Do dating apps suck right now, or is it just me?

“Maybe I’m an adrenaline junkie or a flirtation fiend (or both), but I thoroughly relish the flicker of eyes from across a bar or a fleeting meet-cute on the street.”

Since re-entering my single life, I’ve gone through the motions and have grown to finally feel very content on my own again. There’s a famous page from a book that does the rounds on social media. It acknowledges that perhaps this particular chapter of life “isn’t about love”, it’s just about you. I relate to that sentiment deeply and am not at all in pursuit of a serious attachment right now.

In my recent few months of navigating singledom for the first time in a couple of years, there has been that temptation to download, delete and repeat the inevitable dating app. I actually met my last long-term partner on a dating app, and while it didn’t work out, it was a beautiful thing.

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Back then, I was definitely on team ‘pro-apps’, but I failed to realise my meeting occurred when the majority of Melbourne was still quasi-locked-down in 2021. Everyone was on the apps because that was one of the only viable ways of having semi-romantic connections with people.

It was also light entertainment for me and my housemates on Friday nights spent getting drunk and dancing on our couch. I had a few great walking dates at The Tan and a rogue takeaway coffee meeting one morning in Richmond. To summarise, I truly think those were the apps’ golden days.

My personal approach to meeting people is being a little bit shameless in the wild – this could be a local cafe or a grimy dancefloor, your prerogative. I just think, after stifling years of monotonous swiping and matching and dating and redownloading, I simply cannot go back to the dark side. Maybe I’m an adrenaline junkie or a flirtation fiend (or both), but I thoroughly relish the flicker of eyes from across a bar or a fleeting meet-cute on the street.

Sue me, but I’m completely vetoing the apps (for now). The only person I’ve gone on an actual date with since my breakup is someone I met out and about years ago, and physically ran into again at the footy by chance. I downloaded one app for approximately two days after moving to a fleeting sublet on the other side of town.

I thought the pool of potential dates would be riveting, exciting, fresh and flirty and fun. What I uncovered was the complete opposite of my fond(er) memories of the apps in 2021. It felt like the pool of eligible people (to go on a date with, not to fall in love with per se) had dwindled significantly. But perhaps it was more that my dating app tolerance, patience and free time had been altered forever.

Couple this with a healing breakup mentality (in which my standards for myself are very high), and a newfound sense of contentment in my own company, and I’m not interested in being swiped like a catalogue by the same boys that were on the apps two years ago.

It was like walking through a graveyard of past chats, and I shuddered at the toxic nostalgia of wiling hours away staring at a screen instead of reading a good book or starting a newsletter or calling a friend abroad. There are ways I’d much rather spend my free time for myself.

Please, reader, know I’m not discrediting the apps entirely. I know they’re a legitimate and important way of connecting people in our modern world. My past relationship was a testament to their propensity to ignite love, and I have friends who continue to forge incredible connections via apps.

But I can’t help but notice how drastically different my perception of them is in 2023 when it feels everyone I’d hypothetically be interested in has had a collective mindset shift to meeting in real life again. Compounding all of this is the very obvious fact that half of our city is in Europe or somewhere else overseas, eating and raving and loving right now.

Due to geography, we’re missing a fat chunk of eligible app users. It seems plausible enough that we’re all over the static and screen-protected way of meeting someone digitally. For my next romances, I want spark, excitement and spontaneity – all the things I thought I was afraid of until recently.

To dig a bit deeper into the potential great dating-app exodus, I’ve called on the clever Kimberley Lee from Rough Patch Counselling. Kim is a counsellor and somatic therapist, and she’s here to shed light on some of these curious thoughts I (and maybe you) have been pondering lately.

I’m experiencing dating-app fatigue and intolerance – everything feels so transactional and empty. Do you think, in 2023, there’s a shift back to meeting people offline, as opposed to digitally?

