The demise of the dating app? Why singles are swapping online matching for real life meetings
The desire to meet a new partner remains undimmed. But they might be more easily found at a film club than on a phone screen
It all started a year ago when, having been divorced for a while, I thought I might dip a toe in the dating world. I wasn’t thrilled by the idea as it is not where I expected to be in my mid-50s. But, as a hopeful soul, it felt important to see if there was life after divorce.
I was warned by friends that dating online is not for the fainthearted, but I’m a naturally curious person and, as a podcaster on various forms of dating (Later Dater) and a love coach, I thought it was about time I ventured into a world that I spend a lot of time talking about with clients and interviewees.
What I hadn’t expected was to find a whole set of people who have had enough of dating apps. Time after time, people I connected with online told me they felt the days of online matchmaking are numbered.
I was surprised. I’d been led to believe that these apps, of which there are thousands, were the key to finding love.
I have now been on and off dating sites – some more than others – and have tried many apps. I’ve done Elite Singles, Bumble, Tinder, Match, Muddy Matches, Pure, etc. The naysayers have a point. People are jaded and fed up. No one seems to know what they want and trying to meet anyone has proved nigh impossible. Also, no one really knows how to date – what to say, where to meet or recognise if there’s chemistry – so we give up, leaving us baffled and frustrated. So a year on, I can say from my own experience that, yes, dating apps may actually have had their day.
I appreciate that during Covid online dating was the only way to meet anyone. So it has played its part in ensuring that now no one feels ashamed, humiliated or ridiculed at being a “lonely heart”.
The problem is, so many people don’t actually meet face to face.
There are various theories about this: people don’t feel safe meeting after Covid; “everyone” on dating apps is married/spoken for and is just looking for flirtation and casual sex; or – perhaps closer to the truth – our lives are so busy that while the desire to meet someone is there, the work/family/social diary won’t allow the time.
There may also be deeper causes. I see many clients who say they want to meet someone but, deep down, they feel so damaged, hurt, let down and betrayed that what they actually want is to check out that someone else might be interested in them – hence a flurry of texts – then when that’s done, everyone stops communicating.
The cry I often hear is “why can’t I meet someone in real life?” For dating apps do not feel real. There’s a lot of research that shows people behave far worse online that they ever would in public. People body shame, ghost, attack, humiliate, mess around, say they are interested when they are not in a way that most human beings would not do if they’d met the other person in the flesh and maybe saw that there was a real human being in front of them, rather than a potentially half-true profile and a filtered picture.
The actor Rebel Wilson, 42, has talked about using dating apps in the past. Last week she revealed on Instagram that she is dating fashion designer Ramona Agruma, whom she met through a friend. She told People magazine: “We spoke on the phone for weeks before meeting. And that was a really good way to get to know each other. It was a bit old-school – very romantic.”
Amid a plethora of apps, studies show we’re struggling more than ever. In 1960 only 13% of households in the US were single-person. Now that figure is 28% – that’s 37 million people, many of them hoping against all odds to find that special someone to share their lives with. According to statistics, more people are also single in the UK, with the number of adults living alone up by more than 8% in the past decade.
It’s often not because they want to be alone. Nor is it because they haven’t tried to find love. In fact, many people have been searching for their one true love for years. A recent survey found that more than 323 million people worldwide use some kind of dating app.
Many have realised that they may well be happily single, but they want to meet people to do things with, or just hang out or flirt with, but not necessarily to have a full-on 24/7 relationship. In response, singles groups have started up, for example, the members-only Otto Connection, whose members hold parties and lunches, bridge evenings and attend gigs and concerts.
A plethora of singles clubs – dinner, book and film – as well as holidays and all sorts of fun and inspirational groups are popping up where people are celebrating being single and if they meet someone, great, but if not, they will enjoy their life anyway. We can cycle round the Amalfi coast, kayak through the Highlands, practise yoga, encounter like-minded people via the Meetup Up app or the many other apps which promote people having social lives.
As Sophia Anne Ziegler, the founder of the Otto Connection, says: “I set it up to create a place for like-minded unattached people to meet in an unpressurised environment. It’s not a dating site. It is redefining single as being an exciting and desirable place to be.”
Maybe a change is happening where being single becomes the norm and apps promoting social events outnumber dating sites. It’s an interesting concept and one that might free people up from the disappointment of their experiences of dating apps and the increasingly outmoded stigma of being single.
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