I tried dating without apps after a cross-country move. Here's what happened
Where did you meet your last five sexual partners? On a dating app? At a bar or party? Through a friend?
I read this question on the pre-STD-test online questionnaire from the Los Angeles LGBTQ Center. But instead of checking “Tinder” or “Bumble” or “Bar,” I ended up selecting the box next to a response simply titled “Street.” Because, if we’re being loose with our interpretations, I did technically meet one of my last partners on a street—or close to a street, since “parking lot” wasn’t on the list.
You may be thinking, “Wow, sounds so old-school, like how people met each other in a pre-Tinder era,” and you might be onto something—because I don’t use Tinder. I also don’t use Bumble, or Coffee Meets Bagel, or Raya (although I did try it for a month—we’ll get into that later).
Due to the dating patterns we’re used to these days, meeting someone in a parking lot almost sounds—dare I say—romantic? A guy coming up to my car window and asking me on a date sounds slightly more Disney-fied than a guy swiping right on me and 57 other girls on a boring Monday night, then deciding to take me for drinks because I responded quicker than anyone else.
Truth be told, while I’m slightly mocking myself, I think part of the reason that dating apps don’t work for me is because, deep down, I am a bit of a romantic. No matter how much time I put into dating apps (or how many different apps I try), I have never found myself feeling excited about going on a second date with someone I met via app. When I was most heavily using dating apps (the similarity of this language to drug addiction is not lost on me), I ended up wasting tons of time and energy on dates that I never really saw going anywhere—or that I even enjoyed. The slowly increasing notifications from my dating app of the moment quickly went from a dose of dopamine to the dread you feel from procrastination.
“Oh well,” I’d think to myself, “I haven’t checked my Happn messages in two weeks, so I definitely don’t want to go check now because there will be too many unread messages and it will be stressful.”
“Upon moving to L.A. in April, I decided to do something I’d never done before: Move to a new city without downloading a new dating app, despite my extremely single status.”
Dating is not supposed to be stressful (although, obviously, for many of us, it is). Dealing with the stress might be “worth it” if you’re looking for your forever person, but the thing is, I’m not. At least not until I figure out what I want in a relationship first. That’s why, upon moving to L.A. in April, I decided to do something I’d never done before: Move to a new city without downloading a new dating app, despite my extremely single status.
Obviously, this decision is not groundbreaking, but for me, it kind of was. Since I first realized I liked boys, dating has pretty much always been a constant in my life. While I tended to fall into longer relationships, my single periods as an adult have always involved dating apps. And when I’m on dating apps, I actually go on lots of dates rather than just engage in long bouts of messaging (no pen pals for me, thank you). I haven’t been looking for a relationship, but I’ve always excused my dating app usage with this mantra: I’m in a new city and I’m broke. I may not find Mr. Right, but at least I’ll meet some new people, see some new places, and maybe get some free food.
I dated my way through N.Y.C. and London, and dabbled in Philly too. Last year, I downloaded Hinge and Tinder in D.C. for under 24 hours each. I was feeling particularly lonely and just needed to check in and remind myself I wasn’t missing out on anything. It worked.
But in a post-heartbreak moment last December, I applied to Raya, an exclusive dating app on which all my friends constantly saw celebrities—or at least professional athletes and Silicon Valley CEOs. Two weeks later, I fell back into the situationship that had broken my heart, and I mostly forgot about Raya. I got my acceptance just as my situationship ended for good—and just before I got a job offer in Los Angeles.
I knew that dating apps didn’t work for me before, and I had a feeling they wouldn’t work for me again, but I kept myself on Raya. I told myself, again, that maybe I’d do some networking or make some friends. I think that deep down, though, I hoped I would find Mr. Right (or someone to sleep with). The good thing about Raya is that its exclusivity meant that I got way fewer matches and messages than I did on “normal” apps, so I was less overwhelmed. The bad thing was that I found myself following my same pattern: A second date with a guy that I should’ve really liked on paper went fine, then I declined his invitation for a third date because I knew by then he’d probably expect something physical (at least a kiss?), and I wasn’t excited about it. When a guy messaged me something about “Margarita Monday” (my profile clearly states that I’m sober), that was the push I needed to delete the app.
