What It's Really Like To Use Dating Apps When You're Heartbroken
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.
In my current working girl-in-the-big-city life, I was using dating apps on the regular. I mean, according to Pew Research 2016, five percent of Americans who are in a marriage or committed relationship say they met their significant other online and it seems like everybody other singleton is doing it — so why not? I don't quite know how to get dates IRL. But I wasn't always a dating app girl. Once upon a time, I was a girl who only used dating apps for one thing, bouncing back from love-loss. And so, I learned what it's really like to use dating apps when you're heartbroken. It's weird to reflect on the beginnings my years of app-dating, but that's what Bustle's App-less April challenge, a 30-day dating app detox, is all about — reflecting and making changes if necessary.
Before my first heartbreak/dating excursion, I thought that Tinder was "a weird hookup app" and OkCupid was "sad." Nowadays, I would be a part of the 46 percent of singles who said they had a positive attitude about dating apps, not the 54 percent of singles who had negative feelings about the process according to a 2017 Report Linker survey. But college me had a lot of life to learn.
Then came the post-college blues. My end-of-college boyfriend was officially joining the rest of our friends in the land of Milk, Honey, and actual jobs for those in the film industry, Los Angeles. Later, I confessed my long-standing unrequited love to a childhood friend who was like, "Naw, girl. You're like my sister," which is I guess what happens when you relentlessly tease someone as if you were a younger sister for your entire friendship.
My goal was to date as many guys as possible so I could feel charming and confident again.
While and after both these situations were going down, my heart felt a way it traditionally only reserved for the deaths in the family. It was so heavy, it felt like it was going to burst through my chest. It's a sensation that makes sense as post-breakup as Trina Leckie reminds us in an episode of her podcast Breakup Boost titled "Coping With Relationship Breakup Anxiety", "when you're anxious, depressed, feeling rejected, insecure, and all of those other negative feelings the Dopamine and Serotonin levels in your brain actually drop and that imbalance then affects your mood." Boy howdy, was my mood feeling impacted — I could barely even eat. I was prone to crying jags, well more prone than usual, clutching my sweet pit bull Genevieve as she wondered (I assume) if she was ever going to have a cool step-dad again.
A wise and worldly friend of mine suggested OkCupid, and as my love-energy needed somewhere to go, I hopped right in. I was determined to quiet the sads by, as I coined it at the time, "binge-dating." My goal was to date as many guys as possible so I could feel charming and confident again. Which for awhile made me feel disappointed in myself because flirting with a cutie on the internets shouldn't make me feel any which way about myself — self-love is all one should need. And yet, I'm not the only one, a 2017 survey by LendEDU revealed that 44 percent of college millennials use Tinder for "confidence-boosting procrastination."
"Dating apps make it easier to get dates in some aspects due to the nature of having hundreds of possibilities at your fingertips," NYC-based individual and couples therapist, Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW, tells Bustle. "However, when you're swiping through a dating app at home or work and get no responses (or worse, inappropriate messages), it can have a major effect on your self-esteem because it's happening to you in a place where you usually feel safe."
When you first start searching for love on a dating app after another love has ended, there's two forces battling against each other — Approach #1 or the "Dear God this loneliness needs to end, I'll take anything, anyone," and Approach #2 or "this candidate reminds me too much/not enough of [insert name of heart-breaker here]." Both these approaches, at least for me, had some severely negative consequences.
I clung to dating apps like a security blanket to heal my broken heart.
Approach #1 wasn't ideal because it led to some painful dates, at least one robot who asked me a lot about my masturbation habits (more on that later), and falling head-over-heels with a very nice boy who I wasn't emotionally ready to be with — which promptly led to an intense relationship and even more intense break-up. Approach #2 was equally problematic, because the reminders of the remnants of my broken heart made the dating app process so much more painful.
Regardless of the troubles with Approach #1 or Approach #2, I spent hours glued to my phone, scrolling through profiles of craft beer enthusiasts and spontaneous adventurers. I clung to dating apps like a security blanket to heal my broken heart. Spoiler alert — dating apps don't help, only time can heal.
The other unfortunate thing about swiping while heartbroken is that creepy internet trolls and harassers don't leave you alone simply because you're nursing some sort of loss. According to a 2016 statistic from Consumer Survey: The Best Way to “Swipe” a Mate, 57 percent of women report feeling harassed online, with Tinder and OkCupid being the top culprits. It's not like they know you are feeling so emotionally worn out, and even if they did that probably makes the victim more of a target.
I should have been able to smell out the gentle-robot mentioned previously immediately — he only had one picture (that I later discovered was a stock image), I wasn't able to Facebook-creep on him even though he had a unique name, and worst of all he immediately started talking to me about how he liked to masturbate under his desk. Why I didn't stop talking to him immediately, I can only chalk up to my grief — maybe my problem in my past relationships was that I wasn't kinky enough? It took me three days of naughty talk that tested my not-so-sexually adventurous ways before I realized he was not a real person. It was like I was willing to put on blinders because I was so desperate to distract myself.
Sometimes, still I hop back into Tinder when I'm feeling particularly sad about my impending lifetime of being #foreveralone — this heart of mine hasn't been "broken" in quite some time because the heart has to be used to be broken (ooh sick burn on myself). I'll head to Tinder and message every boy with whom I connect, rocking some witty beginning phrase so he'll see how clever I am. Just like back in those heartbroken days, I feel a false sense of comfort when the apps are actually in my hand, a security blanket. But when the blanket comes off (say it's time to sleep and not look at my phone any longer) the darkness and self-doubt feels overwhelming.
I think the key is that when your heart feels tender, you can't just reach for the closest thing available to make you happy. You have to accept that finding the right person takes time, and sometimes you can't know if someone is the right person from five to six pictures and a witty summary on a dating app. As Trina Leckie believes, "there is always a 'golden nugget' in everything. You just need to spare a little time to listen for it." Our favorite apps are a great tool, but the thing with tools is they're supposed to be used to assist, not to take over. It takes time to actually find someone, a nugget if you will, and consistently swiping won't make it so, only real human interactions.
"We need to practice the art of real conversation," Dr. Emily Morse, a sex and relationship expert and the host of Sex With Emily, tells Bustle. "That means actually talking with people face-to-face, in the flesh. Dating is a muscle,and just like any muscle, the more we use it and work it out, the stronger it gets. Relying on conversation through text alone makes our ability to connect in the real world more challenging because we’ve completely halted ourselves from having real life interactions. The more you get out there, the less awkward you’ll feel meeting people organically, and the easier it will be to make those connections and have those real conversations."
I'm sure there will come a time again when my heart feels broken because one of these dating apps will go into fruition and then the relationship will rot (or maybe someone I meet during App-less April will stick the knife in my heart). Leckie would probably give me the same advice she does in her podcast, insisting that instead of hiding in the comfort of dating apps (or sleep or Netflix), "the only way to get through pain is to go straight though it." To all the recent and future recipients of heartbreak, I wish you luck. It won't be easy, but don't forget to use your dating apps, if you're on them, as tools and not crutches! May we all barrel right on through the pain together.