Photo by Yura Fresh on Unsplash

Dating in the Age of the ‘Rona

My friends will tell you that I am relationship girl. As in I’m never not in one, nor is it going well, nor are they allowed out of our one-sided conversations where I vent my boy drama and they pretend to care. They’ll also tell you that I’m quick to rush into things, I will often have pegged whatever issues a potential suitor has from a mile away, and I will stay way too long with people I have no business being with just trying to make things work that clearly are not meant to be.

Dating is a hard trial and error business. You have to put yourself out there and deal with rejection or rejecting people, neither of which is fun, and you have to do it over and over again, which is mentally and emotionally exhausting. Now that I’m in my 30’s, and I’m more of a fully-formed human being, I have a much better idea of what I’m looking for in a partner. I also have much higher standards now than I did when I was in my 20’s, back when I thought any male attention was good attention.

As someone who hasn’t really had a whole lot of experience dating because I’ve always been in relationships, learning how app-dating works now, as a divorced single mom in my 30’s fueled by a mix of pandemic-driven loneliness, boredom, and like, a modest amount of wine, has been pretty eye-opening.

This is not the first time in my life I’ve tried app dating, but it is the first time I’ve tried it for any significant length of time. I have a tendency to get overwhelmed (or underwhelmed) and delete everything within a few weeks, only to download them again a few weeks or months later after watching some Netflix RomCom with a predictable plot designed to make me feel single AF.

I haven’t decided yet if the 2020 pandemapocalyptopolis is the worst possible time to try dating this way or the best possible time to try dating this way.

On the one hand, getting to know someone through virtual means for weeks or months before meeting them has its benefits. Time has a tendency to make anyone’s red flags shine brighter, and while you can ignore pink, it’s a lot harder to ignore scarlet. Especially if he ain’t that cute. On the other hand, there is the potential to build up a date so much it can’t be anything other than panic-inducing once you do finally meet.

The Apps

When people my age talk about “app dating” they’re generally only talking about a few mobile apps: Tinder, Bumble, and now Hinge. Web apps that were late to the mobile party like OkCupid, Plenty of Fish, and Match.com tend to be less commonly used among the singles of my generation, even though those apps tend to be the ones you hear about with success stories.

The ease of installing an app on my phone, answering very few questions about myself, selecting a couple of my best filtered photos, and the instant gratification of swipe culture is about all the effort I want to put into finding a potential mate right now. And honestly my potential mate probably feels the same.

As one of my friends told me early on after my divorce, “Skip Tinder. Tinder is like McDonalds and Bumble is like Pappadeaux’s. They both chains, one just has a …better… class of clientele.” And as another friend texted me after I sent him screenshots of a couple of weird profiles, “I don’t remember which is which. Bumble is the women contact one, tinder is the want some fuck one?” To which I responded, “Correct.”

Tinder is notoriously a hook-up app. It’s where you go if you want to find you a Zaddy for the night. I’ve never been one for the casual sex game, so I’ve never been on Tinder. People who only want you for your lady lumps can’t be avoided. They’re on all the apps.

Bumble is the app that lets the lady make the first move, but it’s extremely time-consuming. Conversations are on timers, and there’s a very low signal to noise quotient. I tend to get a lot of matches on this app, but I don’t have enough time to get to all of them. Carrying on 5,000 conversations at once just isn’t possible, and honestly all of the “features” on this app make it an incredibly exhausting time vampire.

There’s also the Bumble fish phenomenon, which is something all of my single lady friends have noticed. For some reason, every dude on Bumble has a picture of themselves holding a fish. Maybe it’s supposed to be some subtle hunter-gatherer cue meant to woo the food-insecure, or maybe they just really love having their picture taken with dead fish, I don’t know, but they out there.

And Hinge has pegged itself as “the app designed to be deleted.” It’s supposed to be a more relationship-oriented swipe-for-love app, but I haven’t really found it to be very different. There are not-so-serious folks on all of the apps, there’s just less of them in general on Hinge.

The Types

Regardless of the app used, there are certain types of guys that crop up among all of them.

  • The Player (aka The Bro) The Player fucking LOVES golf and unironically drinks White Claw. He has salmon-colored jorts, several Izod polos, and American flag swim trunks. There are several photos of him with some hotties and “the boys” at the pool (and Mardi Gras) so that you will be aware of how cool and popular he is. He was definitely in a fraternity and your mom LOVES him but he will cheat on you with a girl named Bethany. He’s cheating on McKenzie right now. He is clean shaven, he waxes his chest, and counts his abs daily. He is DTF and is looking for something casual.
  • The Dad — To be honest, I’m partial to dads. They’re just trying to make it work as a single parent. Dads come with dadbods and they are a little sensitive about it. Dads are looking to fill the void that their ex left in their life, and they tend to have a lot of baggage. Some of them will overshare this baggage, so you know right up front why they stopped having sex with their ex. You will question whether the dad is good in the bedroom. You will eventually stop talking to the dad.
  • The Sensitive NerdThe Sensitive Nerd is the ideal type for every modern cis-het woman, but they’re so introverted they have a hard time meeting people, even on the apps. They have an active DnD campaign going, and are way too into video games and anime to be comfortable with real life, but they will make you a cup of tea and practice active listening while you talk about your day. The Sensitive Nerd is a cat guy and he has a secret collection of Pokemon trading cards that he might show you one day. He loves SciFi and graphic tees. The Sensitive Nerd is very good friend material, but you’re just not into him like that.
  • The RedneckThe Redneck works a trade job, has a truck, and loves guns. He hunts and fishes, and has many photos of himself with dead things available for your perusal. He has several tattoos including an unfortunate one on his neck, as well as untrustworthy facial hair. He’s a man’s man, and there isn’t a single photo of him where he isn’t wearing camo, flannel, or a trucker hat. He’s a patriot who loves God and his family. And guns. MAN does he love guns. It is a very real possibility that he has a meth lab in the garage. Do not date.
  • The InfluencerThe Influencer does it for the ‘gram. He wears deep V’s and neck scarves and jaunty hats. He owns a motorcycle and a golden doodle named Ernesto. His name is also Ernesto. His eyebrows and nails are better manicured than yours. All of his photos are high-quality profiles of himself that someone else took in locations like Antelope Canyon, a busy Manhattan intersection, a Parisian balcony, and frolicking in the snow in Banff. In all of these photos he’s staring off into the distance smiling, perhaps he’s looking for the girl of his dreams. Perhaps that could be you. #menswear #ad
  • The Want Wifey Real BadThe Want Wifey crowd are usually cops or ex-military. These are men that want to be taken care of and they are dead set on finding a wife who will do that. They move too fast and are terrible at words. They will bring up the fact that they’ve been cheated on and will not ease into that conversation at all. It will go from “Hi” to “I was deployed and I came back and she had another man in the house.” And then you will say “Who?” because you’re confused, and they will unmatch you. Don’t worry, it wasn’t meant to be and he has a lot of stuff he has to work out for himself.
  • The I Hate It Here GuyThe I Hate It Here Guy tells you how much he hates app dating in his profile. He’s quite negative and jaded. He’s been on the app circuit so long he knows you’re going to leave him on read before you even do it, so he puts it out there up front in his bio. He just really hates it here, poor thing.

