Sex + Dating

What I Learned on My Month-Long Dating App Detox

Dating App Detox
Oren Aks/Thrillist

I don't have the greatest track record when it comes to dating apps. They're a time suck, a mindfuck, and, a large portion of the time, wildly ineffective.

There was the guy who messaged with lightning-fast wit, but showed up to our date wearing an excessive amount of scarves and jewelry (including an offensively bedazzled man ring). Or the guy with the classic beach-and-sunset-with-surfboard photo who looked like he could be the Aladdin to my Jasmine, but whose in-person halitosis would have made any magic carpet unravel. And dozens upon dozens more -- enough to make anyone want to ditch online dating altogether.

Yet, we keep trying -- because it's so damn easy. Open your app du jour, peruse the juicy, local, on-market loins (and some technically NOT on the market, but you won't find that out until later), swipe, match, and inevitably be let down. But not TOO let down because all you need to do is repeat steps one through four again… and again… and again.

I finally decided to get myself off all dating apps for a full month to see what would transpire. Let's be clear: I am -- um, was -- strictly a Tinderer/Bumbler. Two apps out of the 26 that all essentially do the same thing are enough. iPhone newly dating app-free, I ventured off into the three-dimensional world.

Dating apps are merely another tool for laziness/procrastination

After my digital purge I was able to notice the times when I would reach for my phone for a ritual swiping. It was usually first thing in the morning before sitting down to work, mid-afternoon before I began a project, or late at night on the couch as I was putting off sleep. While you were procrastinating by scrolling through Instagram, I was scrolling through the male faces of New York City. This is not universal. I am sure many of you out there are using dating apps as a means to meet Mr./Ms. Right (Now).

"At least when you meet someone in person, you can instantly tell whether there's actual chemistry."

Matching is an anti-high

Maybe it's because I've heard, and had, so many horror stories; but the inevitable "It's a Match!" message actually fills me with dread. Not eager anticipation.

Now I actually have to talk to this person? And, quite possibly even worse, meet them? Dating should be about butterflies, starry-eyed dreams of potential adorable pet names, doodling hearts in notebooks...

With dating apps it felt more like an obligation. First you have to convey in a few messages that you're casual, cool, incredibly witty, and effortlessly sexy. Then you have to go out for drinks with this stranger, thereby transferring all this online charm into a first "date"... aka yet another awkward encounter that feels more like a job interview, where getting the job actually means getting naked.

It's A LOT of pressure. Especially when we're talking about meeting a stranger. At least when you meet someone in person, you can instantly tell whether there's actual chemistry.

Ain't nothing like the real thing

On the flip, I will say that there are some situations in which using dating apps takes the stress off of dating. For starters, it proves the point that there really are other fish in the sea. Thousands, nay, MILLIONS of other fish in the sea. So if one falls through, worry not! Another is just a few more swipes away.

And as great as that might be for those of us who tend to put all of our eggs in one basket, we lose a lot with that as well.

Nothing can replace the electric spark from meeting someone in person. It spreads from the pit of your stomach out through your fingers -- and definitely through your erogenous zones. Crushing, and everything that comes with it, is an irreplaceable feeling. Which brings me to a bigger, more philosophical point...

Dating is an investment. To meet someone in person takes time, effort, thought, and yes, can ultimately end in disappointment. Millennials don't handle disappointment well. Nor do we know how to be patient. We've grown up in a world where options are endless and everything is available at our fingertips. Media, socialization, banking, food, and now even sex are streaming 24/7.

The only time we actually power down is when we're forced to put our phones into "airplane mode." And even then, most airplanes now offer Wi-Fi. We don't HAVE to be patient anymore. But with that comes the reduction of complex and interesting people into headshots and brief blurbs. You're swiping to find someone to fill a role or a void. It dehumanizes us and we're less likely to put effort in because people are no longer seen as individuals, but as another drone in a very long assembly line coming down the conveyor belt. Having to "work" at the relationship suddenly feels like settling.

No wonder he/she didn't message you back -- someone even shinier was just a few swipes down the line. No waiting. You're about as useful and interesting as yesterday's newspaper, which you also read online.

"Nothing can replace the electric spark from meeting someone in person."

Just because it's easy doesn't mean it's better

In this month-long detox it's not like I did anything particularly special or different when it came to dating. I am a firm believer in the "it will happen when it happens" mentality. Trying to force ANYTHING is never a great idea -- rumor has it that people who reek of desperation are a tad… off-putting. Besides, I'm incredibly awkward in introductory settings where there is a potential for sex. I guess I tried to smile at people more, rather than resort to my very unintentional but seemingly omnipresent "resting bitch face." (I'm just deep in thought, guys!)

That said, I had a couple of choice encounters. A guy from high school managed to return for his sequel via Instagram, with a flattering direct message about various aspects of my being. He was on the football team in high school. I was in the orchestra. We did NOT run with the same crowd. Feeling intrigued, we exchanged numbers, texts, and a post-grad bedroom frolic. It didn't end up working out, but 16-year-old Meagan was feeling like the fucking prom queen for a few hot weeks. And technically Instagram is not a dating app, so I'm going to go ahead and say this counts.

I realize that it's much harder to meet people in real life. Or, at least, that's what they tell us. Maybe that's because everyone is at home on Friday nights in their sweatpants on Tinder. But the Pew Research Center found that only 5% of Americans are in a committed relationship with someone they met online. Conversely, 88% of people who have been in a relationship for five years or less, meaning they met even after dating apps were invented, met OFFLINE. I'm no mathematician, but I think I can guess which is the better bet.

I think this is the greater takeaway here, and the greater point about society and millennials in general. Just because it's easy or readily available does not mean it's better. With some things, certainly. Mobile deposit, for sure. Seamless.com, DEFINITELY. Netflix, oh my God, yes.

So what now?

You mean, am I going to relapse? Honestly... no. Or, at the very least, not right now. It's certainly a bigger risk to put ourselves out there in the real world, and I'm admittedly not very good at it. We can hide behind our screens and pick people apart for "your" versus "you're" and decide that's bad enough to disqualify them from ever seeing us naked. But when it comes to dating apps, I'm certainly ready to put them away for a little while. Not only did I not even care about the results, which I found to be stressful and void of meaning, but according to SCIENCE, they aren't even working.

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Meagan Drillinger is a contributing writer for Thrillist. All of her dates are tax deductible. Follow her on Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter @drillinjourneys.