I'm A Millennial Who's Never Used A Dating App. Here's What I've Learned.

I met my long-term boyfriend before dating apps were a thing. So when I suddenly found myself single at 32, after nearly 10 years of partnership (including a brief marriage), online dating felt totally foreign to me. As a typical millennial who basically lived on Instagram, I had no aversion to sharing my life online; I just never thought I would need an app to help me along in the romance department. 

After the split three years ago, I felt like a different person. When you don’t know who you are, it’s hard to know how to represent yourself online, let alone decide exactly what you are looking for in the perfect partner. I could have shared what I perceived to be my own highlights and desires for a match, but after being in a relationship for so long, I wasn’t sure I knew anymore. I was still figuring out how I wanted to show up in the world, and I needed to figure out myself first before knowing who would be right for me.

Confused and heartbroken, I decided dating apps were no place to heal. From the little I knew about them, I felt they could be disastrous to my recovery process and an extra blow to my ego. (What do you mean we aren’t a match?) So I was surprised when several friends suggested I create a profile “just for fun.” Since I wasn’t ready for Mr. Right, or even Mr. Right Now, I said thanks but no thanks and that was the end of it. I wasn’t ready to date again, and if I wanted a one-night stand I was confident in my ability to find one in a bar.

I had no aversion to sharing my life online; I just never thought I would need an app to help me along in the romance department.

I chose to work on myself before pursuing anyone new. I hired a therapist to help me process everything I had been through. I pored over personal development books and podcasts, found meditation, and cultivated a spiritual practice. I strove to find a place of forgiveness, not only toward my ex, but also toward myself and my perceived failure of our relationship. Through all of this, I slowly learned to let go of my past and move forward.

After months of this self-imposed dating hiatus and healing, I began putting pressure on myself to join the world of online dating. It seemed like everyone was doing it! So, not wanting to be close-minded, I started searching for the best dating apps within the myriad of options available. Deep inside though, I still felt the same resistance I’d had for several months, and I even came up with a list of fears and excuses as to why dating apps weren’t for me: What if I ran into my ex on Tinder? What if a guy didn’t look the same in person as he did in his Bumble pics? How would I know if I was actually going to click with someone without feeling their energy first? To me, using these apps felt like a job; I wanted it to feel fun and uplifting. I wanted no part in it.

At this point, I decided to take matters into my own hands and pursued a different approach — dating men I met in real life.

Call me old-fashioned, but this decision just felt right. No pressure to play the numbers game. No wondering whether we’d connect in person. No hiding behind the blue light of my iPhone screen. Just spontaneous encounters with real people as I went about my life. Although my best friend supported me in my decision, she reminded me that she’d met her husband online. She also had an archive of hilarious dating stories to share from the many men she met on apps before settling down. I’ll admit I was intrigued, and part of me wondered if I was missing out. I even looked at some of my friends’ profiles and practiced swiping with them. It was such a quick “yes/no” selection ― which felt all too superficial. I still wasn’t sold.

Once I decided to date on my own terms, I started to meet men from all walks of life. I went out with men aged 22 to 52, none of them having stemmed from an online filter. We always met in person first, usually through a similar network or over a common interest, like volunteering, traveling, music, or yes, even partying. As a newly single woman in my early 30s, I was in the process of discovering myself all over again. I learned what I liked and disliked, what I would and would not tolerate, and what truly lit me up inside. Everything I experienced led me to a deeper understanding of who I was and who I was becoming.

A few of the men I’d gone out with weren’t on any dating apps at all. How would I have met them if I’d limited myself to the online pool instead?

My first official date occurred after meeting someone at the Hard Rock pool in San Diego. I can’t say I regularly frequented pool parties, but on this particular Saturday, my friend and I decided to be spontaneous. Mr. Hard Rock and I started casually dating, and then I found myself falling for a musician I had seen perform a couple of times. I allowed myself the freedom to be attracted to whomever I was attracted to. Cute boy on my flight who also loved to travel? You can bet we exchanged numbers.

Meeting someone in real life is different for me than matching with someone online. The chance encounter gives way to a more relaxed and natural interaction. More often than not, going out with the purpose of meeting someone new put unintentional pressure on me to achieve a goal. I’d wind up trying too hard, and would ultimately end up going home alone. This is also how I perceived online dating — forced.

When I moved to Mexico City several months later, I decided to stay in Airbnbs in order to meet people and get a feel for the city before settling in. One night, I accompanied my roommates to a dinner party on a rooftop garden complete with twinkling lights and free-flowing wine. It was a magical setting. At that moment I wasn’t sure I was actually in Mexico, especially once I locked eyes with a charming Frenchman. After hours of conversation, we exchanged numbers and kept the conversation going.

Serendipitous events like this kept occurring, and I rolled with it. If I had been obsessed with online dating during this time, would I have missed these moments? It’s hard to say. What I enjoyed most about my approach though, was I didn’t let it consume me. Plus, a few of the men I’d gone out with weren’t on any dating apps at all. How would I have met them if I’d limited myself to the online pool instead?

My friends began taking a heightened interest in my dating life and wanted to hear all the details. You met where? He took you on an airplane on your second date? What do you mean he was in a boy band? We discussed everything: from the pros and cons of seeing older men versus younger 20-somethings to keeping track of how many countries had they been to, whether or not they were open to marriage and children, and even more trivial things like what exotic location we’d pick for our next date.  

Instead of spending countless hours on an app, alone, obsessing over when I was going to meet my next online match, I wanted to continue getting out there and experiencing life firsthand.

Instead of spending countless hours on an app, scrolling alone, obsessing over when I was going to meet my next online match, I wanted to continue getting out there and experiencing life firsthand. I’ve found that when you’re having fun and being 100% authentic, the right kind of people are drawn to you.

Even when things weren’t going so well for me, I stayed offline. I had enjoyed kissing and convos with enough men to know that first impressions really aren’t everything, and couldn’t imagine restricting myself to the confines of an algorithm. If someone told me I had to check a box based on age and location, or start swiping based on height, eye color, and selfie game, I just couldn’t do it and feel good about it.

I no longer feel the pressure to get online to see who else is out there. All of this in-real-life dating experience led me to where I am now — in a relationship with someone that I am eager to continue pursuing for the long-term. I want to see where it goes, and I don’t feel the need to keep my options open anymore.

Should things not work out, would I ever try dating apps in the future? It would depend on my lifestyle at the time. Allowing myself the freedom to meet men in a way that doesn’t feel forced is important to me. There’s something I like about the messiness of meeting people in real life, instead of having a filter on my dating experience. As life has shown me thus far, I never know who I just might meet.

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