Deleting My Dating Apps Made Me Realize I've Been Using Them The Wrong Way For Years

Tanya Ghahremani/Bustle

Even though dating apps are most popular among Millennials, according to a recent Bustle survey with dating app Happn of over 1,000 dating app users, 78 percent of women and 85 percent of men still want to meet people IRL. 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.

Though I've had my fair share of issues with dating through apps, I've never truly thought that my behavior on dating apps was anything but healthy. Sure, I often found myself reliant on apps for little doses of confidence and validation throughout my day (particularly when my issues with anxiety and body dysmorphia flare up), but when it came to who I swiped right and left on, who I made date plans with, and even my flirtation tactics, I've always been fairly happy with them. The reason I chose to partake in Bustle's App-less April challenge — which encourages people to delete their dating apps for 30 days and get back to the basics when it comes to meeting people — was more-so because I wanted to learn how to fully love myself before I went back to dating, not because I thought my dating app behavior needed a revamp.

Now, however, after a week of no dating apps, no talking to new people online, and absolutely no swiping, I've come to the undeniable conclusion that I was wrong. So, so wrong.

It's also given me more time to reflect, which is how I've come to the conclusion that I've been going about dating apps the wrong way.

See, a week of self-imposed exile from the very thing you've come to rely on for things that should technically be independent of everything but yourself — aka confidence, validation, activities for 11 p.m. when you're bored and have nothing else to do — is a funny thing. It forces you to be self-reliant in ways you may have refused to be before (or, at least, I know I refused to be before). For starters, without dating apps around to give me that constant confidence hit to appease my long-standing issues with anxiety and body dysmorphia (my therapist would probably have another aneurysm if she read this), I was forced to find it from myself and myself only. That one's been a rocky road, I won't lie, but these things are never solved over the course of a week. (Oh, as for the boredom-solving? I've taken up Candy Crush and am extremely pleased to say I'm currently ranking number one on the Upper East Side. Take that, Blair Waldorf.)

It's also given me more time to reflect, which is how I've come to the conclusion that I've been going about dating apps the wrong way. "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."

I don't know when I'll go back to dating online — if it'll be at the end of this challenge, in a few months, or even ever — but I do know that if I do, I'm going to keep these things in mind going forward:

I still stand by the belief that there's nothing wrong with being picky — after all, I know what I'm looking for in a partner, so why should I settle for anything else when there are so many single dudes out in the world? — but I have noticed that I may be swiping left on guys who could actually be decent people. My experience meeting romantic partners IRL isn't terribly developed, sure, but every time I stumble upon one of my male friends' profile on Tinder, OkCupid, or Bumble, more often than not I determine that if I didn't know this guy and were considering them as a romantic option, I'd probably be put off by something on their profile (the offending item varies). However, knowing them IRL, I know they're genuinely good guys.

Of course, dating apps by nature encourage their users to make split-second judgments about people based off their pictures and a small profile, so this is probably a difficult habit to break — but it still does suggest I should reevaluate how quickly I judge men on dating apps.

Another thing that comes with judging the dudes I'm swiping left and right on — my gut instinct is to judge whether or not I think they'll find me interesting and attractive and base my swipe on that, when in reality, I should be considering whether I'll find them interesting, attractive, and good enough to date me. A lot of this is born from longstanding anxiety and body dysmorphia struggles — but since deleting my apps and being forced to consider my dating habits more closely than I ever have before, I've been able to confront that this is a thing I do. It's not a quick fix for this habit by any means, but acknowledging it is, at least, the first step.

I can't count how many times I've let things with a guy I met off a dating app feel way too serious way too fast — and though at the time, I've perhaps always felt that things between him and I were developing at a fast rate because we were the right fit for one another, I'm now beginning to realize it was likely more so because I'm always looking for validation that this person I like also likes me back. As with my tendency to judge guys on dating apps based on whether or not I think they'll like me — as opposed to whether or not I'll like them — I think this is another habit driven by my struggles with anxiety and body dysmorphia.

Now that I've taken a step back from dating, I'm realizing just how unhealthy it was that I ever let things feel more serious than they should one, two, or even four dates in — there's no way you can know a person that quickly, let alone figure out whether you want to long-term date them. Going forward, I'm definitely going to set more boundaries.

I kid you not, I once swiped left on a guy on Tinder because his profile read "Downtown soul, uptown living." I still think that profile is totally cringe-y and the dude should probably reevaluate how he's presenting himself, but I also think that I could have given his profile a little more consideration based off the other things he had on there as well. The same goes for when I swipe left on guys because they have too many selfies, or if they hate the Kardashians.

Though I'm not opposed to starting conversations, I did realize that I rarely do it, and often times I've ended up with a long list of matches who I've never spoken to. Making the first move can be empowering, though, as well as set the tone for the rest of the conversation and even the first date — so this is something I'm definitely going to try a lot more if I return to dating apps at the end of this challenge.

