Help! My dating app is trying to kill me!

No one plans to get addicted. It starts as simple pleasure and fun. Then you crave it. Soon enough you’re thinking about it all the time, and the highs and lows seem to be running your life.

That’s how I started to feel on dating apps. And I just deleted all of them.

I was on Tinder, Hinge, and Jswipe and not until now have I correlated it with my erratic moods. But it makes sense because the experience of these apps are a rollercoaster.

There’s the high of getting a match, then the low of that match not responding. The high of a fun text, but then we never meet. Or we meet but it’s a let down. Or we’re excited but someone cancels.

Dating with apps is surprisingly close to the process of cold sales: Prospecting, qualifying leads, processing the leads, setting up meetings, etc. In other words, it’s a lot of work to get very few actual connections.

Dating apps are glorified gambling.

Think about slot machines. The process itself is addictive. You get small wins here and there. You get some free drinks. But mainly it takes your time and money.

And then of course there’s the real (and yet unrealistic) prospect of massive success. At the slots you see the big million dollar prize above the machine. And the poster on the wall show the regular couple from the midwest who won it last month.

The dating sites know it. A recent Match.com commercial showed a man on the street asking single people, “Do you know people who met online?… Then why aren’t you online?” Or the one where the guy takes out his phone and starts swiping through women.

In that sense it’s like pornography. What’s funny is that many of the people on the other side may not even see you if you’re not in their search criteria.

Underneath it all is a deep discomfort

I’ve noticed that the desire to check the app comes when I’m feeling something I don’t want to feel (and often it’s boredom). It became too much when I would check it at stop lights. I would even pull the app out right before the stop light so I can have it ready.

Of course, I wouldn’t always feel the desire to swipe. It wouldn’t occur to me when I’m focused on work I enjoy. It wouldn’t happen when I’m out with good friends. It would happen when I’m lonely and bored. And then by doing something to fill a lack, it drains my overall energy.

The paradox of choice

It brings me face to face with the paradox of choice — The idea that the more choices we have, the less happy we are. Why? Because we take much longer to make decisions, and once we do, we think about all of the other things we could have had. And yet, who doesn’t want choice?

For me, choice provides an illusion — an illusion that I could actually attain perfection. With so many choices it helps me believe that the perfect person could be out there, not realizing the irony of holding that belief while swiping at home alone on a Friday night.

And as a side effect, I feel judgmental. With so many options, why not be critical? I’m glad that through this all I’ve experienced women being directly judgmental of me. One was for a belief I held. The other was for an experience in my past.

I’m thankful that they told me directly (as opposed to them just disappearing, leaving me to wonder). Whether or not it’s karma for the times I’ve been judgmental, the experience has helped me forgive myself and others. We’re all just doing the best we can. Everyone means well.

So why would I keep doing it when there’s very little pay off?

It’s for the little hits that feel like junk food for the ego. I get attention. I get validation. I get an affirmation that I’m cute. I get a sexy flirtatious text message. It’s just enough to get me through that patch of loneliness. It’s junk food, when I’m craving a much larger meal. I think it’s actually part of a much larger trend in quick-hit dopamine addiction.

And the unfortunate side effect is it makes me even pickier. I remember reading an article that said New York is the best city for singles. Yes, that’s true — if you are single and want to stay single. With so many options, why settle down? You could do better.

The epiphany

I realized that the online and app worlds of dating are doomed to fail me for this reason…

I met a woman in the real world and found her gorgeous. I decided to look her up on facebook and I was shocked. Her photos looked so unremarkable that I would have skipped her immediately if I only met her online. And of course, I’ve met people in the real world who were attractive online, and I didn’t feel it in person.

So what’s the solution?

And I’ve realized the solution for me is to just go out and meet people. To hang out with friends more. To go to more yoga classes. To take the dog to the dog park, rather than just around the block. To try out the things I’ve been meaning to do.

Now, let me tell you, I’m not excited by this realization. Even though people know me as a very outgoing guy, I can feel so awkward, strange and confused inside. I think even my close friends would be shocked.

And yet, I can’t argue against the data — most of the great people I’ve met I have either met in person, or through my friends.

So I’m killing the apps that are killing me, and I’m going outside. See you there.

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Robert Richman

Robert Richman

Robert Richman is a culture hacker, keynote speaker, former Culture Strategist for Zappos, and author of the Culture Blueprint.