Recently the ever-wonderful Lucy shared a tweet asking for stories about online dating for her forthcoming radio show. As the responses started flowing in I quickly spotted a pattern; overwhelmingly, from men and from women, people were sharing their disdain, dislike and in some cases hatred for online dating.
Stories were shared of people being ghosted or stood up, of dick pics being sent/received and abuse from random internet strangers. People attacked the grind of the swipe culture, criticising how dating has become disposable thanks to the plethora of choices available, and how apps have ruined dating at a speed and scale hitherto unheard of.
I was shocked. Yes, of course there are problems with dating culture and with apps, I’ve written about them myself in fact, but the sheer hatred of them from people who use them more than outweighed any positivity around them.
Are apps perfect? No. To say they were would be disingenuous. However, are they anywhere near as bad as people make out? Definitely, 100% not.
To start with, I feel a need to once again paraphrase Churchill, who once said about democracy “It is the worst form of government – except for all the others that have been tried.” I feel the same about online dating. For me, it may well be the worst form of meeting someone, but it has performed far better than every single other method I’ve been able to try. Frankly, if there was a better way of meeting people then we’d all be doing it already.
If it weren’t for online dating, I think I would have romantically met two women since I became single at the start of 2017. One was through a work event, and one was someone I actually knew 20 years ago and bumped into at a wine and cheese tasting event hosted by the brilliant My Friend Charlie. Two, in three and half years. That’s not good.
In that time, however, I have met dozens of women through apps and been on countless dates. I have enjoyed nascent relationships, been to a lot of places, experienced things I’d never experienced before and had a lot of fun along the way. I’ve also made some fantastic friends, and grown substantially as a person. None of that would have happened if it weren’t for online dating.
When I was starting out dating I knew then that I was a little bit broken. I found it hard to imagine life with someone else, and as much as I knew my marriage was over I didn’t know what came next. After I discovered online dating, though, I felt some relief. Whenever I felt that life was over I could simply fire up an app and swipe on hundreds of amazing women who were all looking for love themselves. It reminded me that life wasn’t over, and that there were people out there that I might want to meet and who might want to meet me too. It gave me hope, and in a time when hope was in short supply that was a lifesaver.
Online dating can be done anywhere, anytime. It doesn’t need you to be in the same place as other people at the same time, doesn’t need you to be dressed up and looking your best, hell it doesn’t even need you to be dressed at all. With a simple swipe you can start the process of meeting someone within minutes, seconds even. Nothing else is like it, and in these days of being time-poor it can be the difference between dating and not dating.
It’s also, for the most part, free. In the old days, when to meet someone you had to go out and actually meet them, people would head to bars and clubs and basically be on the lookout. Price of entry would precede copious amounts spent on drinks, moreso if you were buying them not only for you but for those you wanted to talk with, not to mention getting there and back and food on top. All of that had no guarantee of success, leaving you tired, rejected and very much out of pocket. If you were shy or introverted it was even worse.
Online dating removes all of that. It allows you to match with someone you find attractive in the same way that you would approach someone attractive at a bar in real life, and removes the need for you to worry whether they are single and if they are looking for someone romantically. Yes, there are married people on apps as there are in bars in real life, but the numbers of them are beyond substantially lower than the number of authentic people on them.
You then get the chance to chat and find out more about them, seeing if there is rapport from a safe distance and discovering whether it is worth your time and theirs to meet in person. You can talk values, history, opinions, ideas and more, getting under the skin of someone without the expense of meeting them until you know it is worth trying. Win-win.
Online dating isn’t perfect. It still leads to bad dates and fake people, opens us up to abuse and can be draining emotionally. But, until someone comes along with a better option it’s the best most of us have got, and we deserve to not be so ashamed or down about it.
I’ve no doubt there will be people reading this who will go on to tweet “I hate the idea of online dating and never once have I swiped”, “I’ve given up dating and am just happy being single” or “I tried it for a while but it was horrible and not for me, so I deleted the apps”. Well, good for you. Not everything works for everyone, and you’re probably happy with your decisions, but that doesn’t give you the right to knock those of us still using them. Your approach isn’t “better”, it’s simply the one you’ve chosen to take and those of us who aren’t doing the same are not more idiotic for continuing to swipe and date.
If you don’t do online dating for whatever reason but still meet people then please do tell us what you are doing which has worked so much better; I’m sure we’d all love to find a way to guarantee we meet people we find attractive who we can then get to know without spending a fortune.
Don’t just say “stop looking” – that’s ridiculous. Don’t just say “it’ll happen when you least expect it” – that’s even worse. And don’t just say “go out and meet people in real life” – it’s not that easy (even without the virus complicating matters) and has an even worse chance of success than swiping. Give a tangible, realistic and better alternative, or just stay quiet and let the rest of us keep trying to use the best tools available to us.
Until something better comes along, keep swiping, people.