The dating world is really good at convincing you to want less.
I online dated for a decade. In case you’re cautious about reading my work, fearful that I haven’t put the research in, ten years. Ten years of dating websites and apps of every permutation, deploying every strategy in the book. Never mind that the book was being written as we read it because by humanity’s calendar, online dating is still a novelty. I was a dating app lab rat, and while I like to think that in a few years from now there will be real consequences for abhorrent practices from people on dating apps and from the people who build them, for ten years they were working out the kinks (sometimes literally) on me.
Online dating isn’t designed to find you a partner. It’s designed to keep you single. Please understand that dating apps are businesses, one of which just IPO’d for 2.15 billion dollars. The last thing a business wants you to do is stop using its product. Just the opposite. It wants you to use it a lot, for a long time, and if it’s really smart, it will get you to think you need it. Why would a dating app want you to partner up, and stop giving it money?
The couples who actually meet and form partnerships via dating apps are always used as bait. Bait to get struggling singles back in the lion’s mouth. Because there is no better bait on Earth than romantic love. In addition to it just feeling amazing, our society has made romantic love and sex between two consistent partners the most celebration-worthy thing on earth. The only party bigger than a wedding is the fucking Oscars. Of course the couples who meet on apps are going to be used to hold onto everyone that doesn’t. There’s nothing the marketing team at a dating app loves more than a happy, attractive couple it can trot out like prized livestock.
It’s the cruelest taunt. Well, I found my husband on a dating app, and I don’t have to use dating apps anymore, so you’d better go use dating apps more! Hearing why I should do something painful and optional from someone who no longer has to do something painful and optional is really fucking annoying if I’m honest.
Online dating isn’t made for the people who get to stop using it. Happy couples who are currently together because they met via online dating are little more than an algorithmic accident. And if you take offense to that, please remember that society has made your married ass feel superior to my single one for long enough for my liking. For god’s sake even a broken clock is right twice a day, obviously some people are going to meet in a space where 22 million people hang out. (And that’s just how many users Bumble has.) Happy couples are the best case scenario for human beings, and the worst case scenario for dating apps themselves. Two massively competing goals, but it works for dating apps because of one very human thing: Hope. Dating apps milk single people’s, sorry—single women’s hope for every dollar it’s worth.
Online dating isn’t made for the people who meet their partners. It’s made for those of us who never do. It will take our money, time, and worth forever, if we let it. I spent ten years, Christ knows how much money, and every ounce of my self worth on dating apps. For a long time I didn’t know which one I valued most, but now I know that my worth is the most priceless, because when I lose it, I put myself in very real danger of signing myself up for a lifetime of settling.
This is about being cognizant of settling. It’s about the idea that endless scrolling and swiping plants in our minds like a deleted scene from Inception. One simple idea: time spent single + age = less worth. And when you believe it, when you let the people partnering up around you combine with the societal shame associated with not being one of them, when you let “why are you still single” take root in your brain, your brain will team up the apps. It will start to tell you that you’re asking for too much, because you’re not enough to want what you want. So we lower our standards, over and over again, thinking if we don’t we’ll be single longer. We start to think we have to take what we can get, because we haven’t gotten anything yet. Instead of us entertaining the idea that maybe online dating isn’t designed to work for us, but instead for itself, we start to internalize the idea that we’re doing something wrong. Last I checked, making victims think everything is their own fault is something abusers do.
When I was online dating, I found myself in an endless spiral of “standards lowering.” I would take away one desire after another, telling myself that because I hadn’t “found him yet” I didn’t have any choice but to lower my expectations. Rock bottom looked something like “I’ll take anyone,” a thought that turns my stomach now that I’ve come to understand the value of singlehood itself. Now that I understand that single isn’t inherently a bad thing, I can recognize that I wasn’t online dating for a decade, I was dodging bullets that whole time.
But when I was spiraling, when I thought the only way out of the problem of singlehood was lowering my standards to fit what was still willing to go out with me, I’d go on dates with “anyone” and be completely disappointed in them, and in myself. Because the thing about lowering your standards, and the thing about settling, is that when you decide to settle on your life partner, you have to settle forever. This isn’t Pepsi being okay, this is the rest of your life spent lying to yourself, convincing yourself to want someone, or worse still, believing something you don’t want is the best you can have. To me, that felt like a prison of disappointment, and via online dating I was voluntarily walking inside.
Now, two years app-free, I can see how I was letting a system designed to keep me single think that I had to lower my standards, so I was only ever connecting with people I had no interest in, and so on and so on into infinity, or at least until I woke the fuck up. I was the ideal dating app user. I was buying its bullshit, and playing right into its ones and zeroes. I kept bringing myself and my standards lower, and lower, and lower and dating apps kept meeting me exactly where I was at, rock bottom. They were thrilled to have me (and my money) right there.
The last thing a dating app wants you to understand is that singlehood is wonderful. It’s a priceless time in your life—for however long that time lasts. It is free, and full, and endlessly variable. It belongs to you and no one else. It is compromise-free, and curiosity-packed. It is completely tailored to how you want to live it, without needing anyone else’s buy-in or approval first.
Understanding this makes settling seem like fucking nonsense. Whoever he is, he will have to be amazing to get me to give this up—and he should be, if I’m going to spend a significant portion of my life with him. The fact that we’re single isn’t an indicator that we need to lower our expectations. It’s an invitation to fully love single life, and refuse to give it up for anything less than something better. We don’t have to lower our standards when we love single life—something that’s actually really easy to love, when you allow yourself to.
You never have to settle for less when single isn’t bad. Anyone who tells you differently doesn’t know their app from their elbow.