Even though I find myself searching for intimacy too soon, I also feel inexplicably deterred by any guy who actually texts me back when he says he will, takes the initiative to plan thoughtful dates and see me consistently, and is just generally respective of my time and my life. I don't know why this is; perhaps we're all conditioned to value those who make you chase them versus the reliable types, but it is concerning that I end up uncomfortable when someone shows me the type of respect I keep saying I want.

This is a biggie for me, and something I'm working on — blaming myself when guys ghost me, or give me the run around after a great date or two. I can't tell you how many times, when a guy started acting weird and distant, I've blamed it on him not finding me interesting and attractive despite the fact we had a great date, as opposed to literally him having other things going on in his life. "Online dating gets perceived as competition with the person above, below, left, or right of you," Clarissa Silva, behavioral scientist and author of relationship blog You're Just A Dumbass, tells Bustle. "You’re looking for a specific set of qualities that complement you. So is everyone else. At the end, you expect that you will get what you want and so will they. When we receive multiple messages from multiple users, it enhances our self-esteem. However, if the messages are from people you wouldn’t normally want to connect with, it impacts your self-esteem negatively."

Recently, however, I actually asked a sort-of ex about why he ended things so suddenly — and it had been a relationship I'd been sure had ended because of me — and he told me it was because he'd felt he wasn't ready to commit himself to anyone after having recently broken up with a longtime girlfriend, and that he liked me and didn't want to lead me on when he knew he wasn't ready. I still struggle with reminding myself that these anxieties of mine are often in my head — and that even if they are real, I wouldn't want to be with someone who wasn't into me anyway — but taking a step back from dating apps has made me realize just how often I've done it in the past. It ends here.

I'll admit that for a while, I didn't even know what I want. Did I want a relationship? A fling? Someone to casually date on a consistent basis? Nothing? Now that I've taken a step back from dating apps, I've realized that I've been all over the place when it comes to letting guys know what I want that, most of the time, I don't do it at all. Though right now I'm coming to the realization that I haven't been as ready for a relationship as I used to think I was, I've learned that it's important that when I go back to dating, I clearly communicate what it is I'm currently looking for in dating — otherwise, any romantic opportunities will just end in confusion and regret.

Though I do prefer to talk to my dating app matches online for at least a bit before meeting, I'm beginning to learn that anything more than a few days isn't healthy at all. Though you may feel like you're getting to know the person better, you still haven't met them — yet, you're talking to them as much as you talk to your friends anyway. People portray themselves differently online whether they're trying to or not — dating apps, and even text messaging provides people with get another filter for their personality, so they just end up coming across slightly different than they do IRL. This isn't always a bad thing, but often times when you talk to someone too long, you end up building up an idea of who they are in your head — and when you meet them, you're ultimately disappointed because that's never who they were. Though I have had experiences where I've spoken to someone for over a week and ended up having great dates with them, more often than not, we end up never speaking again after date one.

On the flip side, sometimes I don't talk to matches enough before meeting, which doesn't allow me to properly screen them before spending a couple of hours of my life with them. And that's how you end up on a date with a guy who spends an hour talking about his sexual chemistry with his flight attendant ex-girlfriend before pivoting into an even longer conversation about how he was against vaccinations, and how if we had kids, he would never want them to be vaccinated. This was our first (and obviously last) date.

People get nervous on first dates — I know I do, and I always hope that if I do or say anything completely stupid, my date will give me another chance in an effort to get to know me anyway. So, why don't I do the same for men? This, I can't answer — but I do know that deleting dating apps has made me realize that I'm not only picky when it comes to swiping left and right, I'm also extremely judgmental of guys when I meet them IRL. Of course there are some things no one can come back from — like questioning feminism, or something — but I'm sad to say that in the past, I've also broken things off with guys for reasons like "he was an awful kisser," and "he likes the Yankees." At least I'm realizing how detrimental this is, right?

This is probably the most important thing I'm beginning to realize about my relationship with dating: I have insanely on-point gut feelings about men. This isn't to brag or anything — it's just something that I've come to notice after going out on so many first dates with different men. Recently, I went on a first date with a guy who I'd been talking to from a dating app, and I felt extremely uneasy before we met. I couldn't pinpoint the reason why — we were getting along great, and though we hadn't met yet, we were talking a lot about anything and everything. I figured it was just butterflies because I liked him, and when we met up, things seemed to be going great, so I figured I was just nervous. However, as the date went on, the feeling never dissipated; and sure enough, about halfway through the date, I felt his demeanor change fairly suddenly — exactly what I'd felt was going to happen. He remained distant after the first date, and I never ended up seeing him again.

This isn't the only time that this has happened to me — every time I've felt something was about to go wrong with a dating situation, it has, and I've still not learned to trust my gut feeling and save my feelings from getting hurt. Humans are equipped with strong gut feelings for this reason, though — it's a defensive response. In the future, I've learned that I do need to trust this feeling, and let it guide me rather than sticking around for the final act.

Geez. Who'dve known deleting dating apps would lead me to a place of such reflection?

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