Man holding phone for dating apps
Swillklitch / Ben Freeman

I Went To A Speed Dating Night And Beat My Phone Addiction By Getting Rejected Face-To-Face

The biggest competitor to old-school human interaction is an algorithm no one understands.

I’ve been online dating since I was 17.

First, it was making anonymous accounts on Grindr when I was closeted, perusing my area to see if there was at least one other gay person within a 10km radius of my beachside town. Then, after coming out, I graduated to Tinder, going on dates in the city with travellers, or boys to whom I would dramatically retell my coming out story like it was a Greek tragedy.


Recently, though, dating online has lost any stigma that might have followed it in the era of Okcupid or ChristianConnection. When I jumped into this world as a gay 17 year-old, meeting up with strangers from the internet suddenly felt cosmopolitan; something to brag about with friends rather than a scene pulled out of To Catch A Predator. Now, no one seems to have an issue with meeting someone you had no information on – beyond their photos and age – or a stigma to admitting you enjoyed it.

In the past decade, online dating has become a window into a world of sex and connections, all facilitated by the apps on our phones. Aimlessly waiting by a bar to be asked you come here often?is the stuff of fantasy. Instead, dating apps have fit us with an armour of confidence and accessibility.

Internet-dating fatigue isn’t new. But being trapped in a state-sanctioned lockdown brought out its worst qualities.

Whether it was connecting with a boy at the pub for a midweek date or a one-night stand telling you to be quiet because their housemate was watching Fleabag in the other room, apps embraced us with open arms. They blasted into our lives in the same way that Instagram and Facebook did: mammoth companies profiting on our desire for love and sex. 


I was hooked from the moment I found them.

As the teenage version of myself became the anxious, early-20s shell it is now, my brain has only become smoother with each left and right swipe.  I have been on more dates than ever and have done what so many others have in the age of digital dating: expanded my reach. Tinder, Grindr, and now Hinge, my suitors know how tall I am, my political leanings, and whether or not I love taking MDMA.

But, how long can you swipe left or right, or send roses or devil emojis to faceless torsos, before you want to gouge your eyes out with your iPhone? I have been defeated, especially during COVID, by aimless conversations with silly little squares on my screen.

Internet-dating fatigue isn’t new. But being trapped in a state-sanctioned lockdown brought out its worst qualities. Restricted from socialising and leaving my house was bad - but getting ghosted online once a week by someone called Jarrod was much worse. Dating apps became less of a way to pass time and more of a deep void filled with unfinished conversations and failed attempts to go on “walking” dates.

Two weeks after New South Wales exited a four-month lockdown, I found a real, physical, queer speed-dating night. The lockdown was Australia’s first taste of watching the world continue to revolve while stuck inside, and I was eager to escape. And while I had ambitions of being a gay Carrie Bradshaw, the reality felt much more like I was a newborn foal learning how to walk.


When I arrived, the host had split the bar in two: one section for people looking to meet men, and one section for people looking to meet women. Suddenly, my internet dating preferences materialised into real life, and I walked into the (mostly) male section filled at the back of the bar. Herded like sheep, we were lost, awkward and confused - all in the aim to find love. For just a moment, I missed the comfort of doing this same thing, on my phone, in bed. 

I went on 15 dates over the course of a few hours, talking to people I never would have otherwise. But it was all the same questions I had faced on Hinge, and sometimes all the same directness I had seen on Grindr.  All of a sudden I was becoming better and more refined at delivering the “be my boyfriend?” pitch to strangers. It was the combination of every Twitter bio and Instagram description I had drafted in my notes app. In my head, I was just trying to mull over my Tinder bio to ensure it had the equal weighting of funny, hot and approachable? 

One date asked me what my most controversial opinion was – I asked him for inspiration, before he replied with: “I like pineapple on Pizza!!!!!” 

Of course, this is a better answer than if he said something genuinely controversial, like “I believe in the death penalty or something. But I panicked and said I don’t like tequila, which isn’t true but seemed like a worthy response. Another asked if I preferred Rick and Morty or Family Guy.


Someone else, maybe double my age, tried to woo me by declaring that he worked in an “affluent” suburb and owned “properties”. I had spent so long swiping my finger to limit my dating pool to exactly who I wanted, the regularity of “dating preferences” became incredibly stark when I began spending 4 minutes with someone with an investment portfolio.

My nicest date of the evening was with a trans woman. She had done speed-dating before and used it to meet a bunch of people without the dangers that come with going to straight venues and spaces. We chatted about our work and lives, giving each other lovely, four minute venn diagrams of our similarities and differences. Just two people forming a connection - something online dating could never achieve so quickly.

Tinder, Grindr, and now Hinge, my suitors know how tall I am, my political leanings, and whether or not I love taking MDMA.

When the host called “last dates”, I caught the eye of someone with bleached hair and gave him a drunk smile. He smiled back, and I didn’t chat to him for the rest of the night. All of a sudden, being left on read paled in comparison to getting flaked face-to-face by someone with an eyebrow piercing.

I had another beer poured and sat down with some of the others. Lockdown tarnished our brains and social skills in ways that we’ll continue to realise as the months go on, but sitting at a table, and talking to strangers, felt far easier than any anxious thoughts in my head led on. 


I sat next to my hottest date of the night, our arms and knees touching, with him drinking the beer I had bought. I felt as if I had achieved one of my goals of the evening: flirt with a stranger without the hand-cuffs of my phone.

When the bar shut, I walked to the station with him. He talked about how he was from South America and I talked about, (sigh) living in Berlin. After a hug and a kiss on the cheek goodbye, I walked to the station giddy and accomplished, like the straight couple flying away in the car in Grease.

At 1.02am the following evening I received an email:

“Hi there,

Unfortunately you didn't get any matches this time 'round, but that's not to say you didn't get any yesses!!”

That was all I got for my troubles: an email with  the subject line “About last night,” sent at 1AM, telling me I had spent $25 to be told: “lol you’re still single!” 

Speed dating, while a bizarre exercise in human interaction, is a unique and old-school antidote to internet dating. But, while online dating might continue to be dark and twisted, ripping our hearts out and putting it on an app, it’s something that makes it easier to meet people that are somewhat compatible.

The biggest competitor to old-school human interaction is an algorithm no one understands – but one that has also delivered me more success in the last few years than any amount of physical exposure.  When our entire worlds exist on screens, online dating isn’t something that’s shallow and unnecessary. It’s just a means to an end.

The night after my real-world efforts, as I was thinking about whether or not I’m ever destined for true, unwavering love, I got a message from someone on Grindr. With a hint of regret and that familiar tinge of naivety, I opened the message, hoping that maybe this would be the one. Instead, it only reminded me of what I’d been trying to avoid.

“U up?”