If you start a conversation with a new person on a dating app, you can almost always expect them to ask the question, “What are you looking for?” Maybe, you even ask them yourself. It’s a reasonable question, but also a question that I have come to despise.
Why do I dislike this question? The answer is fairly simple, but I’m going to circle around to it and hopefully illuminate some important issues with dating apps and relationships along the way.
Why do people use dating apps, anyway?
Before online dating and dating apps existed, people mostly met their romantic partners at work, through friends, or even through chance encounters in public. Then, Kiss.com launched in 1994 and Match.com launched the following year, making meeting people on the internet a viable option.
At first, most people looked at online dating skeptically, at best. At worst, they thought only “losers” would resort to online dating or even that it was dangerous or some sort of scam. Meeting people “in real life” was the normal way.
Now, decades later, online dating has become “the normal way” to meet people. It’s no longer seen as weird and most people understand that there is some inherent danger, but that it’s minimal. So, why has online dating seen such massive adoption over the last 25 years?
- Convenience. What could be easier than meeting people while you’re sitting on your couch and watching Seinfeld?
- Minimized Rejection. Talking to new people in real life is scary. Imagine going up to a stranger and having them tell you, “Go away.” Most people fear that type of rejection more than heights, spiders, and drowning. Sending a message online and not getting a response, though? Big deal.
- The Power of the Profile. A thorough profile on a dating site or even some dating apps provides a lot of information. Profiles give people the chance to learn a bit about potential mates even before making contact.
- Assured “Single-ness.” If you see a cute guy at the bar and want to meet him, you might talk yourself out of it by saying, “He’s probably married.” If you see that same guy on Tinder, he still might be married, but at least you know he’s looking to meet someone.
These three reasons are key. As dating apps have gotten hugely popular, however, another reason has emerged that has changed the entire face and dynamic of dating, as we know it. It’s amazing. And awful.
The Best (and Worst) Aspect of Online Dating
Now that online dating has become normal, the average person has access to more people than ever before. If you really want to cast the widest net possible, you could make profiles on dozens of sites and apps. Tinder, Bumble, OKCupid, Match, EHarmony, Hinge, Badoo, PlentyOfFish, Grindr, JDate, FarmersOnly… and the list goes on. Online dating is so popular and profitable that new sites and apps are being launched all the time. Each of these services has tons of profiles that you can peruse. There is so much choice out there.
But how could choice be a bad thing?
Imagine that you’ve just finished a four hour hike and you’re starving. You come out of the wilderness and there’s just one restaurant in your field of vision. It’s a Greek place. You never really liked Greek food that much, but it’s all you’ve got, so you try it. Maybe it’s just cause you’re so hungry, but the Greek food ends up being delicious.
Now, imagine if when you came out of the wilderness, there were ten restaurants instead of just the one Greek restaurant. Probably, you wouldn’t even consider trying the Greek restaurant. And now, instead of just being thankful to find some food, you’ve got a choice to deal with. Nobody wants to make the wrong choice. What if you pick the Italian restaurant and it doesn’t quite hit the spot? You’ll have to deal with buyer’s remorse. Regret.
The problem with choice is that as our number of options goes up, the perceived value of each option goes down. When the Greek restaurant was the only one available, you valued it highly. Finally, you found some food! But when you had ten restaurants to choose from, you didn’t even give the Greek place a second glance.
OK, but why should you value the Greek place, anyway? If you don’t like Greek that much and there are other options, fuck the Greek place. It’s a restaurant, not a person. It doesn’t have feelings.
On dating apps, YOU are a Choice
Most people like having choices. Ironically enough, though, most of us don’t like seeing ourselves as one choice of many. We like to feel special. Well, sorry, but you’re not special. Especially on dating apps. You’re one person of hundreds or thousands in your area.
Allow me to explain how fucked up massive choice is by telling you about something that happens to me at least once a week. OK, so I swipe through profiles on Tinder pretty much daily. If the profile isn’t appealing, I Swipe Left and never see them again. If the profile is appealing, I Swipe Right for a potential match. Tinder allows you to swipe right 100 times per day. That means that if you live in a big enough city and you swipe right on 20% of the profiles you see, you can view 500 profiles per day. And most people are far pickier than that.
Who has time to carefully scrutinize 500 profiles per day? Not me. I’ve gotten used to swiping right and left very quickly. Sometimes I’ll swipe on several profiles a second. Yes, it’s that fast. Well, at least once a week, I see a girl that looks really interesting. Just by viewing a couple pictures in the span of a couple seconds, I can tell that I’d really love to meet her. But OOPS. I already swiped left out of reflex by accident. She’s gone.
