The Scary Thing I Did To Shake Up My Love Life
No doubt about it. I was done.
I don’t remember his name. Or the exact location of the dank Manhattan bar where we grabbed drinks and shared flatbread. But months after that December 2021 date, certain details remain burned into my brain.
He made sure his laminated work ID badge was still affixed to the waistline of his jeans. (Congrats on working at Apple, dude.) Our long pauses permeated the air. He didn’t flinch when I oh-so-tentatively reached for my wallet — a rote move that I’d mastered long ago — and proceeded to set down my credit card to pay the bill as I seethed, Why isn’t he at least offering to pay the tip?! I couldn’t mask my disdain during those last hurried moments.
If this had occurred 10 or 15 years ago, I’d just have called a few girlfriends to make a few cathartic jokes and get the experience out of my system. No more. I was 45 and too old — and, frankly, too smart — for this crap. Incensed to the max, I ducked into the closest convenience store and yanked my phone out of my coat pocket. Texts and email updates could wait. I realized that while I didn’t have control over the crop of guys on the New York City scene, I could do something to avoid putting myself in such a pathetic situation ever again.
With a few confident-yet-frazzled taps, I shook up my love life for the first time in decades. Goodbye, the last of my dating apps. I was done.
To be clear, I didn’t directly blame OkCupid. Dating disaster aside, I had gone out with some genuinely good and interesting guys over the past several years. This was how I met my last boyfriend, who fully delivered on the promise of his smartly worded profile and cute photos.
There’s a reason why the platform boasted 50 million members worldwide as of 2020 with 100,000 users perusing at any given time. When it comes to dating convenience, it didn’t get any easier or stress-free than finding a soulmate from the comfort of my couch.
Emphasis on easy. Unlike the prehistoric early-00s days of online dating services such as eHarmony, Match or Jdate (for urban Jewish singles like me!), the whole process had become streamlined.
Back then, I had to sit in front of a clunky computer to hammer out dissertation-like essays about my likes and dislikes on an extended profile. This was followed by a complicated communication ritual before the first date was even set. I’m a professional writer, and I was worn down by all the unpaid labor. On the contrary, I paid more than $100 a month for access to all the above sites circa 2005. (eHarmony still charges $65.90 a month; a monthly Jdate premium membership is $60.)
Thanks to the smartphone and the creation of free apps like Tinder in 2012, I needed only to download a photo, share a few fun facts and let my index finger do the talking. If you’ve never had the pleasure, I’ll break it down for you: Each member is presented on screen like a card in a deck. If you don’t like what you see, swipe left, and the person vanishes. If your interest is piqued, swipe right. If that same person does the same, it’s a match. Members take it from there.
OkCupid, which started as a traditional dating site in 2004 before transitioning to an app a decade later, notified me by placing my profile photo next to the photo of my fellow Swiper inside a flashing, throbbing heart.
I’d be lying if I didn’t feel that psychologically certified dopamine spike each time I received that “you matched!” alert. Somebody liked me! Score! It didn’t totally matter if this led only to a series of “hi’s” to coincide with my highs. I felt giddy by the idea of a possibility.
And I had known of enough firsthand dating app mega-success stories to give myself genuine hope for more. But there was a downside. After eight years on and off the app (I went on hiatus during relationships, of course), I had treated OkCupid — and before that, a sampling of Tinder and Bumble — as a game instead of a means to an end. I’d sift through members purely out of boredom while waiting in line at a grocery store or watching TV.
As long as the guys were cute-ish, I swiped right. We’re talking dozens in a minute purely based on superficiality. Even more troubling, I became so comfortable playing along that I usually didn’t bother with the follow-through — let alone make a plan to leave my apartment and meet. I just wanted to feel the giddy hit of the match. Being housebound and unsocial during the pandemic only heightened my unhealthy addiction to this emotional crutch.
I couldn’t fully grasp that a guy was likely doing the same for my profile. My passions and raison d’être were irrelevant. They just saw a candid headshot and my basic stats and acted accordingly. Or they swiped right and messaged me, only to lose interest once the next shiny toy popped up. It’s like all the stomach-twisting, heart-pounding nuances of dating to which I had been accustomed for the better part of two decades had been wiped away and swiped away. Surely this is how I ended up across the table from Mr. Rotten Apple.
Deleting OkCupid felt liberating yet terrifying. I’d no longer let a computer algorithm determine the right guy … or even the wrong guy with potential. If I were going to find anyone, I’d need to rely on introverted myself (gulp) and do things the old-fashioned way. That meant putting myself out there in ways that felt completely uncomfortable: go to parties and events, make conversation, eat dinner at the bar when out of town instead of ordering room service, stop wearing my noise-canceling AirPods during daytime jaunts, and flirt in an elevator (hey, that’s how I met a former boyfriend).
I’d love to tell you that I’ve met and dated a slew of guys since I went app-free. I haven’t.
To be honest, as I type this, the number rhymes with shmero. But I have indeed accomplished all the above, developing good habits and opening myself up to possibilities galore. I’ve got to tell you that I smiled a lot while talking sports with a young blond-haired runner at a bar in an Italian restaurant in Norfolk, Virginia. My decision is underlined by the amount of times I continue to absentmindedly search in vain for that bright pink OkCupid image on my phone.
It may take a while, but that’s, um, OK. Scrolling is good, but life can still happen when you actually look up to see what and who is out there.