I Tried Dating Without Apps In Two Different Cities For A Month & Here's What Happened
Even though dating apps are most popular among Millennials, according to a recent SeatGeek survey of 1,000 singles, 95 percent would rather meet people IRL versus online or on an app. That's why for the second year in a row, Bustle is deeming April, "App-less April" and encouraging our staff and readers to delete their dating apps for 30 days and meet people the old-fashioned way: offline. With participants tracking their progress and tricks and tips from dating experts, we'll be helping you feel empowered to meet people IRL all month long.
I have been perpetually single most of my life, and at 25, where all my friends are pairing off with the loves of their lives, I rely desperately on dating apps (who am I kidding, just Tinder) for unsuitable matches so I can drag them to my crew's holiday/birthday parties. So when an option was presented to me that wasn't pursuing limited success dating apps, Bustle's App-less April, a challenge to delete your dating apps for a month, I jumped to it. The concept of dating two weeks in Austin and two weeks in Los Angeles, my current city of residence, was too good to pass up. The challenge made me feel like Kate Hudson's character in How to Lose A Guy In Ten Days, experiment-dating and then writing about it. I was getting serious "femme fatale journalist falls in love with unknowing hottie" vibes so how would I not be stoked?
But it turns out dating sans app isn't as easy as I thought it would be.
But it turns out dating sans app isn't as easy as I thought it would be. I think the process, as with many things that were once not digital, takes a lot longer. There requires some relationship-building before being plopped directly into a Netflix and Chill situation by way of Hinge (but actually I'm just using Tinder, don't forget). It's a lot to take in.
First, let me describe the differences in situation between my Austin time and my Los Angeles time. While Camille Virginia, Founder of Master Offline Dating, tells Bustle, "most people want the same thing, regardless of whether they're a brash New Yorker, a sweet southern belle, or live in the middle of nowhere and rarely see another human: acknowledgement, acceptance, and kindness," I found that I wasn't the same person in both places.
In Austin, where my sister, brother-in-law, baby nieces, three geriatric dog nieces/nephew, and one cat niece, I live a life I would compare to that of a working mother, or more accurately a Mary Poppins. You know the dating situation for Mary Poppins was probably weird. I mean, the only beings she hung out with were a bunch of penguins, the Banks family, and Bert the chimney sweep. Well, dating for this Mary Poppins, while chilling in an area of Austin that wasn’t exactly hip in my sense of the word (i.e hipster) was totally against my normal. This wasn’t an area full of artists with stars in their eyes (my usual dating choice), it was full of young professionals and computer engineers.
Austin is also a space I have always considered my sister’s home turf. There’s something about being in the town that houses my only big sister that make me feel shy — suddenly I’m five years old again and Sissy has to order for me at the restaurant, pick the movie we watch, and figure out the route to get home. I barely even speak for myself which doesn't breed well for dating, especially since Virginia advised me to take risks. "You really have to make it a point to regularly push your social comfort zone and intentionally make time in your day whenever you're out in public (the grocery store, the bank, the dry cleaners) to acknowledge and engage people," she says.
Meanwhile, in LA, I’m like pretty much everybody else in LA — looking for some sort of connection so that I can finally strike it big and marry Ryan Gosling. I’m kidding about the last part because he's got babies with Eva Mendes, but Gosling's dog, George does seem like a delightful step-doggy. In my LA day-to-day, I am more quick to chat with random people at bars, or at the climbing gym, or on a hike, hoping that this next one is the podcast producer/soulmate I've been waiting for my whole life. I occasionally host at a restaurant and am quick to talk up any cutie I see. I'm talkative, but I don't actually ever pursue anything besides a quick bar-side chat... typically. Putting myself in the game more than that feels a tad too vulnerable.
But being vulnerable and putting oneself out there is a huge part of dating app-less so...here we go!
I have NEVER made this much lusty eye contact with random strangers. I figured with all the eye-f*cking going around, I was sure to find some interested random at a coffee shop that I could swindle into letting me take them out on the town. Or even a Whole Foods boy. Guys, the dudes that work at the various Whole Foods' of Austin are fine.