These are the types I’ve found to be most prevalent on the apps.

There are a few more I‘ve noticed lately, however, that warrant entirely new classes of their own.

  • The Too Much Punctuation Guy — The Too Much Punctuation Guy STARTS EVERY SENTENCE IN CAPS AND USES FIVE BILLION EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!!!!!!! HE IS VERY EXCITE!!!!!!D He will refuse to call you what you go by and he will nickname you whatever he wants, usually this is a single letter followed by one quadrillion exclamation points. He is a former college basketball player and he’s in several ongoing legal disputes about his shady business dealings. HE ALSO OVERUSES QUESTION MARKS WHEN HE’S CURIOUS ABOUT HOW YOUR DAY WAS?!????!???
  • The Confused By Prompts Guy — This guy tends to answer the example prompt instead of coming up with a question to ask you, or they will say something very confusing on a prompt that leaves you questioning their level of intelligence.
  • The Bad at GrammarThe Bad at Grammar guy is either not very smart, not invested in how he comes across in his app dating profile, or unobservant. He might think only a snob would swipe left on misspellings, typos, and grammar mistakes on his profile, and he is correct. The king you’re looking for knows the difference between your and you’re though. Honestly, with spell check and autocorrect there is no excuse, although autocorrect does tend to duck up from time to time.
  • The WTF— These are just things that make you go hmmmmm and then immediately swipe left. I’ve saved way too many of these.
  • The Unfortunate Pic-to-Prompt Pairing — These are a rare sighting, but worth noting because they always make me lol. It usually has nothing to do with the person or their qualities, it’s just unfortunate how the picture fell in front of the prompt.
  • The OversharerThe Oversharer is just putting it all out there. They are unconcerned with what you might think of them, they just need you to know certain things up front. The Oversharer is doing you a huge favor by shouting TO THE LEFT at you. Heed their warning about themselves.

If these are the only options rngesus has rolled up for me, then I will die alone, and honestly I’m alright with that.

The Conversations

Once I’ve identified the type I’m looking at, there is some internal arithmetic I seem to have for picking men. It happens pretty instantaneously, and it’s all very superficial at first. No one’s perfect so I look for acceptable trade-offs based on the physical specs I’m provided. Abs might make me ignore a typo, and his height might cancel out a certain amount of bathroom selfies, but there are absolutely no physical qualities a man can possess that will make me overlook his being a Trump supporter.

Once you start talking to someone though, it becomes pretty clear that most people are bad at communicating. In my experience the conversation will either be very stilted, one-sided, too forward (what are you wearing? *eggplant emoji*), extremely awkward (baggage is like a date #7 thing), interview-esque, or sometimes it won’t even begin at all.

There needs to be some give and take — a flow — to a conversation to keep me interested. If one person is asking all the questions and the other is putting in zero effort, it’s easy to write them off as uninterested, especially in a text exchange. And because it’s all really low stakes, it’s easy to give up after a while, stop talking to that person, and go back to swiping.

There have only been a handful of guys that I’ve hit it off with conversationally, and of those, only one has turned into someone I repeatedly dated. None have turned into relationships. And I don’t know whether that’s because I’m pickier and less inclined to settle for someone who isn’t the exact right fit for me now, or because my app-options are limited during a time when it’s nearly impossible to meet people any other way, or both.

It’s usually after several unexciting conversations that I’ll decide to delete everything and focus on myself for a bit. As a friend of mine going through his own app hiatus once told me, “You really have to take a break from it so that the pent up sexual frustration and loneliness provides enough propellant to push you past the next inevitable desire to quit.” …He’s not wrong.

The apps only end up providing waves of disappointment. I start to feel like a product on display for sale, growing older and more stale by the day. But ever the optimist, I still think… maybe I’ll meet someone I like this way….

So I download them again only to repeat the same frustrating sequence of events. All in the name of finding that rarest of pokemons, that rose among the thorns, that ineffable know-it-when-you-feel-it thing that we all desperately desire enough to put up with the terrible terrible slog of app dating — a one night stand. Kidding! I’m kidding. It’s love. Love and happiness is what we all really want — right?

Decent as h*ck. @jenjarns on the Tweeters. I write the docs at AWS. Thoughts and opinions my own.