My first flirtation with online dating was in early 2011 during my junior year of college. I’d finally broken up with my first (and worst) boyfriend, and then realized I already knew every male at my small school of 2,500 kids. It was time to branch out. So I joined OkCupid and was immediately seduced by the idea of meeting men online that I might never have met in real life.
Eventually, logging on to OkCupid via my laptop turned into downloading the app. Then I downloaded Tinder. Then Bumble. Then Raya. And by the time I turned 25, I was a full-blown online dating addict. I was swiping everywhere — in line for coffee, in the bathroom, in bed before I fell asleep. My mother and I calculated and realized that I’d gone on something like 70 first dates in 2015. I was double-booking myself, and if the date I was on was a dud, I’d sneak into the bathroom to swipe to find something to line up for after.
This was also, unsurprisingly, around the time I landed in therapy for anxiety. I was desperately unhappy, and was convinced that a relationship would fix everything that was going on in my brain. But I was also the first to admit that I was fully burned out on dating. My therapist, bless her soul, would gently suggest that maybe, just maybe, I’d be happier if I just took myself out of the dating pool for a while. That was a terrifying prospect for me — if I weren’t on my dating apps, wouldn’t I be alone forever?
I continued to swipe, and continued to be miserable, for about a year. And then around September of last year, I hit a wall. I had been going through a revolving door of men, and it wasn’t getting me any closer to finding what I really wanted. So I bailed. One by one, I deleted my profiles from the half-dozen apps on my iPhone screen, and then deleted the apps themselves.
I instantly felt a sense of relief. I had so much free time now that I wasn’t forcing myself to go on dates on random Wednesday nights. I started being able to go to the gym after work instead of before, which I found I enjoyed much more. I was meeting friends for dinner instead of possible dates, and spending evenings at home alone.
The more men I had in my life, no matter how fleeting they were, the more I was able to trick myself into feeling less alone.
I’ll admit that during the first few weekends, I freaked out if I didn’t have plans with friends and was forced to sit alone at home on a Saturday. But that was something I had to learn to cope with: being alone. That’s what the dating apps were for me — a way to distract myself from being alone. Because the more men I had in my life, no matter how fleeting they were, the more I was able to trick myself into feeling less alone. And it worked, until I’d come home from a horrible date to my empty apartment and feel totally shitty. During this time, I got extremely comfortable with the idea of being by myself. It’s something I still make time for, even though I’m back in the dating world.
After a few months, I re-downloaded Bumble and met a guy who said he wanted a relationship. It didn’t work out, which taught me an invaluable lesson about what “wanting a relationship” actually means, but caused me to delete Bumble once again.
And then, in late January, I gave Bumble another try, but decided to be more relaxed about the situation: I’d only swipe “yes” on five guys a day. And once I started talking to them, I’d stop swiping. It was a complete 180 from what I used to do — swiping until my fingers burned. I call it “mindful swiping,” and I’m a big proponent of it. In fact, I’d venture to say more of us should try something like this.
In his book Modern Romance, Aziz Ansari talks about how we’re bombarded with more options now than ever. “You can stand in line at the grocery store and swipe through 60 people’s faces on Tinder while you wait to buy hamburger buns,” he writes. “That’s 20 times as many people as my dad met on his marriage journey.” And even if we meet a person who we click with, we’re constantly seduced by the hundreds of faces on our swipe apps. I mean, I was nothing if not a cautionary tale — I can’t tell you how many times I’d sneak off to the bathroom during a first date and start swiping.
I’m definitely not one to change my habits based on anecdotal evidence, but I will tell you that “mindful swiping” has worked out for me so far. About a month ago, I swiped right on a particularly foxy guy. After a few dates, I stopped using the app and then deleted it completely. I’ve opted to turn my eyes away from the hundreds of digital faces on my phone and am just really enjoying the process of getting to know the real face in front of me — slowly, but surely.
Deleting the apps off my phone gave me time to realize that the frantic pace I was going at wasn’t doing me, or the men I was meeting, any favors. It gave me time to be alone and to realize the slow way is the better way — for me, at least. And while I have no way of knowing how the next few months are going to go, I do know one thing for certain: I’m okay, even without the dating apps. That’s a pretty dope feeling.
After being raised on a steady diet of Disney movies, I expected to meet someone and fall passionately in love — but wound up collapsing under the pressures of modern dating. Luckily, I eventually realized that there's no "right" way to date, and that I need to find happiness within myself, no partner needed. It’s Not You is where I write to calm the voices in my head — and hear from all of you. Follow me on Twitter, on Instagram, or email me at maria.delrusso@refinery29.