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How to Date without Dating Apps

Updated: Oct 5, 2020

Use the Apps. Just don't let them use you.

Originally published on UrbanDaddy.

Here’s an archaic concept: dating without dating apps. Here’s an archaic, yet novel concept: I work as a professional matchmaker. And here’s the reality: there’s a burgeoning dating industry growing by the day, replete with matchmakers, dating coaches, virtual assistants and snake oil pick-up artists alike.

Although online dating presumably gives us more opportunities to meet romantic prospects than ever, more isn’t necessarily better, and the formulation of an entire industry around dating is proof of how overwhelmed the unattached populus feels navigating this unprecedentedly high volume of options.

Call it the paradox of choice, call it opportunity cost, call it whatever term is sufficiently convincing: people are fucking exhausted.

Some are cursing the gods of Tinder as they madly swipe, some are relinquishing the reins of romantic search efforts to millenial Yentas like me and some are opting for the radical notion of “unplugging” their love lives from technology altogether. From Bustle’s editorial coverage of its “App-less April”challenge, to a particularly potent argument from GQ, the Internet is abuzz with musings, proposals and visions for the brighter future of an analog love life.

So, in an app-saturated dating culture, where a portfolio of both questionable and decidedly eligible singles is at our fingertips 24/7, what might an unplugged love life look like?

I can guarantee it’s worth your while to find out.

Whether you’re an all-star in the game of swipes, or an embittered participant whose bio says “no hookups!!!!!!” (which is basically the equivalent of making a Facebook status that says “no social networking”), I say unto you: it’s App-less April, bro. Don’t be a grinch. Delete your apps for a month and see what happens.

Here are some general guidelines on how to unplug, refresh and live out your dating life IRL this month, and possibly forever:

Be a Person Who Does Shit

By clearing up the time and mental clutter you’ve been using to source dates, text-court candidates and drink overpriced cocktails with strangers, you should have plenty of space this month to do the shit you like doing. You don’t necessarily have to join an interest group, finally sign up for that painting class or take on another serious obligation. Maybe you just want to go to roller derby games, read books in bed, play pool with the old regulars at the bar on your block or road trip to Memphis with your dad. And maybe you’ll meet a roller derby babe while you’re at it, or a pool shark with a James Dean flair, or maybe you’ll just have a good time doing the things you like doing. When we do stuff that compels us we build a bedrock of contentment and are less inclined to feel frustrated and jaded when budding romances don’t pan out, and more inclined to make healthy choices that don’t spring from boredom or desperation. And from an outsider’s perspective, when you’re having fun doing shit you like doing, you become a much more attractive romantic prospect.

Say “Yes” to Invitations 

When it comes to an IRL dating networking, friends of friends is where it’s at. Challenge yourself to say “yes” to invitations you might normally feel too lazy to follow through on, especially ones that might get you outside of your core network or comfort zone. Go to your coworker’s barbecue, attend the story slam series your friend runs that you always RSVP to on Facebook, “grab coffee” with the friendly acquaintance you’ve been meaning to “grab coffee” with for months. Become impeccable with your word and let it reinvigorate you with a sense of possibility. You might surprise yourself by discovering new interests, and you’ll more than likely meet some great people along the way.

Flirt with Everyone

Expectations are the only reason why starting a conversation with an attractive stranger is five hundred times more intimidating than telling an old lady in the dentist’s waiting room that you like her loafers. When we’re attracted to someone, we impose pressure on our interactions with them to have a certain outcome, which we will either read as a rejection or an indicator of mutual interest. But it doesn’t have to be an either/or. If you get in the habit of telling old ladies you like their loafers, commending librarians on their comprehensive Dickens collections and building slapstick rapports with comely bartenders, it feels far more natural to approach a sultry stranger.

Take More Risks

On dating apps, you assume that whoever you connect with is single, and is at least semi-intrigued by a two-dimensional representation of your looks. In real life, people don’t have their relationship statuses stamped on their foreheads, and you won’t know off the bat if you at least semi-intrigue them or not. IRL, you have to have to use your emotional intelligence to gauge potential interest, and you have to take small and big risks, like cracking a crass joke or asking for someone’s number, in order to create the opportunities to do so.

This is great news! Risk-taking is vulnerable, and vulnerability opens the door to connection, intimacy, trust and a whole slew of nice relationship-y things. What you risk with inaction is leading a less-than-exciting life. What you risk with action is feeling dumb and embarrassed for a minute, realizing it’s not that big a deal and moving on. Risk-taking builds and communicates confidence, and, in case you’ve never seen a Disney Channel Original Movie, confidence is everything.

In conclusion: Dating apps are an incredible resource for introductions. It is entirely possible to build meaningful connections via apps, and it happens all the time. But when you can order dates like you order gyros from Uber Eats, it’s easy to lose patience and forget that connection and chemistry aren’t just things you either have or don’t have with someone, they’re also things you build with someone through time, joint experiences, emotional investment and actually giving a fuck.

The security blanket of knowing you can go to the bathroom on a dud date, swipe a little and set up another date for tomorrow makes you less likely to approach people IRL; it shortchanges the risk, vulnerability, emotional investment and giving-a-fuck factor that actually leads to dates not being duds. When you’re matching and going out with tens of people, but the illusion-of-plentitude dating app mindset inhibits you from actually connecting, it’s easy to assume that there are no good ones left. You can shimmy out of valuing other people, and also out of valuing yourself.

By all means, use dating apps. They can result in some hilarious and fascinating lifelong stories and relationships. But use the apps, don’t let them use you. And a great place to start using apps is to stop using them for a minute in order to regain a sense of perspective: the world may be going to shit, but there are, in fact, loads of great people out there in the here and now.

If you never want to download the apps again, party on. If you do, Tinder forth. But also keep doing shit, saying yes, flirting and taking risks. As someone’s cheeky best friend said in some romantic comedy, “You never know what might happen.”

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