Fed up with swiping and drained by dating apps, author Lucy Vine explains why she’s gone back to finding love IRL.
I recently downloaded Tinder again. I hadn’t been on it for about a year, but in a moment of boredom, sitting at my desk on a Wednesday afternoon, I fell back into bad habits.
Swiping through several depressingly familiar faces – a friend’s ex-husband, someone I went to school with, all the same men who were on it the year before – I felt a wave of misery. Sighing, I changed my bio to ‘Looking for someone to talk to about how much I hate Tinder’ and logged off.
In the past five years of being single, I’ve been on about 100 dates through apps such as Tinder, Hinge, Happn and Bumble. If that sounds like a lot, trust me, it has felt like more. But that’s the thing with dating apps – you have to commit to them. You have to give them your full attention and treat it like a job, because if you leave it more than 12 hours all your matches have already moved on to the next person.
When Tinder launched in 2012 that was fine – because it was fun. I could squeeze in four or five dates and return to my phone at the end of the week to plan more. It felt exciting – an endless treasure trove of potential soulmates. By 2014, there were one billion swipes producing 12 million matches every day.
But, slowly, it started feeling like a duty – and worse, like the only option for meeting someone. It became an exhausting, omnipotent reminder that I should be doing something about my singleness. If I confided about struggling to find a date, my friends in relationships would tell me how easy it was to meet people now, thanks to Tinder. One told me I had no excuse for being single.
They didn’t understand that the app’s casual nature meant that while it was easy to get a date, it was even easier to get dumped. It also meant that being stood up, ignored or ghosted (withdrawing all communication without explanation) became the norm. I lost count of how many times men disappeared, often mid-conversation, after weeks of talking.
And I ghosted men, too. One person I matched with during my brief foray back on the app sent me a message, and when I replied he called me a ‘Tinder unicorn’ – something that’s so rare it’s practically mythical – simply because I had responded. I felt awful, because I nearly hadn’t – and I ignored that message. I started hearing the same stories over and over from single friends; Tinder is a ghost town full of abandoned profiles and, even if you manage to get a match, you probably won’t get a message.
Many of my friends had even more bizarre experiences when their dates did show up. A work colleague, Lindsay, had a guy leave ten minutes into dinner because he could ‘never date a vegetarian’.
Andrea arrived to find her date had brought a friend and if she ‘wasn’t up for a threesome’ then they were off out without her (she wasn’t up for it). And a schoolfriend, Mandy, recently told me how her date had texted her as she arrived at the restaurant to say he’d ordered her a salad because he couldn’t deal with ‘big eaters’. As Tinder reduces people to commodities, rudeness and disregard for common decency only increase.
And it doesn’t seem to get better after a few dates. My friend Sophie had seen her Tinder suitor eight or nine times, met his family and talked about spending Christmas together when one day she realised he’d blocked her on WhatsApp and Facebook. He didn’t have the courage to end things face to face and, because app-dating has drilled in the message that everyone is disposable, he clearly decided that ghosting was easier.
Tinder has given rise to the micro-break-up – repeated tiny disappointments, several hairline fractures of the heart – which can lead to extreme dating anxiety.
The situation sounds just as bad for men. My friend David told me the last three women he’d met through Tinder had all turned out to be married. He says he feels tricked by the process and disillusioned by dating in general.
Another friend, Sam, told me he’s become so desensitised by apps that even when he meets someone he genuinely likes, he never ends up texting them after the date because there are too many other women to contact: what if there’s someone better, just a swipe away? He’s paralysed by the endless choice and, paradoxically, unable to commit to any at all. Is it any wonder we have Tinder burnout?
In fact, the only people who remain genuinely interested and excited by app-dating seem to be my married friends or those in long-term relationships who want to peer into the life of singletons.