While it was relatively easy for me to delete a dating app, I knew it wouldn’t be as easy to find a guy (or guys) to replace the one I’d broken up with—and missed—on the East Coast. So, at the risk of sounding hedonistic, my initial “goal” when dating in L.A. was simply to find a sexual partner. There were still lots of things I wanted to cross of my sexual bucket list that had been derailed by relationships, and I wanted to take advantage of my single time in the most sexual city in the U.S. But, as someone picky, introverted, and
shallow specific, I was worried that I wouldn’t find anyone anytime soon.
While I hadn’t been using dating apps, I still met the three guys I’d been with in 2018 online via Twitter or Instagram (I guess they were technically through a mutual, very distant friend?). This could still be a possibility in L.A., but because I grew up on the East Coast, most of my friends and/or followers lived over there. That made it less likely that Mr. Right Now was going to message me after seeing one of his mutuals retweet my thirst traps.
Anyway, that was all a long-winded way of explaining why, while I was sitting in my car choosing a song from Spotify, I agreed to go out with the guy who came up to my window and asked if I wanted to grab food. Depending on who you are, this either sounds like borderline street harassment, or really romantic. To me, it was a bit of both—especially because he was actually cute in a California surfer/stoner type way.
“Anyway, that was all a long-winded way of explaining why, while I was sitting in my car choosing a song from Spotify, I agreed to go out with the guy who came up to my window and asked if I wanted to grab food.”
If we’d crossed paths on an app, I probably wouldn’t have swiped right on him. That’s also probably why we went on five dates before going our separate ways—not just one or two. You could argue that this is actually a larger waste of my time, but I disagree. Because I met him on the literal street instead of an app, I felt less pressure to find out where the relationship was going and or whether he’d expect sex by the nth date. This let me have fun despite knowing that we definitely, definitely would never blossom into anything serious.
Other than that street meet-cute, I have mostly been meeting guys in “traditional” ways. I’ve gone on dates with men who asked me for my number at parties or bars, although this is somewhat rare between because I don’t go out that often and I don’t drink. I am more motivated to leave my house often and look cute doing it—something I sort of lost in the past few years because of being in a relationship and working from home. Now I can push myself to walk down to Trader Joe’s instead of ordering gluten-free flour on Amazon (it wouldn’t be the first time I slept with someone I met at Trader Joe’s), and maybe I’ll actually throw on some mascara before I go, too. I probably won’t find my next boo in the bread aisle, but if secretly hoping that a hot guy will cross my path results in me getting out of my house more, trying new things more, and maybe even having more fun dressing up—I think those are all good things for me, right?
I don’t want to be staying inside on Hinge, growing frustrated with banal messages from guys I’m not even attracted to, accidentally filling up all my weeknights with dates when I could be nurturing my new friendships in L.A., working on personal projects, or tending to my physical and mental health.
“I probably won’t find my next boo in the bread aisle, but if secretly hoping that a hot guy will cross my path results in me getting out of my house more, trying new things more, and maybe even having more fun dressing up—I think those are all good things for me, right?”
From my teetotaling lifestyle to my loose veganism, I believe that moderation is key, and I feel like it’s almost impossible to use dating apps in moderation (even when I am very, very selective with my right-swipes). Dating without apps allows me to spend my time on dates that fall into my lap, leaving me with more time for other things, people, and hobbies.
There are definitely brief moments when I wonder if the non-drinking, nonfiction-reading, sexually adventurous, muscular dude I’m dreaming of is just one swipe away on Bumble, or Hinge, or even something more taboo like Seeking Arrangement—but I simply remind myself that I have more important things to do than search for an imaginary friend I essentially created while masturbating.
I did reconnect with a guy I met through a mutual friend when I visited L.A. last year, so I now get to have sex at least once a month. It may be a little more (or is it less?) moderation than I’d like, but it’s definitely more action that I’d be getting if I was still swiping through profiles on Raya.