Now I spend less time on dating apps and more time on actual dates.
After a messy breakup, reentering the dating pool was tough. I made a profile on Hinge featuring an eclectic mix of photos leaning into my latest single persona — a campy bad girl with a soft side (and a solid arsenal of bucket hats). I started swiping. Per usual, I’d spend a week or two texting each reasonably qualified man who strolled through the revolving door of my inbox. I didn’t love this process, but I didn’t think to switch it up. I was just trying to navigate a once familiar landscape that now felt like a distorted simulation.
During the pre-screening process, I would do what so many singles do while online dating: tell a highly edited version of my life story, acknowledge compatibility points, and engage in (hopefully) witty banter, all the while taking mental notes of possible red flags or deal-breakers. Each week, come hump day, I would weigh my options, and accept date offers from the standouts. “Dating an art dealer would be lit,” I thought to myself as I fired off a reply to Jared, a guy who I’d done the unthinkable with — spent three eternally long weeks texting while he was traveling for work. I should have known better, but I couldn’t help myself. The banter was top-notch, the vibes were as vibey as they come, we had the same interests, and his harrowing coming-of-age story involved running away from the Mormon church with his ex-wife at 19 to live in Hollywood, a story that made the writer in me swoon.
After weeks of texting, we finally made plans to get dinner — an affair that can only be described as one of the most awkward dates ever. He was cute and accidentally charming, and yet, not at all the person I had imagined based on our conversations. He certainly had a rebellious streak and the kind of laugh that made people in earshot eye-roll at all the fun we must have be having. But still, something about the way he moved alienated me. According to Dr. Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and creator of MentalDrive, texting with matches for too long before meeting in person can lead to some severely skewed expectations.
“We fill in gaps when we don’t have information,” says Dr. Klapow. “With text messaging, we create psychological and emotional narratives to match the text content to what we want or hope the person to be. That first date is almost always going to be met with at least some misaligned assumptions and expectations about who the person is and what they are like.”
I learned the hard way that a truckload of compatibility points and all the “good morning, beautiful” texts in the world can’t make up for the fact that sometimes, spending 20 minutes navigating a menu is all it takes to realize there’s a disconnect. As I watched him devour a plate of cauliflower wings, I couldn’t help but feel a little nauseous at the thought of his plate being replaced with my face. The chemistry just felt off. Unlike our texting exchanges, which had an energizing flow, talking in real time was draining and a little forced.
I never saw Jared again, and not because he wasn’t a great guy. Part of me wanted to give him a chance, but a bigger part wanted to cut my losses and preserve our exhilarating pre-date exchanges for what they were: a light of relief at the end of a dark breakup tunnel. Getting to know the real him meant we had to trade in our fantasy connection for the chance at a real one, an exchange I just couldn’t muster the effort to make. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later that I had my lightbulb moment. No matter how seduced I was by someone’s dating profile, I couldn’t bring myself to engage in what relationship expert Susan Winter refers to as “chat churn.”
“This type of ongoing messaging creates a feeling of connection,” Winter tells Elite Daily. “The more we chat, the more we feel connected. Prolonged online conversations heighten our expectations and can lead us to believe that the other person is a solid romantic possibility. We can easily ‘overvalue’ them without having met them. Or, we may grow fond of them only to discover there's no chemistry IRL.” Suddenly, spending hours of my life messaging matches felt like a waste of time.
My patience for texting was at an all-time low. I was telling the same stories and answering different versions of the same questions. I was burning out, leaving guys on read out of pure laziness. Online dating is high-key a full-time job and apparently, I was in need of an assistant.
“It is very normal to find messaging tiring and stressful because it puts us in the land of the great unknown,” says Dr. Klapow. “We see words and our minds form stories, pictures, and assumptions about who this person is. At the same time, we are questioning those assumptions because we have yet to know this person. Each text message can become a situation of wondering, guessing, assuming, and interpreting far more than the text message content conveys. This can be absolutely exhausting.”
After a much-needed pause from swiping, I found myself driving home from the gym on a Friday evening listening to a throwback bop and feeling inspired. I want go on a date tonight, I thought. So, when I got home, I plopped down on the couch and did something purely instinctual, albeit very out of character. I opened Hinge, swiped for the better part of 20 minutes, and sent messages to guys of interest saying something along the lines of, “Hey there, you seem cute! Want to grab a drink tonight and see if there’s any point in us messaging for weeks on end lol?”
I learned how surprisingly simple dating can be when you ask for what you want.
For so long, I was that girl who refused to ask men on dates. If a stranger wasn’t willing to chase me through a virtual labyrinth akin to an American Ninja Warrior obstacle course, ultimately securing the bag (a date), then I thought it was time to keep it moving. However, to my surprise, I learned how surprisingly simple dating can be when you ask for what you want. I ended up going on two spontaneous dates that weekend by looking at their profiles and asking myself if I’d let them chat me up at a bar IRL. They were some of the better dates I’ve gone on in a while. I hadn’t spent hours of my life pre-screening them and there was zero pressure because the stakes were low.
Instead of playing out a date scenario where we had to “deliver” the versions of ourselves we’d been peddling for the last month, we were improvising and meeting each other wherever we were at. “I used to date the head of our creative team but we broke up because I didn’t want to go to her friend’s wedding in rural Alaska,” Aaron told me over margaritas. “Now she’s turned the entire office against me, but no one will admit it.” He spilled the tea on an office drama that had all the makings of an award-winning film while his playful exasperation, over-the-top gestures, quick wit, and hilariously distinct story-telling voices worked their magic. After a couple drinks, we decided to get dinner because we wanted to.
According to Thalia Ouimet, a matchmaker and dating coach, the spontaneous energy of our date served us well. “When we get futuristic and build a storyline in our heads about what that person could be, it can create false hope,” she says. “The best thing to do before a first date is to stay present and go into it with an open mind and an open heart and not set any expectations of the date.” (Not ready to jump straight into a date? Ouimet strongly recommends scheduling a phone call to “vet them and feel out their vibe” before meeting IRL. “This call will save [you] so much time,” she says.)
Once I was out with Aaron, I was able to properly assess if there was chemistry and attraction. “We are social beings, and we connect based on all available inputs of information about a person,” says Dr. Klapow. “We use every one of our senses available to us and when they are all available, we get the clearest picture of a person. What they look like, how they move, sound, smell, taste. The words they say, the tone of those words, their movement as they speak, their movement without speaking. We use all of it to form judgments about people.”
Suddenly I was in the driver’s seat and found myself going on twice as many dates each week. Sure, some of them fell flat, but no more than the dates that had been vigorously pre-screened. I found the entire dating process much more enjoyable because I wasn’t investing time getting to know someone through a 2D data exchange, only to get lost in the tense gap between my idea of them and the reality of experiencing them. I was no longer pushing myself to keep stale conversations going. Instead, I was cutting them short in favor of telling my stories in person. Plus, I liked getting to know someone organically. Walking into a date with fewer assumptions left room for the spontaneous magic that actually makes dating fun — a pleasant surprise.
Thalia Ouimet, matchmaker and dating coach
Susan Winter, relationship expert