Online dating isn’t dying. Here’s why you should give apps another chance

Online dating isn’t dying. Here’s why you should give apps another chance

Are we so afraid of having a negative experience that we’re no longer in it for the experience at all?


“This date couldn’t have happened in any other time or place,” the man beside me said. We were walking down a tree-lined street in Palo Alto. He was a Syrian Muslim immigrant; I am an American Jew with a half-Israeli father. Eventually, that would lead to our breakup. But on that bluish Monday night on the Peninsula, summer was just beginning, and our meeting felt cosmic.

One of those decisions was a “like.” Having spent my 20s either in a relationship or on dating apps in cities where everyone is too obsessed with developing themselves to look for a relationship with anyone else, landing in comparatively low-key San Francisco for the long term made me want to try looking for someone to spend that time with.

In just two weeks, I’d gone out with a diverse cross-section of the Bay Area’s population, from an enigmatic German furniture designer to a lonely girl living at her parents’ in Walnut Creek to a menschy Jewish doctor who never called.

The difference between this experience and trying to compete with literal models in LA was striking, and I felt a rush of gratitude for this button in my mulheres super quentes filipino pocket that seemed to conjure destiny.

People come to the Bay Area from all over the world, and while no one can predict or control what happens next, you can at least meet them at the tap of a button. Among my 30-something young professional friends in the Bay Area, though, being pro-app feels unpopular. This isn’t new (is this the second or third wave of app backlash?), but it does leave me feeling like online dating is dying just as I have fallen in love with it.

While nationwide data show that Americans are using dating apps at the same rate they did in 2020-about 30% of American adults use them-we remain divided over whether our experiences on the apps are positive or negative. The people in my life seem staunchly in the negative camp: Over the past few months, the city has been papered with advertisements for SOON, an app whose slogan is “Date Offline,” suggesting that the only way to get noticed as an online dating service is to pretend that you are not one.

By Sarah Davidson

On a recent first app date, I said the best way to get an affordable pet sitter is to go off the apps. I meant Rover, but he made a joke about how everything is better off the apps. My friends and colleagues are excited about singles’ mixers and live dating games, always gushing that these experiences are so refreshing. I get it-that’s what I texted my friends after a night at a speed dating event by CitySwoon. But compared to the seemingly infinite ways a first app date can unfurl, there was something about milling around inside the pen-like walls of a North Beach bar’s parklet that felt less than magical.

The latest backlash to dating apps is happening because people feel like they are getting lots of dates, but not necessarily with the right people. Now, we don’t want to waste our time. We want the people we date to be vouched for. If you insist on staying on the apps, my friends say, you should know what you want and screen for it. You should refuse to spend more than an hour or even a FaceTime call with anyone with any quality that hints at being a “deal breaker.” When I say that not everyone wants to use dating apps to zero in on what they’re looking for with razor-sharp precision, that some people are doing it for the story, I realize that I am, in these people’s eyes, the problem. I am the person who wastes their time.

What my friends are trying to get back to is a dating atmosphere in which the path your specific life takes eventually intersects with someone else’s, and most of the hard work of figuring out who they really are was already done for you by virtue of your paths having crossed. I know this is supposed to feel more romantic, and sometimes it does, but some part of me is also skeptical. Isn’t this neurotic insistence on making sure the people we date are good enough kind of like refusing to stumble into a restaurant without frantically Yelping it first? Are we so afraid of having a negative experience that we are no longer in it for the experience at all? Are we really in a place where I am the hopeless romantic for defending the apps that became infamous for helping you order sex to your door as if it were a pizza?

Maybe if I had more aggressively filtered my matches last summer, I wouldn’t have ended up getting my heart broken by a man who, from the beginning, knew we would never end up together because of our differences. But I also never would have had the chance to get close to someone with such dramatic differences. As I watched a war in the Middle East unfold just a few weeks after our breakup, I realized how profoundly that short relationship had changed my perspective.

You can’t have your perspective changed if you filter out all the differences. Yes, it’s true that relationships with people who share your friends, your background and your socioeconomic status are probably going to be stickier. But who would you rather be by the time you find that sticky relationship: the kind who puts up blinders to anyone who isn’t 98% the same as you, or the kind who still believes in magic?

Sarah Davidson is a writer living in Bernal Heights. Her work has appeared in Los Angeles Magazine, Willamette Week and Man Repeller.

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