"So are you meeting people in real life?"
"Are you going to go back on them?"
"Do you miss them?"
These are the questions everyone asked when I told them about App-less April, a 30-day challenge to delete your dating apps. Throughout the challenge, the answer to each changed every week, if not every other day. This was all new territory for me — I had been on dating apps for as long as I had been single so this was giving up a big part of my dating life. For the most part, I think dating apps have done their job, or at least what I expected of them: instant gratification, flirting, dates, meeting new people. However, it was a necessary experiment for me because dating apps were starting to become the only way I was meeting people.
I used to meet guys IRL all the time — at bars, parties, walking down the street, weddings, etc. But at some point in the last year or so, I lost the balance between online and offline dating. Maybe I got lazy, maybe my mindset was different, or maybe the dating scene changed as more people started using them. After all, Pew Research Center reports that since 2013 online dating usage among millennials has tripled. Even though I don't think I was ever addicted to my apps, I could tell they were frustrating me. The WTF messages stopped being screenshot-worthy and more often than not, conversations would just drop off. My dating life existed solely online — an environment with endless choices, uncomfortable messages, and no verbal cues. I was bored, stressed, and slightly horrified all at the same time. Several dating experts were a fan of dating app detoxes, too:
"I suggest a break to my clients all the time," says Ravid Yosef, dating and relationship coach tells Bustle. "Sometimes our energy is what's attracting others and if we don't have enough self-care in our life or get obsessive with our notifications, we start looking for validations outside of ourselves. Which in turn attracts the wrong kind of attention."
Nicole DiRocco, Dating and Relationship Coach, Founder Of Dating With Grace, is also an advocate of taking a break from dating apps on occasion. "While a viable way to meet others, it should not be the sole way to meet especially if one is seeking the right person to date or a relationship," she tells Bustle. "It is limiting to one's available 'talent pool' if it becomes the only way to meet. As well, I support the benefit of re-charging and focusing on a woman's self-care so that she may be the best version of herself to attract the right [person]."
Eager for a change, I invited some friends and coworkers along for the month-long ride and said bye, bye, bye to four dating apps on April 1. Breaking a routine of any kind is difficult, and as a total creature of habit, I knew other changes were necessary to get the most of out it. It's not like you just suddenly start meeting people IRL when you delete your apps, right? "Deleting your apps is the first step," dating coach and certified matchmaker Francesca Hogi tells Bustle, "But if you don't change your other behavior, you're unlikely to meet dates offline."
"People are so tied to social media, phones, and dating apps that a complete delete could have the reverse affect of what Dating App-less April is supposed to be," Chris Armstrong, Relationship Coach and Owner of Maze of Love tells Bustle. "Instead of embracing the face-to-face and putting yourself out there, I can absolutely see people having anxiety about lost opportunities and resenting what they did, only to have that resentment translate into how they treat dating in real life. Another big part of this is the fact that people do not like being told what to do or losing control of their comforts."
Would deleting my dating apps make me less stressed or give me major FOMO? Here's what happened.
1. I Felt Liberated
Deleting my dating apps reminded me of getting on a plane headed for vacation. At first, it's unsettling to walk away from your daily routine, but the moment the plane takes off, you realize how freeing it feels to be cut off from the steady stream of text messages, work emails, and phone calls. Without apps, I didn't feel the anxiety that having unanswered messages can give. You're on airplane mode, and all you can do is sit back and relax.
2. I Got Restless
Even though I was less dependent on my phone, when I did reach for it while waiting for the F train or walking to work, it wasn't as fulfilling as it used to be. Even though apps with endless options, where you can swipe right or left for hours, have proven to be dissatisfying to users because of the choice overload effect, they did provide instant gratification. Snapchat and Instagram are entertaining, but they didn't feel like the indulgence that dating apps do. Surprisingly, I didn't really miss having potential matches or receiving messages on apps, I missed the gamification. Yet, instead of downloading Candy Crush or Words With Friends, I put my phone in my pocket and took in my surroundings, as Janna Koretz Psy.D, Licensed Psychologist And Founder Of Azimuth Psychological suggested.
3. I Realized I Had Been Focusing On Quantity Versus Quality
"No one is responding to me on Bumble." "I haven't gotten a match on OkCupid in months." "Why do my matches suck lately?" These are all things I heard friends say this month. Sure, I've heard these things (or uttered them myself) before, but hearing common dating app frustrations was more interesting to me now that I was off them.
Being app-less made me truly realize the effect of low interaction on dating apps and how we compare our activity to our friends' (or even ourselves). When we feel like we're not "doing well" on apps, we feel like we're not doing well in dating and we get incredibly frustrated with single life.
Sure, dating apps are a numbers game, but when we start judging ourselves by the numbers —how many matches we're getting, how many people respond to us, and how many people want to go out with us — is when it can become an issue for our self-esteem and attitude toward dating. When we treat our behavior on dating apps like we do with games or fitness trackers, we start to treat dating like a game and value quantity over quality. I would have never said my goal on dating apps was quantity, but that's how I approaching them.
