I first created an OKCupid account in 2011, and for nearly five years, online dating and I had a tumultuous, on-and-off relationship. Then, in , I decided I would take a break from online dating-and that unlike my previous “breaks,” this one would last for more than a few weeks. It’s actually ended up lasting a year because after seven months, I met someone-and it was IRL.
The biggest reason I had for deleting my dating apps was just an insufficient return on investment. Whether because we didn’t have much in common or we weren’t willing to put in much effort, my conversations rarely left the texting stage. When they did, second dates were rare and thirds were almost unheard of. I started feeling exhausted at just the thought of another date filled with small talk and attempts to put my best foot forward.
But being a quitter paid off. And while it might not be the right choice for you, here are a few things I learned from this “break” that became a full-on renouncement of dating apps:
If you had told me this a year ago, I probably would’ve responded, “Yeah, anything is possible-but it sure ain’t likely.” In a world where two potential matches could be in the same bar and not notice each other because they’re both swiping around on Tinder, it feels like online is the only place to meet someone. But people had relationships before dating apps existed and-surprise!-many still do without them. It took a little while, but when I was putting less energy into scoping out prospects on dating apps, I had more time for parties, spontaneous encounters, and other ways to meet people. I ended up meeting my partner at a nightclub while on vacation in Ibiza with a girlfriend. Back when FOMO was keeping me glued to my apps, I wish someone had reassured me other prospects would come my way if I looked up for a second.
I was just looking for fun and maybe a hookup, not a relationship
Right after I decided to stop going on OKCupid, I actually had to stop my hands from typing the “o” into my browser when I wanted a work break (OK I slipped up a few times, I’ll admit it). As with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and email, I checked it compulsively with the hope that some exciting notification would greet me on the homepage. But it rarely did. I wasn’t even messaging the people I matched with-I just wanted the ego boost of getting a match. Between the thrill of receiving a notification and the game-like aspect of swiping, I was no longer even making the conscious choice to engage in it. I felt like a lab rat mindlessly chasing its next pellet of food.
A recent study in Computers in Human Behavior found that phone addiction causes depression and anxiety, and in my experience, online dating addiction has the same effects. When you rely on something for self-esteem or excitement, you feel disappointed when you don’t see these rewards and you withdraw from other sources of happiness. During the times I slipped on my hiatus and went on OKCupid, I realized I felt a sense of dread as the homepage loaded because I associated the site with disappointment and rejection. I hadn’t even noticed these feelings before because they were overridden by the hope that I’d get that rare good message. It’s like gambling: The hope of winning is so strong and motivating, you don’t even realize you’re losing most of the time.
I also realized that when I used Tinder, I was swiping compulsively to try to find out who my “super likes” were, often not even reading profiles
With fewer avenues to receive validation about my attractiveness, I sincerely began to believe my looks had declined (at the tender age of 25, I know). Of course, nothing about me had changed, so this line of reasoning didn’t actually make any sense. Once I got over that hump, it was nice to not have people constantly evaluating how good my photos looked, and I think it made me, in turn, a bit less preoccupied with my looks.
When I was online dating, I was getting worried that I’d been single for two whole years-as if that was a lot. I wondered what was wrong with me that made my dating attempts unsuccessful. But once dating stopped being such a big part of my life and I wasn’t virtually surrounded by people seeking a partner, I began to realize a few years is not a long time at all. It just felt long because I wasn’t comfortable being single-and I wasn’t comfortable being single because I just hadn’t allowed myself to be. Even when I wasn’t dating anyone, I was trying to date someone. I may not have had a significant other, but I had prospects. Once I let go of the motivation to be coupled up, I lost that sense of urgency because I realized that being single is not unpleasant. It’s actually a lot less stressful than being in a suboptimal relationship.
When I met my partner, I was in the opposite mindset from when I was online dating. And that’s probably why I met the right person shortly thereafter. Instead of wondering whether he’d like me, I was wondering, “Do I like him?” I projected confidence, and I wasn’t willing to settle. Seeing that contrast made me realize how nervous and desperate to please I’d been in the past. No wonder none of my dates had gone anywhere! While nervous people come off like they have something to be nervous about, confident people come off like they have something to be confident about-and others want to know what that something is.