Student Unions

When I Got Lonely At Uni, I Used Men

Illustrated by Eutalia De La Paz.
I climbed into bed in my tiny Shoreditch flatshare. It was 1am on a Friday night and I’d just returned home after my eighth disappointing date in a month. It was getting to the point where I could no longer blame the London dating stock for my woes. Perhaps I was the problem here. An eyeliner-tinted tear slipped onto my pillow.
I had moved to London a month prior to start my magazine journalism master's at City, University of London. For the last five months I had been single, and I’d dabbled in the dating app game in my hometown of Brighton. It was a casual experience – a Bumble chat here, a super-like there – and every date had a story to tell, good or bad. Do it for the plot.
I’d enjoyed the process: the analysis of a Hinge profile, then feeling butterflies at a text alert. There’d be the all-important pre-date FaceTime to a friend, showing off a potential dress or crop top option. The final stage would be the meet-up, an assortment of nerves and excitement pulsating through me as the hours leading up to the initial meet turned to minutes.

Bad dates were kind of my thing. The worst date I'd been on had become a parable, a story I told and retold.

The dates themselves were the best bit, whether good or bad. I actually enjoyed the bad dates more than the average ones, making as they did for excellent stories. The one thing I loved more than awkward chit-chat with a random man from Tinder was getting into bed at 11am the next day, head pounding, makeup smeared down my face, and hitting record on an eight-minute voice note to my best friend.
"You’ll never guess what happened last night," I’d say, and then I’d tell the story of how I fell off a chair backwards, pulling our table of drinks with me, or how I’d been given a love bite in a bush at 3pm as dog walkers shuffled past.
In fact, bad dates were kind of my thing. The worst date I’d been on had become a parable, a story I told and retold many times, to anyone who would listen: a colleague, the Tesco cashier, my uni lecturer.
My telling of this story became an art form. I knew exactly when to pause for dramatic effect and when to deliver the sucker-punch one-liner to shock my audience, revealing how my date held my phone above my head like a playground bully and refused to give it back unless I came into his house. 
I told him I’d rather live the life of a phoneless medieval peasant than come into his house and he did return my cracked iPhone, which was certainly not worth more than my life.
When I moved to London, I looked forward to seeing what the city would have to offer in the way of men. Another funny story or 12 that I could add to my future memoir? Or perhaps the love of my life?
The first of these dates, unfortunately, would be neither. It occurred a week after the big move and I went through my pre-date ritual: the outfit selection, the nerves, the excitement. But as soon as I met the man, I knew he wasn’t my future husband.
He was a nice guy nevertheless. He introduced me to a great pub and we bonded over our love of house music and fancy rum. The night ended with a disgusting PDA on Shoreditch High Street and an agreement to meet up again later that week. But a few days later, my WhatsApps went unanswered and he unmatched me on Hinge to solidify his lack of interest. This would be the first ghosting of many.
To soften the blow I organised another two dates for the following week but neither turned out to be my Prince Charming. I found myself getting frustrated. 
I’d quickly discovered how lonely moving to a new city could be and frequently found myself at a loose end on a weekend. Hinge became my best friend, soaking up any loneliness I felt, offering me hours of entertainment as I swiped my way through the men of London, scrutinising their love of Peep Show or pineapple on pizza and dating the least offensive of the bunch.
But with each date I felt more disappointed than the last, no longer laughing when things went awry, taking each chat and meet-up far too seriously. 
Monzo warned me of the money I’d spent seeing men I didn’t like, while my screen time alerted me to hours spent on Hinge. I wouldn’t tell my friends of my dates anymore; no profile screenshots or "text me when you’re home!" There was no point in even learning these men’s names.
Six men using a precious daily Hinge like on me had begun as an ego boost but soon felt empty. When I was ghosted I blamed a fabricated weight gain; when messages asked if I was up for a "bit of fun", I felt reduced to a sex doll. 
A realisation hit: maybe Hinge wasn’t "designed to be deleted" as its mission statement suggested but rather to damage users' self-esteem and fuel a dating app dependency.
The final straw came when I turned up to a man’s flat and within five minutes of meeting him, he’d whipped out a paddle and handcuffs. It was shocking enough for me to run out of his flat and into McDonald’s, forgetting my lifelong vegetarianism in a desperate attempt to replenish my serotonin levels.
I’d had enough of dating, of spending hours on my phone, of my need for men to make me feel good. It was there, on the Overground home, mid-Chicken Legend, that I deleted the dating apps from my phone.
At first my phone without Hinge felt like a riverbed with no water. It felt empty, wrong. It took me some time to get back to normal. 
Instead of dates I organised meet-ups with old friends, hung out with classmates and created a life for myself in London. Slowly I stopped relying on strangers’ words to make me feel good. I learned to seek that dopamine hit elsewhere and my old self started trickling back.
When I downloaded the apps again a few months later, it wasn’t out of necessity, it was for fun. I got excited for first dates once again and when I ended up on another disaster date, it was a funny story to tell rather than a crippling disappointment. 
I relayed to my friends the story of my strange date with the COVID denier as I got home that night, cosy in bed. The only tears in my eyes this time were tears of laughter.

More from Living

R29 Original Series