When my friend Abby dared me in September to delete my dating apps for the rest of the year, I was eager to let them go.
At the time, I was feeling bored and overwhelmed with dating — tired of carrying on generic conversations with strangers that often went nowhere and overwhelmed by all the potentials out there. I wanted to take advantage of cool connections I was making in real life as I was making them, rather than hoping to run into the person again virtually. So I logged off of Bumble, Hinge, Happn, JSwipe and Tinder, and I haven’t touched them since.
My app hiatus was a much-needed break, but not everything about it was wonderful. The time away reminded me how hard it is to find dates without using the Internet.
If you’re feeling similarly bored, or over- or underwhelmed by online dating — and want to take a similar break in the new year — here are the pros and cons of my three months off the dating apps:
Pro: When you’re not online-dating, it’s easier to focus on one potential partner at a time.
I’m not advocating getting exclusive right away. But there is something powerful about evaluating one person at a time, without the daily influx of new matches. When I started my app hiatus, I had one last Bumble date on the calendar — and it went really well. We ended up dating for about six weeks, and I really appreciated the chance to get to know him without also carrying on conversations with, and going on dates with, multiple other people simultaneously.
Dating a few people at once can be fun. It can tamp down the “why haven’t they texted me back?” anxiety. But it can also be exhausting (how many dates can you handle in one week?) and confusing (wait, did I tell you this crazy-funny story from my weekend, or was that someone else?). While it didn’t work out with this Bumble guy, I was able to focus on how I felt around him without constantly comparing him to other people popping up on my phone.
Pro: No tedious and often dead-end conversations with matches.
Online dating involves a lot of time and effort that can feel like wasted energy but is just part of the search. I didn’t miss this at all: I wasn’t spending time on conversations that fizzled or making plans that were eventually canceled, two of my biggest pet peeves about online dating.
Pro: No bad dates!
Which is another way of saying I didn’t go on many dates, period. I spent more time with friends who are important to me and focused more on work, which benefits all of you wonderful readers and is often more fulfilling than a random night out with a stranger. I found myself going to parties and being more excited about connecting with potential freelancers than potential dates. Basically, this blog is my boyfriend right now.
Con: It’s hard to tell who’s single in the real world.
I thought finding dates IRL would be easy. In my 20s, I had plenty of random run-ins that turned into dates: a flirty bus conversation that turned into a breakfast meetup the following day; another time I met a cute neighbor while trudging home during Snowmageddon of 2010 and we dated for a few weeks. But coming across singles in the wild is harder in your 30s.
There were a few times I met someone at a party or bar, only to have my interest snuffed out by the flash of a wedding ring five minutes in or the mention of a girlfriend 20 minutes into a conversation.
Con: I had serious FOMO.
When I’d talk to friends about the people they were dating, and I asked where they met, the answer was often: Online. Yet I was going on far fewer dates (in three months, I went on exactly one date with someone I’d met in person), largely because I didn’t have a big supply of singles from which to pull.
During this challenge, I spoke to comedians Laura Lane and Angela Spera, who compare online dating to a party where most singles within a 10-mile radius are attending. In their new book “This Is Why You’re Single,” they pose the rhetorical question: “Would you say, ‘No, I’m going to sit home and focus on not meeting someone so that I can eventually meet someone’? No, you would not. You would go. Well, there is such a party happening on your phone and it’s (usually) free to get in.”
So yes, I stayed home from that party for three months. Like any night in, some of them are restorative and some are boring. In my three months off the apps, I experienced both.
Con: When you only have real life to find other singles, it can shorten your attention span.
Without online dating, bars and parties became my Tinder. Which was great because I could immediately assess the chemistry with someone rather than going through days of electronic banter before meeting up. But I felt pressure to have as many conversations as possible, because I didn’t have the Internet to fall back on.
One night that stands out in particular: I was at the Satellite Room in Washington with a few friends, chatting with a friend of a friend of a friend who was cute and seemingly single. However, I was at a bar full of single people! I should be making the most of my time and talking to as many people as possible, right? So I left a perfectly good conversation prematurely to strike up a new conversation with someone else who caught my eye nearby. Of course, a few minutes into this new encounter, I realized that the guy is married. (And that’s my wife right over there, he informed me. Oops.)
That’s when I realized that the ability of apps to zap daters’ attention spans can translate into real life as well. I may have deleted Tinder from my phone, but that bar was standing in for it. When the supply of singles seems artificially low, it can make you act a little crazy.
At times, dating without the Internet felt like living without the Internet. Why, if you can Google a restaurant’s hours, would you just show up and hope they’re open — only to find out that they’re closed on Mondays? So I’m ready to get back online, perhaps with a bit more enthusiasm and patience for the process.
As I do that, I’m keeping in mind the words of Elan Gale, who created the hilarious Instagram feed Tinder Nightmares. “The advantage online or with apps is everyone is there for the same stated purpose, unlike a bar, or even worse, a grocery store, where it’s impossible to know who is looking for love and who is looking for lemons,” he said in an interview with the Guardian recently. “Online dating is the same as all dating. Exhausting and barely worth it, but worth it nonetheless.”