And besides, as Virginia told me, a dater should "start with people in the service industry who are literally paid to be nice to you. Then work up to talking to other women, then men you're not attracted to, the men you're attracted to." I tried flirting with Whole Foods guys, but flirting didn't make way to much besides some continued eye-coitus. I did manage to awkwardly tell a guy when I was buying beer and deli turkey that I was having a "deli meat party," which I'm going to chalk up as a win.
One concept I debated was the virtue of going out alone or with a wingwoman. "Going solo has led to way more ask-outs," Virginia says. "The risk of public rejection is lowered for the person approaching you when you're alone, which means he's more likely to do it." So on Week 1, I did a little dabbling with both. My sister and I hit up a delicious Chinese restaurant in downtown Austin. Both times we attempted to chat with the bartender or the cute single guy sitting next to us, but to no avail. Wingwoman fail (no offense, Court). Bathroom selfie win.
So I went solo. I gave it a shot the first time during the day at a coffee shop and then at night I strolled to an exciting gastropub. Both attempts proved that I will stop at nothing to get a good bathroom selfie, and that from what I was noticing, people in Austin just weren't as interested in talking to solo girls out and about — which I would normally consider a blessing, but in this case found sort of disappointing.
On Week 2, I decided it was time to quit the bar/coffee shop racket and use the very cute resources I had available— my dog niece and nephew, Kobe and Jeefa. Besides, I love dogs and love people who also love dogs, so dating a dog-lover seemed like a great idea.
First, I took Jeefa out to coffee to get some work done. I attempted to strike up a few conversations, but pretty much everyone seemed to be at the venue to stare at their laptops and enjoy the beautiful lake the space overlooks, not talk to some random girl and her precious mutt-friend. Then, The Jeefs and I headed to a gorgeous dog park on Town Lake. There weren't a lot of date-able men roaming the park, and the one guy who was had a large dog, which my little Jeefa wasn't super fond of. Apparently not all canine wingwomen are created equal.
The next day, I decided to take Kobe with me, because while there is some effort that goes into shlepping him around, nothing is a better conversation starter than adorable corgi in a wheelchair. I grabbed both Jeefa and Kobe and headed to a dog park/bar. Kobe was a real hit, but yet again Jeefa was failing the wingwoman test. I had some great talks with a few regulars at the bar, who knew pretty much every dog by name. I decided if I was trying to find someone in Austin forrealsies, I would totally build a community from this dog park/bar (they even have memberships!). But alas, I was only in town for a short while.
Another route I thought it would make sense to pursue was dating through friends. That's how they did it the old days right? My sister's closest couple-friends were hosting a Passover Seder, and back in the day, their annual Seders always had a singleton or two. This time around, small children roamed the party, and finding a single guy was a lot like looking for the Afikomen (a piece of matzoh children search for in a competition during the Seder).
All in all, Austin dating was much less successful than I hoped for. In the future, I would tell myself to hop out of my comfort zone and be more open to possibilities. Which luckily for me, and the benefit of this story, I sort of did.
"When we're traveling, not only are we around like-minded/open to traveling other people in small spaces like airplanes and airports, but when we're out of normal environment, people's inhibitions are lowered," Virginia says. I decided to take advantage of "The Vacation Effect" by taking advantage of Southwest Airlines' "seat yourself" boarding process and sat myself right next to a young gentlemen. After a tasty in-flight vodka cranberry, I got the liquid courage to chat up this air-bound gentleman who turned out to be a delightful musician in town for a conference. We spoke the entire flight from Austin to LAX, which I have to admit is a much more agreeable way to pass the time than accidentally drooling on your seated neighbor.
It felt awesome that I opened myself up and was able to have an experience I probably wouldn't have otherwise.
He was only in town for a bit, and would be busy the whole time, but we agreed that I would check out his show on Friday in my hip neighborhood of Echo Park. I was so excited my flight connection turned into a cool hang.
