“When you only meet people online, you forget how to flirt with people in real life,” an older gay friend told me.
When he was younger, he said: “I would find a gay spot, sit at the bar, and, inevitably, I’d be picked up. Guys just talked to each other more.”
I don’t know the last time my friend, who’s about 30 years my senior, has set foot in a gay bar. But to his credit, his opinion isn’t an uncommon one. There’s this notion that the more we interact using dating apps, the worse we become at meeting people in real life.
The reasoning goes something like this: Singles are going out less, because instead of meeting up with people in real life, we swipe past profiles while sitting on the toilet. Then, when we do muster up the energy to “go out,” we’re too intimidated to approach someone in real life. We fear in-person rejection, because our primary form of rejection up to this point has been via a lack of response. It’s much easier to dismiss someone who doesn’t reply to a “hello” than to be told “I’m not interested” after being looked up and down.
That’s why it’s become commonplace to see guys sitting at the bar, messaging other men on Scruff, Grindr or some other gay dating app. Often they’re messaging other guys who are at the same bar.
So while I do think there’s validity to the claim that dating apps have made some of us less personable in real life, I think generalizing this to a whole group — whether that group is millennials, gay men or anyone else — is leaving out the many people, such as myself, for whom dating apps have increased their ability to be more personable and confident in real life.
Daniel Saynt is the founder of NSFW, a private club offering educational experiences in relationships, kink and intimacy. Instead of believing that rejection via apps makes it more difficult to handle rejection in real life, he believes the opposite. With apps, you become more accustomed to rejection, he says, as the majority of the time (at least for me), an initial message isn’t met with a reply.
“You go through a lot of rejection on dating apps, and that prepares you for real-life rejection,” he tells me. “Doing it virtually or doing it through an app lessens the blow when it happens in real life.”
Bryan Stacy, a sexual confidence educator and chief executive of Biem, a virtual sexual wellness app, built on this idea, explaining: “You have this tool in your pocket, so if you get rejected, then it’s not a big deal.
“You’re able to gain confidence, because you know that if you get rejected by one person in real life, you have 20 other people in your queue [on the dating app],” he continued, “who are happy to meet up with you.”
Therein lies the largest pro and con of dating apps: the neverending options of people you can meet. It can be an empowering tool, knowing that there are “plenty of other fish in the sea.”
At the same time, it can be crippling. “There’s always another option,” Saynt explains. “You see the shiny penny, but then you see the shiny nickel and then the shiny dime. You get distracted by someone else and consistently keep moving onto the next [person].”
“So the sheer number of people,” he concludes, “can be a good or bad thing.”
It’s all in how you use it. “Dating apps aren’t [inherently] bad,” Stacy says. “How you use it can be bad. They can be addicting, time-wasting and discourage you from talking to people in real life.”
Or they could be the opposite. They can help you build the confidence to succeed in real-life situations.
What separates the two are intention and desire. “If your intent is to pass time because you’re bored sitting on the toilet, then you’ll do that. That’s okay if that truly is your intent.”
However, “if your intent is to meet up with someone in real life, or to use dating apps in conjunction with meeting people in real life, then you could do that, too.”
Stacy urges singles to keep their intentions in mind while swiping so that we can better evaluate how apps are influencing our lives. Are we gaining confidence through various forms of virtual rejection, or does that make the sting of real-life rejection all the more painful? Do we mindlessly swipe away, without an intent to ever meet up? Or do we plan to use those matches on our Tinder if we strike out in real life?
I know I have only gained confidence through dating apps. That’s why, when I see men sitting at the bar on their phones, messaging away, I go up to them and say: “I’ve been told I’m cuter in person than in my pictures.”
The line hasn’t failed me yet.