was simply taking my lumps as I adjusted to how dating had changed. The cycle repeated itself every couple of weeks, and each time, I either came up with a new justification or told myself I’d stop online dating.
Of course, one wouldn’t be out of line to say, Well gee Noah, maybe you’re bad at dating, and those women didn’t want to see you again. For the sake of conversation, I’ll give you that. Since I lacked the ability to get inside the head of any of the women I dated, I have no idea what they thought. Even though my perception was that a good number of them had gone quite well, I can only speak to what I experienced. In all of those cases, when I reached out for a second date, I never heard back. No excuses, no polite rejections, not even a rude rejection. All I got was radio silence. I later learned that this sort of behavior has a term: “ghosting.” Ghosting is when someone refuses to respond to texts, calls, voicemails, emails, etc.
Without taking any potshots at any of the women I dated, I think this social practice is at the core of what is wrong, or at least, dangerous, about online dating. Before we meet this person, we see a profile; we see a collection of pictures, anecdotes, personal information, and other things, through an electronic device. Therefore, it’s difficult for us to recognize, or at least, fully appreciate, that this person was once—and still is—a person before they became an online dating profile. On some level we might not think about, we objectified that person before we ever met them, and that makes it easier for us to dismiss them if the actual person isn’t to our liking. And I’ll be honest, I’ll wear that hat, I did that once or twice myself. And looking back, I wish that I hadn’t. There’s cruelness involved in that sort of behavior that I think has slipped into the cracks between people due to our relationships with technology.
Finally, I had enough. After sending who knows how many messages, “liking” so many profiles, and needing to introduce myself so many times even I got sick of hearing my own story. I walked away from online dating. It was a bit of a scary decision. I knew that I was on some level, proactively avoiding dating. Or at least, I was limiting my options. But what I was giving up, I made back in so many different ways.
The first thing I realized was, online dating was exhausting. Even when it was going well, it took so much time and effort. Looking at profiles, “liking” profiles, writing to women, so on, so on, and so on. It wasn’t until I stopped online dating that I realized that I was always online dating. I could be out with friends, and I’d be browsing through matches. I could be watching a movie and going through profiles. It didn’t really matter what I was doing at any given moment, because no matter what I was doing, I was sort of also doing the online dating thing. I know I’m not alone on this one. I have friends who have “Tinder sessions” when they will block off a good fifteen to twenty minutes and just swipe until they can’t swipe anymore. At times, I had exhibited similar behavior. In retrospect, it was funny to see that the thing that was supposed to be a convenience was actually becoming more work!
Another thing I realized was that I was actually meeting more women when I stopped online dating than when I was on it. This could be random, it could simply be the law of averages balancing out from all the women I wasn’t meeting randomly out in the open, but I have a theory! While I was online dating, and I was out with friends, I never needed to think about meeting women. It didn’t matter because online dating had become a crutch for meeting women. I could stay within the confines of my group and not think about meeting people around me, because as soon as I logged into one of my dating profiles, there was a nearly endless supply of women to meet there. With the crutch gone, I think it subconsciously changed my way of thinking. Even if I wasn’t proactively looking to meet women while I was out, it just seemed to happen naturally. Maybe I was making an effort to be more outgoing, or maybe it was a random set of circumstances, but I found I was in a better frame of mind by not relying on online dating to meet women.
Ultimately, I found that my mind became a more “quiet” place. I realized that when I was online dating, I became obsessed with getting messages, notifications, any sort of responses from people I ultimately didn’t know. That became a sense and sensation that was difficult to acknowledge, but helpful once I did. I had been, in my own way, working for the approval of people that I shouldn’t have been since they didn’t actually exist in my life. But through online dating, that became a major purpose in my actions. While in our lives, especially in our love lives, wanting the attention and admiration of people we care about is important, and natural, I think online dating poses a threat because we want these things from people before we even know them.
Of course, a natural criticism is that I took, and take, online dating too seriously. One can say that I shouldn’t be so offended by not hearing back from women, or that I shouldn’t be so hung up about what a stranger thinks about me. That’s true, there’s certainly some truth in both of those statements. But what concerns me, is that I believe when people are reaching out to each other, we should be doing so in a genuine way. A way in which our intentions are honest, we give people our respect, and consider their emotions when we make our actions. To me, the very concept of don’t take it seriously gives us license to not take people seriously, which is not a way I believe we should live our lives. Of course, online dating has its good stories as well. I know multiple married couples who met through online dating. In one case, the people probably wouldn’t have met if they hadn’t had a forum to bring them together. And I know other people who have had good relationships with people they’ve met online.
Life is tricky. I’ve always said the most difficult thing anyone can do in his or her life is to try to be in a relationship. It requires a special alchemy of two people, who both bring their totally unique lives, views, and experiences, to the table, and do the best they can to work with all the things their partner brings to the table as well. It’s not easy. Anyone who says their relationship has never had a difficult day has either not been honest with themselves or their partner. Online dating, in its own way, helps with this. It helps us find people we possibly wouldn’t find on our own. People who wouldn’t travel through our circles. People, who even though their lives and experiences are different than our own, see some of the world similarly, and make them worth getting to know. But what I worry about and ask you to consider is this: before people made online dating profiles, they were people first. However they choose to represent themselves online, they’re doing so because it’s the version of themselves they most want to show to the world. That takes courage, honesty, and respect. If in your travels with online dating, you meet people who you don’t like as much as you thought you would, that’s totally fine. A date isn’t an obligation to continue talking to or seeing someone. But be respectful, be kind, and consider how you would feel if someone treated you or someone you care about poorly. We’re all looking for someone, and it isn’t easy. But it can be easier if we treat people how they deserve to be treated.