The Online Search For Love
I deleted a dating app on my phone today. After a year of using Coffee Meets Bagel (this was the only dating app I properly used), and deactivating it and reactivating it along the way several times, I finally decided to delete it, with the resolution that I won't go back to it again. As well as letting go of my 4500 over beans accumulated over time (this was hard, it's like letting go of all your hard-earned game credits).
It was a spontaneous decision for me to download Coffee Meets Bagel in October 2016, while I was neck-deep in my Final Year thesis, in the last couple of weeks before the submission deadline. I didn't really put much thought into it before, perhaps I was stressed out over my thesis and I needed a break or a form of entertainment (I know this sounds bad but it was what it was for me at that time), and perhaps then a small part of me wanted to find a partner and this sounded like a great way to meet more people. So I downloaded it, and over the following months, I experienced many different phases: the excited honeymoon phase of fast back-and-forth messaging cos the other party(ies) seemed really interesting and we seemed to click really well, to irregular texting (read: up to a day or days in between texts) due to busy schedules/other commitments, fading interest, building fatigue, or simply because I was talking to a few people and my attention was split between them and it takes more energy, time and focus to maintain more than one conversation at the same time. I was genuinely interested at first, putting in effort to ensure I gave the most honest answers possible, and asking follow-up questions to indicate my interest in learning more about the other party. I went on 'dates' (I wouldn't quite call them dates but more like meet-ups with new friends I met through texting, but cos everyone has different definitions of what a date entails, 'dates' is in inverted commas), had follow-up 'dates' with some, and also faced situations where we had excited honeymoon texting but it didn't follow through past the first date, to dating exclusively, to not dating anymore, and back to swiping left and right at profiles hoping to find a suitable match.
Coffee Meets Bagel favours females in a way because we receive notifications of 'bagels' daily ('bagels' are guys who had already expressed interest in us), and so as a girl it was easier to get matches (as opposed to a guy friend I talked to who said he could go up to 2 weeks without getting a single match). It was relatively easy for me to get matches, and how I decided whether to match with a guy or not was based on what he wrote on his profile, whether he spent time and effort describing himself and his interests/preferences well, the kinds of photos he put up, and whether I was physically attracted to him based on his photos (we can't ever escape from physical attraction). In my head I knew that every guy was different, they had different names, led different lives, were different people in their overall makeup. Yet, every conversation kinda followed the same path: the same usual small talk (what do we do for a living, our hobbies, how many siblings we have, music/sport/art interests etc). It's interesting having such conversations, but not over and over, even though they were with different people. I got tired. And jaded thinking that it was all the same.
It felt natural for me to talk to several guys at once - most efficient way of doing things i.e. spreading eggs in various baskets, so that if one doesn't work out I have others to follow up on, yet because I was doing that my attention was constantly split between different people. And oftentimes I got confused as to who was who, did Guy A like to jog or was it Guy B, wait a minute did he say he was an engineer or was it this other guy? There was guilt because I forgot details about people, and because I wasn't present or focused on my conversations with them even though they were making an effort to talk to me. I lost interest. Because I wasn't 100% focused on any guy at any one point in time (and this was excluding the times I dated people exclusively I met via the app), my replies were casual, short, impassive and distracted. That led to deactivating the app, then reactivating it a few months later when I felt I was ready to e-meet (and eventually meet) new people again.
There's something about online dating that never felt quite right. Because I was serious about finding a partner, it was always about making friends with people I talked to via the app first and meeting them as friends if the chats were going fine, before even thinking about whether they had the potential to be my boyfriend or not. Yet, I came to realise that I could never escape how such friendships were built upon the underlying intention of finding a suitable romantic match. I'm not making friends for its own sake. It's not like casually making a friend I meet offline - for this there is no underlying 'dating' context. On the dating app, I was making friends and constantly assessing if these guys were right for me. And because of this, many 'friendships' don't last past the first meet-up. The logic behind this was: the friendship doesn't seem to be built on much, other than the initial wish that it could lead to something greater. If this person isn't a good fit, there doesn't seem to be much point continuing the friendship. At times this was mutual. After the first date, we would thank each other for our time and for the great time meeting up, before slowly bringing our conversation to a close and easing out of it. Other times it was one-sided, with either party not replying as fast anymore, or our answers were not as long or we didn't seem as enthusiastic to talk as before. And the fast-paced nature of online dating (with us having conversations with multiple people at once) left little time and space to feel bad about matches that don't work out. It was all very practical, there weren't any hard feelings against each other, instead there was gratitude for being frank and not wasting each other's time. Online dating for me was essentially an accelerated way of making friends and unmaking them if things don't work out.
As analytical discourse, the topic of dating apps fascinated me to no end. The nature of interactions we make on these apps, the friendships/relationships we form, the cultures of these apps (e.g. hookup/serious/in-between), the unspoken rules/etiquette, I was so curious about all these, and how others' experiences on dating apps were, comparing and contrasting with my own. I talked to many friends who either used or didn't use dating apps, and the answers I got were very interesting. One friend lamented the restrictive features of dating apps. Another shared his bliss of having found his girlfriend via a dating app. Yet another told me how she deleted her Tinder account after a day. And one told me she had an excel sheet to keep track of all the guys she talked to. In this discourse of dating apps, there was excitement and joy, as well as frustration, disappointment, and resignation. Granted, every interaction between every individual on the app is unique, there is no way of telling how things will pan out. Some will work out, some won't, as with on other mediums of getting to know people (e.g. networking events/office/school settings). Yet, one thing that kept cropping up was the inevitability of the need to shift conversations from online to offline. Relationships can't be well-maintained just via texting. Texting seemed to one-dimensional, too ambiguous with lots of room for misinterpretation, and many times the person we meet face-to-face could be really different from the one we interacted with online. We can't quite tell if there is chemistry between two people online. There needs to be face-to-face conversations with people we get to know virtually in order to assess suitability. And perhaps it's the fundamental indispensability of offline contact that makes it so much more difficult to maintain e-friendships over weeks or months without offline meet-ups at all, or even using dating apps over a long period of time. Rather than actual faces and bodies and personalities that are alive, using dating apps over a protracted period may reduce such actual people to merely abstract faces and names.
It is with such conclusions in mind that I swiftly deleted my Coffee Meets Bagel app today. My search for someone via online apps had ironically made me unhappier. With each match there was hope and excitement, only to be followed by fatigue/jadedness/skepticism and disappointment. I was no closer to getting what I wanted. I lost sight of the importance and essentiality of offline interactions, the invigoration that comes with making every new friend along the way at various events - be it with romantic potentiality or not. Human-to-human connection cannot satisfactorily take place online. With my year-long online dating adventure I ended up with none a partner. But I have come full circle, and I emerge from this sober and wiser.