Online Dating After 30: The ROI Is Awful

A new series that explores what it's really like to be single in your 30s and NGAF.

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“Everyday (everyday) I try and I try and I try
But everybody wants to put me down
They say I'm going crazy,”
- Somebody To Love, Queen, 1976.
We hear stories over drinks, mothers text us anecdotes from their bank teller, we read them in the New York Times. A woman went on her very first Tinder date and met her husband. She was just out of a relationship, timid about online dating, but her friends said, “just go for it!” so she did. I think I speak for the single female population over the age of 30 when I say: This. Fucking. Bullshit.
Obviously I want women, literally all women, to find whatever happiness they desire. But in looking back at 10 — actually almost 11 — full years of online dating apps, countless first dates, a smattering of second dates, and absolutely zero relationships, hearing an instant “success” story makes me crave a large glass of wine, something to punch, and carbs — not necessarily in that order.
I know we all know people who met online. I know we all know people who love to tell us that they know people who met online. Everybody meets online now, right? So what does that say for the pride of us still hunting, still endlessly searching, what are we? No one can tell us, but they can tell us about their best friend’s sister who is so happy now. She’s happy, so you’ll be happy, too. Just keep trying. No matter what happens, no matter if nothing happens, just keep trying. For a decade. Or more.
Marrieds, especially the marrieds who met online, love to use a charming phrase, “it’s a numbers game.” First, thanks. I’m thrilled my pursuit of someone on the other end of the couch can be reduced to a fun puzzle you’d do on an airplane. And second, if it’s a numbers game? Let’s play.

The online dating ROI is bullshit, and this is the hill I’ll die on.

It’s estimated that 50 million people use Tinder. (Just using the most popular dating app here.) Roughly 54% of them are single. (The fact that the other 46% are not is for another time.) That makes 27 million people on this dating app who did not meet their partner on their first goddamned date. You want to tell me a success story? Awesome, it’s one pair out of a possible 13.5 million pairs. Yes, people meet online, but fuck the odds of it. I’m not going to put too much stock in your aunt’s friend Karen’s good fortune, but mazels to her and her family.
The online dating ROI is bullshit, and this is the hill I’ll die on. The invested effort of heterosexual single women looking for men to spend time with online is not met with a proportional return, not by a goddamned mile, and this disparity does not exist elsewhere. Want to get in better shape, feel more fit? Work out, it’ll happen. Want a better job, better salary? Work hard, pursue it, you’ll get there. Want your home to feel more organized? Clean the motherfucker. The established relationship of effort-to-result is challenged in online dating in a manner that is nothing short of madness. Honestly, there are slot machines in Vegas looking at the online dating odds right now and finding them unfair.

Honestly there are slot machines in Vegas looking at the online dating odds right now and finding them unfair.

In 10 years, I’ve been on hundreds of dates. I’ve “matched” with thousands of men. I can’t fathom how much swiping I’ve done, how many apps I’ve tried. Not only have I never been in a relationship as a result, but I also struggle to think of moments I’ve even enjoyed. It isn’t fun, it isn’t exciting, it isn’t dating. It’s depositing effort every day for 10 years and still finding my balance at zero. Bad things haven’t been happening to me, nothing has been happening to me, while I’m surrounded by a sea of everyone else’s something. It’s the single girl’s straightjacket and I can’t get it off.
There really is madness in it. Looking back, I wonder if it’s even mathematically possible that I haven’t had a relationship by accident at this point. But then why do it, right? If there’s no return, if it makes me crazy, why do it? There’s no huge secret to my answer: I do it because it’s there, because there really aren’t many ways to meet people after 30, and because they won’t shut up with the stories.
Everyone has stories, everyone knows someone. But I’m tired of the snake oil, the tales told to single women to, what exactly? Show us what someone else has that we don’t? They certainly don’t tell us how other people connected from a dating app, only that they connected. The success stories don’t give us hope, or actionable advice, all they give us guilt. They instil a fear that if we don’t keep trying, keep going, we’ll miss out on what other women found, and it’ll be all our fault.
Hope is something that has to come from inside us, it has to come from a place of (and I know this sounds cheesy, brie with me) loving ourselves, and believing ourselves to be not just “okay” for being single, but entirely awesome for it. So that when we do hear of a woman who met her husband on her first Tinder date, our reaction is, “I’m happy for her, and no less happy for me.”
What then is my online dating takeaway, if not partnership? How does someone find optimism, and any remaining energy to continue in the face of so much nothing? I’m dedicated to seeing and feeling the positives of being single. I refuse to see my efforts as wasted, no matter how much dust collects on the other side of the couch. What do I have to show for the decade I’ve invested with zero intended return? You’re reading it right now.

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