Stop me if you’ve heard this one before; “They were so funny over text, but there wasn’t any chemistry in person.” How about this one; “IDK. They just left me on ‘seen’.” If some variation of those statements rings a bell, chances are you know someone who’s entered the online dating scene. Or worse — you may have entered the online dating scene. And considering that there are a whopping 50.8 million online dating profiles floating around in the ether, those chances are pretty high.
Tinder, Bumble, and even Zoom horror stories are becoming more prevalent these days — and I’m not talking about some tale where the protagonist accidentally matches with a serial killer. Hopeless romantics are looking for love online, connecting, chatting, and vibing with others, then feeling exponentially more hopeless when that initial “spark” burns out in person. That’s provided things even get to that point since ghosting is increasingly common.
Dating app burnout was on the rise for a myriad of reasons in 2019 BC (Before COVID); verbal, emotional, and sexual harassment were par for the course that year. But once the pandemic hit, online dating became the sole recourse for millions of people around the globe — present company included. If anything I’ve said so far hits uncomfortably close to home, sorry for reopening old wounds. I’m here to drop numbers and take a critical look at the current state of online dating. And honestly, I needed to mentally pre-game before I took a stroll down misery — I mean, memory lane.
It’s A (Zoom) Date!
I never had any intention of dabbling with online dating, but I never intended to live through an apocalypse either. At the start of 2020 BC, I was talking to a woman that we’ll just go ahead and call “Lucy”. Things were very early on (like, “so what’s your favorite movie?” early on) when March 19, 2020, rolled in. Per Governor Newsom’s stay-at-home order, nearly everything in California went virtual — including Lucy and I’s budding relationship.
Streets — and toilet paper aisles — across the state were utterly barren, but Lucy and I kept in touch via regularly scheduled Zoom dates. Or we tried to keep in touch. Have you ever seen Key and Peele’s “Video Call” skit? Imagine attempting to bond with someone over a laggy internet connection and pray that you’re never in our shoes. Zoom fatigue is real, and it’s believed to affect women more severely than men. A 2021 study conducted by Stanford University concluded that “women may be more likely to suffer mirror anxiety during video conferencing”.
That might explain why Lucy said “I’ll reach out to you again when I can” in late-November 2020. And it might explain why I never heard from her again.
Swipe Away Those Tears
I had two epiphanies by the time January 2021 rolled in; Lucy had well and truly moved on, but the pandemic was here to stay. Our time together made me somewhat more comfortable with the idea of online dating… and webcam freezes… and conference fatigue… So, naturally, I made a Bumble account — and joined 42 million other users in one of the world’s largest virtual cafés.
Add a few old headshots, some off-center iPhone pics, and a few references to Breaking Bad and Lord of the Rings, and that was my Bumble profile in a nutshell. My phone bristled with notifications encouraging me to “start swiping”, but I didn’t. In fact, I sat on my hands for a solid week. Was I nervous? Absolutely. But the whole swiping thing just felt… wrong. Accepting or rejecting another person based on a couple of photos and lines of text just made them feel… disposable.
Eventually, I started playing the “swiping game”, only to come up short. See, dating apps use complex algorithms to make matches and determine who gets seen — and who doesn’t. Apparently, the machine gods frowned on my week-long crisis, so I deleted my old account, created a new one, and matched with someone for the first time.
A Match Made in Digital Heaven
You’re probably thinking that this is where the “blessing” part of the title comes in. Well, not exactly; I exchanged four, probably five, messages with my first Bumble match before we both opted to go our separate ways. Later that day, I deleted Bumble for good. Dating apps just weren’t for me, but others have found much more success online. According to the Pew Research Center, 12% of American adults (out of a sample size of 4,860 participants) have seriously dated or even married a person they met online.
Despite my fiasco, Zoom dating also has its upsides. Dr. Helen Fisher — chief science adviser to Match.com — suggests that new couples can gradually and authentically get to know each other through video calls as opposed to text messages. Video chatting services like Zoom and FaceTime can also greatly help established couples keep in touch even if they’re miles apart — or quarantining from COVID.
Both of these studies ring true for me; I know several couples who’ve met online and are deeply, madly, truly in love. From what I’ve gleaned, each of these couples took a different approach to online dating. They didn’t lie about themselves or their interests. They cycled through a Rolodex of people that they were “sorta kinda interested in, but not really.” And they absolutely did not send any explicit pics. Openness and honesty helped them find common ground — two commodities that are typically out of stock online.
“Every Day The 14th”
Hip Hop artist André 3000, under his Cupid Valentino persona, boldly proclaims that “every day [is] the 14th” in his aptly titled song “Happy Valentine’s Day.” That statement always threw me for a loop when I was a kid. “Nuh-uh, the 14th is Valentine’s Day. And Valentine’s Day only happens once a year.” The brilliance of the line didn’t hit me until I was an adult. André 3 Stacks was urging us to treat every day like Valentine’s Day. To show our romantic, empathetic sides more often. To be open and honest with the people around us. And to love ourselves every single day.
Today will either be very bitter or very sweet for billions of people around the globe. Maybe you’ve got special plans with the love of your life. Maybe you’ll be flying solo for the umpteenth year in a row. And maybe, despite my ramblings, you’ll spend the evening looking for love online. Whatever you choose to do, I urge you to do it honestly, openly, and whole-heartedly. No matter who you’re with, or who you aren’t with, I just want to urge you to love yourself.
Do I still think online dating is a blessing or a curse? Honestly, I think it’s both. People much smarter than I have suggested that disposable dating culture damages our self-esteem and our empathy. Conversely, online dating gives you more opportunities to meet people. And you always have the chance to be your best, most authentic self when you meet someone. Remember that there’s a person on the other end of that screen, and you’re golden.
I’ve preached enough. Happy Valentine’s Day to you all. If anyone needs me, I’ll be listening to Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. On repeat, and uncensored.