It was a simple piece of advice: “Don’t ever download that app.”
That’s what my sister’s husband told me when I was 18 years old. It was sweet of him, but it also seemed a little unfair. My sister had been in love with him since high school, and they had been together for about a dozen years at that point; they weren’t exactly Tinder’s target demographic.
So sorry, dude. I downloaded it.
At this point, I should mention that I hate dating. I don’t mean being in a relationship, I’m talking about the beginning phases of not knowing whether or not the other person likes you, flirting and first dates. I hate that you have to pretend that you don’t have baggage. I hate that you come off as weird if you disclose your baggage too early. I hate when things move too quickly.
Additionally, I’m a very introverted person, so talking to someone at a coffee shop, concert or on the train is unappealing to me. It’s most likely rooted in the fact that I very, very strongly dislike when people talk to me in these situations. If I’m at a coffee shop, it’s most likely to read and drink coffee, not to get hit on.
In this way, I think romantic comedies lied to me, setting up my expectations for a meet-cute that I don’t truly want to have. I want to get to know somebody at an easy pace. I want to be friends first and then move on to the big stuff. I like the idea of having a cute story behind meeting my significant other, but I also like the idea of being a doctor and seeing blood makes me feel as though all of my own blood is drying up. Perhaps, I’m the exact type of person dating apps were made for.
Besides being a wholly unromantic meeting, dating apps give you a good amount of control over who you meet. They have the golden ticket of filtering: showing you people based on their sexuality. For once, I didn’t have to worry about whether or not that girl who I thought was cute was actually straight and would be a little creeped out if I expressed interest in her. Flirting is hard enough as it is when I’m not worried about coming off as just another gal being a pal.
You also have the option of easily leaving uncomfortable conversations or situations. Being a petite mixed race woman, when I do get attention from people in real life, it seems as though they are the type who try to fetishize me. They say questionable things like “Wow, you have anime girl hair,” “You’re so exotic” and, similarly strange, “I enjoy feeling old and wise around you.” If you get these messages through an app, it’s a lot easier to exit the conversation because you have the safety net of a screen. When it’s happening in real life and in real time, it’s harder to think of a way to skillfully leave the conversation if you’re already an anxious person.
But, these are all things I learned after trying out old-fashioned and online dating. When I first downloaded Tinder, I didn’t know what I was doing. Amid matches with conversations that petered out and one guy who matched with both me and my best friend — which was weird in and of itself, but then he also wanted to listen to The Lumineers in his mom’s van (yikes) — I went on a painful date or two that lead to me feeling guilty because they were all expecting too much from me. I didn’t even want to kiss because I thought it was too soon.
Then one night, almost having given up on Tinder, I came across this cute guy with glasses who hated his allergies. After a few awkward conversations about music and the like, we had our own version of the meet-cute in the tea aisle of a Whole Foods, my favorite place at the time; it was unconventional, and I was worried for a long time that he only thought of me as a friend because he wasn’t too forward like the other people I had talked to. Fast forward four years, and we’re still together. Sure, we have our ups and downs, and our relationship hasn’t been perfect, but I wouldn’t take back downloading that app for the world.
I’m not the only one who has had this experience either, as I know several people who have met their long-term partners online. It might not be for everyone, but if you’re shy and don’t care for rom-com tropes then I would suggest giving it the old college try.
Maybe it does seem a little dystopian to carry around a bunch of hot singles in your area right in your pocket, and I understand the general mistrust that comes with dating apps. You don’t even have a mutual friend to vouch for this person as you would if you were going on a blind date. You essentially have to go off of gut feelings, so make sure to meet your date in a public, well-populated place and practice caution.
Without dating apps, I wouldn’t have met my partner. We didn’t and don’t go to the same college, we aren’t from the same suburb, we didn’t have any mutual friends. If this was the ‘90s, I would be very single. But it isn’t the ‘90s, so open up your heart to technology as Theodore Twombly would; someone special could be on the other side of the screen — just watch out for bots and creeps.