But what are the alternatives? After all, 7.8 million UK adults used online or app dating sites last year, and Tinder – along with its many clones – has pushed every other type of dating off a cliff. Yes, you can still meet in a bar or by joining a club, but that suddenly seemed like a terrifying prospect.
If you’re sick of apps, there’s an app for that. We’re increasingly seeing services crop up that offer to do the dating work for you. There’s Crushh, which scans your texts for signs of affection, or Jyst, that allows you to crowd-source advice for your dating problems. And Fantastic Services, which has gone a step further, offers a ‘dating debugging service’. For a fee, it will give you a one-hour consultation to find out your soulmate preferences. Then it swipes and messages on your behalf, ‘weeding out the creeps as we go’.
CEO Rune Sovndahl tells me, ‘Dating has become a chore for many and Tinder burnout has turned into a huge issue. Some of our clients are very time poor; others are simply sick of the mundane conversations or inappropriate messages. People are willing to outsource dating-app admin and want a professional who knows the warning signs to filter out the non-contenders.’
Of course, going offline can be a terrifying prospect. But after dipping back in – and then immediately out again – in April, I quit dating apps for good. And I think it’s helping. I’ve found myself making more of an effort to interact with men in real life, instead of immediately dismissing them.
I recently met someone at a friend’s leaving drinks and we’ve been on a few dates. This time a year ago, I would have ignored him when he said hello – too reliant on my Tinder safety net – and because we met in real life, it feels different and exciting. There’s none of the throwaway mentality I learned to live with while dating on my phone, and I know that if it doesn’t work out between us, we’ll actually tell each other, instead of disappearing.
Relationship and dating coach Suzie Parkus says everyone else needs to do likewise. ‘Go offline and delete the apps,’ she says. ‘Tinder is just a place to kill time on your commute. If you want more than that, it’s worth the extra, real-life effort. I know people lack confidence and Tinder feels like a safe place with no rejection – because if they don’t swipe you back, you’ll never know – but it’s desensitising you.
Meeting someone in the flesh will give you a real connection. This could potentially be your life partner, so try real life; show up to events, classes and bars – all those places where we used to meet people – with the best version of you.’
I think even Tinder knows its end might be nigh. Earlier this year it began rolling out Tinder Online – a version people could use on their laptops or desktops – in a few countries around the world. It’s still a swipe format, but there will hopefully be more emphasis on filling out a bio and sharing something of yourself other than a duck-face selfie. And maybe there’s something about sitting at a desk with intention, rather than carelessly swiping on the tube, that will be more meaningful.
To me, it feels positively nostalgic and, ultimately, it’s a step in the right direction. I hope that in 20 years we will have reverted to real-life interactions and look back at this period of dating history as a shameful, embarrassing blip. I know I already do.
Lucy’s first novel Hot Mess is published by Orion, price £7.99. To order a copy for £6.39 (a 20 per cent discount) until 20 August, visit you-bookshop.co.uk or call 0844 571 0640; p&p is free on orders over £15.
All swiped out? Here’s how to start again
By relationships coach Suzie Parkus
– Quit Tinder and any other dating apps on your phone. It’s a safety net and it makes you lazy and disconnected.
– Tap into who you are and what you’re about. Do you love cooking? Dancing? Ask yourself how you can meet people through that. Sign up for a cookery class or a course at college. It takes about seven meetings with someone before they feel they know and trust you.
– Friends like to play matchmaker, but don’t just say, ‘Set me up’ – it’s too vague and everyone’s busy. Give friends a ‘job’ description with your non-negotiables, such as age range, personality traits, height and hobbies. Then say, ‘If anyone who ticks these boxes comes along, let me know.’
– Be wary of X Factor syndrome. How many times have we seen a terrible singer who’s been told by their parents that they’re amazing? Our friends will always champion us, but if you’ve had 20 terrible dates, it may be that you’re searching for something that doesn’t exist. Examine what you’re looking for and reassess.
Find out more about Suzie at meetyourmatch.thinkific.com