4. I Became More Present
This was a hope of mine, and something experts recommended, and I think it worked. On the subway, walking to work, talking to guys at bars, at brunch with my friends, I had my phone out less and was more aware in most situations. I made eye contact, paid attention to my body language, and even smiled (Yes, yes in NYC!). Even taking out my headphones helped me get out of my own world.
This past weekend, I watched my single friends disengage from the group one by one as they took their phone out at the table to check their dating apps. A recent survey from online content platform Odyssey found that 83 percent of Millennials spend up to two hours per week on their dating apps. It's another task you feel like you have to complete on your phone, and it's not unusual for users to be swiping when they walk down the street or wait at the bar for their friends. I think a lot of the distraction around dating apps happens subconsciously too, and not only when we're physically using them.
Perhaps talking IRL was now my only means of conversing and flirting or maybe deleting my apps was the motivation I really needed to make an effort, but something lit a fire under my ass and I felt more present with everyone.
5. I Actually Enjoyed First Dates
I did go on dates during the challenge — and surprisingly (or not so surprisingly) they were with people I met on Hinge and had given my number to before I deleted my apps. Hey, there's no denying dating apps are a great way to score dates. As my coworker and App-less April companion Kathryn says, first dates are always awkward no matter what, but I'm finding that not being on dating apps changed how I approach dates. I was actually excited for them.
There were times when I was on apps where I'd go on great dates with people but never really cared if we saw talked or saw each other again. I think the "there's plenty of fish in the sea" mentality is magnified when you're so used to swiping that you can carry it over to offline dates and conversations, too. The same goes with deal-breakers. On apps, we make quick judgements and have much more of a checklist than we do in IRL but that thinking can sink into offline interactions too if it's what you're accustomed to in dating.
During App-less April, I was less quick to judge my dates and more interested in getting to know and getting together again if we clicked. Without a phone filled with single guys who are a swipe away, I had fun, stayed in the moment, and have continued to see one of them.
Dating experts often recommend dating multiple people at once, but add that to being on apps with endless options and it's overwhelming AF. I never realized how stressed out these unlimited options were making me until I ditched my apps.
6. I Focused On Other Relationships
I found myself —wait for it — communicating with people I've actually met before. I texted faraway friends more, finally caught up with friends in New York who I hadn't seen in forever, and even grabbed coffee with new friends. Instead of working out at night during the work week, I started working out in the morning to free myself up for evening plans.
7. I Didn't Miss The Attention
One of my concerns for App-less April was that I was limiting my pool and an easy means of chatting with new people. Would I miss seeing who's out there? Would I miss the attention? On dating apps, you're always talking to people, and unlike talking to strangers at bars or parties, you know that these people are single and looking to meet someone (though not always looking for the same thing you're looking for).
While I missed the gamification of dating apps, I don't know that missed talking to knew people as often. I got a few emails from apps saying that I got new matches, and sure, I was curious about who they were and if they messaged me but never really enough to re-download the apps and check. This actually really surprised me — because this felt like more of a relief than a missed opportunity. Then I remember how fake, confusing, and superficial online interactions feel sometimes. What's their voice like? Are they being sarcastic? Does that weird abbreviation mean they're immature? There are the people you'd talk to and then never meet, the people who were way cooler online than IRL, the people who say ridiculous things or make you feel uncomfortable, and the conversations that would drop off in the middle of nowhere, just because.
8. I Realized That I Really Do Love Being Single
No, hot strangers aren't suddenly approaching me on the street or showing up at my doorstep with roses now that I'm off dating apps. It's still tough to meet people IRL in NYC, even when your body language is on fleek. But I do feel more open to it. I feel empowered to take more risks, get to know new people, and try new things now that I don't have dating apps to fall back on. I'd say the biggest thing I took away from the experiment is my attitude. One friend asked me how I felt without dating apps and I said "I'm excited. I'm not sure what I was excited for, but I'm looking forward to it." And it's true. I've never hated being single but I think this experiment got me feeling good about being single again. Going to the movies alone! Last-minute plans! Spontaneous vacations! Staying out too late! All that room in my bed! I had forgotten about all the things I loved about single life.
On datings apps, it's so easy to focus on getting matches, phone numbers, and dates that you never take a second to think about what you really want. It took breaking out of my usual dating routine to really take a look at my behavior.
OK now the big question: am I going back on dating apps now that April is over? I'll never say never. I think if I do go back on them, I'd stick with apps that offer a limited set of matches per day as opposed to ones that have unlimited choices. At one time that idea was thrilling to me, but this experiment made me realize how much that stresses me out. For now, I'm going to stay app-less, present, and excited for what's ahead.
Images: Emma Lord/Bustle; Caroline Wurtzel/Bustle; Giphy