I ended up missing his show, but hooked up with him and a few friends afterwards. We found ourselves at a fantastic venue I'd never been to listening to some of the most empowered bands I'd never heard of before — Earth Arrow and Piel. I parted ways with the touring musician knowing that I had a new friend, if not a love interest. Virginia says that the vacation effect "makes us more open to new people and new experiences." It felt awesome that I opened myself up and was able to have an experience I probably wouldn't have otherwise.
The next night I had a night of speed dating planned through SpeedLA, a company with speed dating events all over the country. It was...interesting and something I would only recommend if you were A) traveling in a new area and wanted to meet people quick or B) with a bunch of friends as backup. I met some perfectly nice gentlemen in the space of the two minutes we were given to talk to each other before the host gently patted them on the back. But I also met some men who managed to make me uncomfortable in only two minutes — one guy told me he was having a hard time not staring at my thigh high-covered legs, another guy told me my age (25) was "good," and I didn't like how he meant it. Overall, I'm day speed dating is a fun activity for a night out with the gals, but also pretty weird.
Meanwhile, I was working on getting together with a man I had met app-less at a bar before I headed to Austin. Let's call him Erich*. I was all sorts of nervous about him because as we didn't meet by way of dating app, I couldn't do the necessary internet research required for dating app romance — the Instagram lurk, the Facebook creep, the Twitter stalk. I didn't even have his last name yet. It was unfamiliar territory.
Finally, on Week 4, I was able to meet up with my new bar-found find. We got happy hour drinks at another place in my neighborhood. We then strolled to a park and kicked it on a blanket in the grass — it was essentially my dream date. And it didn't matter that I didn't have sneaky Twitter intel about him that I could subtly leak into our conversation. We just talked.
I was not quite smitten, but definitely in love with the idea of having someone intelligent to eat dinner with and then heavy pet. But still, I continued to play it cool. I took a cover shift at the restaurant I host at instead of making plans again. I stopped by my favorite dive bar afterwards and hung out with my favorite regulars. I was keeping my options open, and keeping my eyes peeled for any cutie patooties hanging out at the bar — my persona of a reporter fresh on the relationship beat still felt more important than actually dating of Erich.
But the idea of having a special someone, especially one that I aced during App-less April seemed like the sort of romantic story I could get behind. So I joined Erich for a fried chicken date at a dive bar. At the dinner, I learned the downside of not being able to cyber-stalk. Erich informed me had a lady currently residing in another country. She was going to be back in six months but for now things were "open" in a "don't-ask-don't-tell" capacity. Now, polyamory is something I've thought about a lot this year, specifically because it's a lifestyle choice I am seeing more and more in my LA life, but I wasn't sure I wanted to take that step with this person. And with that semi-awkward meal over and done with, my two weeks of LA dating came to a low-key dramatic end.
I might not found an App-less boyfriend, but I had a really, really good time dating offline. I hung out at quirky venues with creative people, I had my first not-boring flight that didn't end in drool on my neighbor's shoulder, I got to hang out outside with my dog-niece and nephew — and it was all for work! That's a deal.
When I think of my life without apps, I feel a vulnerable freedom which is actually kind of exciting.
When I think of my life with apps, I imagine myself feeling sad, sitting alone in my house while my roommates are out with their boyfriends, swiping and swiping and swiping to no avail. But it's like a swiping compulsion...I just can't stop to do something else. When I think of my life without apps, I feel a vulnerable freedom which is actually kind of exciting.
As I said before, there's more relationship-building involved with dating sans app. A family friend once told me a tale of a sorority sister who would simply point at a man while out and about, and time after time the man of her choice would obediently come over. But that's not me. I'm more of a get-to-know-you type gal. The good thing about this app-less adventure is that I learned it is possible to meet people you might actually want to kick it with pretty much anywhere. The steps to pulling yourself out of your comfort zone may not be simple but are definitely worth it. Who knows what you will discover about yourself and the world around you?
There's only one way to find out.