Word on the street is that yes, we’re tiring of the novelty of the apps. Those who have been long-time swipers have probably had enough of… the dreaded cycle of endless chats that lead nowhere, spurred on by a small handful of actual meets.

Or perhaps the energy dedicated to the number of meets that don’t go beyond much more has worn us down, not just for the time spent but also for the whole process involved in swiping, matching, chatting, organising, meeting and managing the outcome.

And there’s a limit to the number of times you want to go through the whole process only to find there’s no chemistry in-person, which is especially disappointing if the chat was so good. And so, we take a break from the apps for a while only to jump back on in moments of stillness, loneliness or boredom… and start the cycle again.

The apps have been around for a while now, so the initial novelty and what they bring to the market is no longer new. Chances are, you’ve seen the same people across several apps over the time you’ve been active on them.

We’ve had plenty of time to play with endless swiping and chatting and meeting and unmatching – unless you’ve been fortunate enough to find what you’re looking for, which also depends on both/all parties knowing what they want in the first place.

… We are also experiencing online fatigue. We’re finally going out after years in lockdown and revelling in being back out in the world. Singles are craving human connection and contact on deeper more meaningful levels than endless app chat. The magic of meeting someone in person and knowing there’s a connection and chemistry straight away still exists!

The apps are still helpful for those who experience social anxiety or feel more comfortable getting to know someone digitally first – although I’d encourage phone and video calls to help get a sense of someone rather than messaging, where there isn’t even a guarantee the person you’re chatting with is [being honest].

Do you think dating apps are stifling our ability to forge real-life romantic connections?

… With online communication so prolific in our everyday lives, we’ve also gotten used to conversing over text, where we have time to craft responses with our cleverest and wittiest one-liners. We might even have input from others into communication and curate the chat in a way that is more controlled and perhaps contrived than having spontaneous offline conversations.

It’s so much easier to get a sense of who someone is when you can feel their energy next to you. And it’s so much easier to gauge how you feel with that person because your intuition (and your body) will send you signals about the other person. It’s very difficult to get this in any real way unless you’re with someone in person, sharing physical time and space.

When it comes to modern dating, why are we so reluctant to be forward/confident in person, but feel comfy behind a screen?

There is so much pressure from society and ourselves for a date to succeed, but really, dating is an audition process where they’re not actually all supposed to ‘work’ – otherwise everyone would go on one date and be matched for the rest of their lives. So take the pressure off! Be courageous and a little vulnerable… get out from behind the false safety of the screen into the world where magic awaits.

What are some ways to be more approachable or put out positive, single-girl energy in the wild?

From my experience of many dates, here are some things I’ve learned along the way which have allowed me to enjoy pretty much every date, even the ones that don’t amount to anything more than a coffee.

  • Date yourself to know what you want, what you like, and how you want to feel when you’re dating others.
  • Chat to get a sense of the person, but make a plan to meet ASAP to see if it’s worth spending time chatting to avoid endless texting.
  • Frame the first meet as a ‘meet’, not a date (to take the pressure off), and have a start and finish time. Also keep it casual, like a walk and coffee in the park, so you don’t have to sit at a table and stare at their face for an hour.
  • If I’m not feeling it, I’ll tell them gently and respectfully at the end of the meet so we both know what’s happening and can move on.
  • Be clear about what you want and what you have the capacity for, and communicate it honestly and openly at the start.
  • When you get to the date stage, do something you’d want to do anyway so even if you’re not into your date, at least you’re spending time doing something you want to be doing.
  • Be honest with the other person if feelings change as soon as possible. It’s cruel and unfair to keep someone in the dark or suspended in the ambivalence of not knowing where they stand.
  • Healthy boundaries are everything! Boundaries with yourself. Boundaries with others. Boundaries keep you and the other person safe. Keep them strong, even if it means you can’t have everything you desire!
  • Being honest with yourself – brutally and deeply honest with yourself – will keep you aligned with what you truly want.

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