As a 24-year-old single person in a major metropolitan area, I look for love the same way nearly a third of people my age do: on the internet.
This means in the three years I have been living and dating here, I have swiped past thousands of singles (and non-monogamous couples) on Tinder, OKCupid, Bumble, Feeld, Happn, Hinge, and others in hopes of finding someone not terrible to see semi-frequently and monogamously. I've achieved varying levels of success, dated a handful of folks semi-seriously, but inevitably I find myself re-downloading Tinder. As I wade through the seemingly endless parade of internet people in search of a partner, perhaps the most eerie, dehumanizing recurring aspect (besides garbage messages from sexist men) is seeing the same faces over and over on various apps for years. The phenomenon serves as a subtle reminder that we are all still single, breeding a strange familiarity whether we match or not.
The first person I met on OK Cupid in New York was a woman named Sarah. She was a bartender, funny and beautiful. We got along well and dated briefly. But when I felt our work schedules and lifestyles didn't exactly line up, I ghosted her (like an asshole). I see her at least bi-monthly on dating apps still and feel bad. Sometimes we chat. "Is your hair really that short now?" she asked recently. "Yep, I guess I haven't seen you in a while," I replied. Recently, I matched for a third or fourth time on Tinder with a man I had seen once, who made a comment about my "new" tattoo. "You didn't have that before," he said. I have had it for a year, but apparently I haven't seen him in longer.
Along the same lines, there's the guy who invited me to a bar he was working at, and then to multiple events he was DJing, but never on an actual date. We lost touch IRL but still follow each other on Instagram. This week, I saw a girl who met up with me and friends at a bar one Sunday afternoon after we messaged briefly on Bumble. I didn't feel a connection that day and never saw her again—except for when her OKCupid profile popped up last week, and again when her Tinder profile came up in my feed yesterday. There's the girl I matched with on four different apps while we were both too closeted to make the first move. And another I tried to slow-fade after three dates who then had a very public internet meltdown about it. I had almost forgotten about that one, until I swiped left on her for the third time the other day.
Some online run-ins are more painful than others. Recently I saw a girl who never texted me back after our second date, even though I was still into her. My standard response to rejection is to convince myself they've met somebody else, a better fit, usually a soothing illusion. Seeing her on the app again was a stark reminder she did not meet anyone else. She just wasn't into me.
But perhaps even more soul-sucking are also the archetypes that blend together: hundreds of self-described "art hoes" who study graphic design at Parsons or Pratt; an impossibly high number of men who claim to work at VICE, all of whom ignore my messages; finance bros, hyper-curated advertising creatives, and bartenders who are also in bands; the women who take the "sad gurl" aesthetic too far and have bios like "dead inside but still horny" with blurry and unflattering photos of them to show they are intellectual or something.
Another thrilling category: the people who match with me repeatedly but never actually meet up. "Remember me?" is a common gif I've started to send people on Tinder. "We've matched so many times I think it's time to finally go on a date," I told one girl on OKCupid a few weeks ago. She didn't reply—she never has, but we keep matching. Once I asked a girl out only to get a terse reply: "We've matched on these apps a million times but you've never asked me out so it's looking unlikely," she said. Point taken, fellow perpetually single internet stranger!
In the back of my mind as I am repeatedly suggested these matches over and over, even after we've dated, is the nagging issue of why it didn't work out. In his book Modern Romance, Aziz Ansari suggests it's because we don't give one another enough of a chance. "Most people do not initiate romantic relationships immediately after forming first impressions of each other," one study he cites from Journal of Personality and Social Psychology says. Instead we do it gradually, when a spark transforms a casual or friendly relationship into something sexual and serious. In fact, only 6 percent of adolescents in romantic relationships say they got together soon after meeting.
But the endless pool of mates and ease of swiping doesn't quite lend itself to that. Much has been said about the McDonaldization of dating—where speed and efficiency are valued over all else. And while I don't think Tinder is necessarily causing a romantic apocalypse, I do think we should perhaps swipe a little slower, give one another more than one chance to catch a spark, and invest more in one another's feelings. Just because there are 1,000 more people to swipe through once you reject one doesn't mean that you can't swipe right on someone you've seen before. Maybe they'll be the one to make you delete the app.
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