By the time lockdown ended in Melbourne in December 2020, I forgot what it felt like to be touched. The quickest way to be reminded is to find someone on a dating app. My only issue is that I hate online dating nearly as much as I hate the alt-right and lines at brunch. But it was a more attractive option than becoming the poster child for female incels.
A friend suggested I see a dating coach to help me enjoy the apps a bit more. Dating apps are an icky place for me because most of the men look like they participated in the anti-lockdown riots or worship Jordan Peterson. But my friends have found love on the apps, so maybe I needed to try something different this time around. My usual strategy is to delete the apps after three months of dud dates and take a year off to be single and happy again. Perhaps I just needed someone to help me persist. I have a personal trainer for fitness and an executive coach for career, so why not engage a dating coach to complete my personal Queer Eye team.
The dating coach’s advice was simple – it’s a numbers game. Imagine you are in a bar filled with 1,000 men. You have to wade through 999 Lynx-smelling men to get to the one for you at the back. Framing dating as a numbers game makes the process more objective – there is nothing wrong with you, you just haven’t met the right person. Like any challenge, I jumped right in.
To play the numbers, I had to let go of my dating criteria. I usually swipe right to men with original, well-written profiles that were not copied from Reddit. I subsequently go on dates with men who ask good questions and make me laugh over chat, as that usually translates to real life. My dating coach said shared humour can sometimes be developed over time, so I should not discount men with boring profiles or those who fail to bring me to stitches on our first date.
I went on nine dates over the course of three months. There was the self-professed sex addict who had been in porn. I met a suburban man so desperate to start a family he treated the date like it was a job interview to be my husband. My profile said I did not want kids. I met two men who revealed they were All Lives Matter. My profile said Black Lives Matter. I met men so serious I wondered if this was why basic people included “I like to laugh” in their profiles. I did not feel like myself on these dates because I compromised on what I wanted. None of them aligned with my values. As someone with more introvert qualities, I’d rather be alone than with mediocre company.
The pressure to go on as many dates as possible made me lose my sense of self. I treated dating like a game. I neglected activities that made me feel whole. My books collected dust and creative projects shoved in a drawer. To get to the stage of setting up a date required mind numbing hours of swiping and chatting with randoms. My self worth became reliant on how many quality matches and dates I could get. If I didn’t receive matches in any given week, I’d descend into a spiral of anxiety and self-loathing. Though I’m happily single, the addictive nature of the apps clouded my values.
After three months, I hit rock bottom when I spent hours swiping through multiple apps one night. Meeting someone did not even matter at that point. It was all about collecting quality matches to validate my attractiveness. Despite the marathon swiping session, I failed to get any quality matches. It was like the apps put a red flag on my profile, sensing I was swiping for the wrong reasons. When all the profiles started to blur into one, I knew I needed to take a break.
I’ve been off the apps for six months. My serotonin levels replenished the moment I deleted them. It gave me the space to check in with my values and remind myself that here’s no need for haste or pressure since I don’t want kids, and that I don’t need a relationship or validation from strangers on an app to feel whole.
There are people who can use the dating apps in a healthy way, but I’m not one of them. My dating coach was initially of the belief that the way for me to learn to persist and have fun with dating was to increase my tolerance by meeting lots of men. When she noticed the negative impact this approach had on my mental health, she suggested I see a psychologist to address my anxiety.
My perpetually single friend Ian had better stamina when he tested the numbers game theory. He went on at least one date a week for a year. After 60 dates, all he gained was a new friend and the confirmation that he was good at determining compatibility off a dating profile. Though Ian looks like Clark Kent and is an overall decent guy, he has difficulties on the dating scene. Like me, he does not suffer fools. As he is also happily single and independent, he can’t justify compromising just for the sake of being in a relationship.
My serial monogamist friend Elise was a hot mess during the few months she was single. As an extravert, her unease with being alone greatly outweighed any discomfort from throwing herself full force into the dating scene. Marriage and kids was also a high priority to Elise. She swiped through thousands of profiles until she met Kane on Tinder. She knew he was the one on their first date. They married three years later and now have a baby. Though Elise had to compromise on a few qualities that she wanted in a partner, he was the kindest man she ever met. Plus, in her own words, “he’s the best fuck I’ve ever had.”
There may be truth in dating being a numbers game, but your odds will differ depending on how you are wired. If you are a sensitive introvert, churning through unfulfilling dates in a short space of time will likely be emotionally draining. If dating makes you anxious, the numbers game will be a mindfuck unless you learn to manage it. For smart/quirky/weird people, searching for love on a dating app can be as futile as looking for a 1930s Art Deco lamp in Ikea. But if a lamp is something you can’t live without, you’ll settle for any Ikea model, even if it doesn’t know what UN stands for.
The opportunity cost of playing the numbers game, especially through the apps, is not worth it to me. I’d rather go back to having fewer but better quality dates with men who I can be myself with. It just might require more patience and techniques to manage my anxious relationship with the apps.