Many of us just don’t value each other anymore.
I mentioned Seinfeld earlier. If you’re a fan of the show, you might recall that a running joke is the absurd pickiness of the characters when it comes to their boyfriends and girlfriends. Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer dump all sorts of perfectly nice girls and guys for the craziest of reasons. Jerry dumped a girl because her hands were big. Elaine dumped a guy because he didn’t use an exclamation point in a greeting card.
Especially back in the 90s, when Seinfeld was still running, people saw those breakups as comical because they were so absurd. Today, they don’t seem so absurd. Why put up with someone who snores when your next match might sleep silently? Why settle for a girl with small breasts when the next girl you swipe on might have big boobs. Why date a guy who makes 50k a year when there’s a doctor near you who makes 150k?
What are you looking for?
OK, I promised I’d circle back and here we are. One of the easiest and quickest ways to weed out your matches is to ask them what they’re looking for. If you’re looking for marriage, it seems stupid to waste your time on a guy who wants a casual relationship, right? And if you just want a “hookup,” the girl who wants to introduce you to her family isn’t really your match, is she?
The problem with discarding people before you meet them because your goals don’t seem to match, however, is that your goals are probably changing and depending on who you meet, that person might change your goals.
“People are like Gift Boxes.” – Steve
My best friend Steve was fond of this saying. Steve and I went through a period of meeting lots of girls back in 2017 and we had epiphanies like this on a regular basis. When Steve said that people were gift boxes, he meant that you never knew what someone had to offer until you met them and got to know them.
During this period, Steve and I were using dating apps as well as meeting girls out at bars and even during our daily runs around the lake near our apartment. If you had asked us what we were looking for, we wouldn’t have had a good answer. What we were looking for depended on what the next girl had to offer.
We were open to all possibilities. If the next girl Steve talked to was beautiful and sexy but didn’t have much substance, he would have been perfectly content to sleep with her without forming a deep connection. At the same time, though, Steve was always looking forward to having kids. The next girl he met could always potentially be the future mother of his children.
Citra and I met on Tinder. We were both open to all possibilities and that’s part of the reason we clicked so well. We didn’t meet each other with any plans. As a result, our bond was able to form naturally and we ended up being best friends and went on to create The Art of Swiping, which we hope you’re enjoying.
Plans Kill Spontaneity and Possibility
If Citra had only been looking for a One Night Stand or if I had been only seeking out a serious relationship, this blog and our podcast would never have come into existence. Instead, we would have been judging each other through the lenses of our own selfish goals, unable to allow things to develop organically. Instead, we did allow things to develop organically. And here we are.
Get off the apps and meet in real life.
Look, I’m not saying you have to give everybody a chance. Not even close. If you really would prefer to find something serious and the guy’s opening message is “Do u like anal?” then please, unmatch him. However, the goal of using dating apps should be to meet people in real life. If you exchange some jokes and banter with a guy and you seem like you might be a good match, meet him and find out. Don’t go looking for reasons to reject him.
The real problem with dating apps is that some people use them the wrong way (in my opinion, of course). If you use Tinder for a year and collect 1,000 matches but refuse to meet anyone because they’re not perfect – or because you don’t even want to meet anyone – then fuck you.
Have you ever met someone with all the same interests as you? Maybe they listened to all the same bands as you, read the same books, and seemed to have a similar sense of humor. They were perfect. But then, for some reason, there just wasn’t a spark. That’s happened to me.
The opposite has happened to me, too. I’ve met girls who seemed like awful matches for me. I’ve had dates with girls who didn’t even speak the same language as me. But again, for some reason – we can call it “Chemistry” – we got along great and shared beautiful experiences.
I’m Looking for Something Real
When I say “something real,” I don’t necessarily mean a serious relationship. I mean that I’m looking to meet people who don’t view human relationships as business transactions. I want to meet people that are willing to go into our interactions with open minds and see where things go naturally. Going into a first date with predetermined parameters around what can happen is a bad move, in my opinion. I would never say to myself, “This is just a one night stand,” or “She could be my next girlfriend,” about a girl that I’ve never met before.
Whether you like it or not, you just can’t learn everything you need to know about someone on your phone’s screen. You’re going to have to meet them in person to see they have to offer. So when a girl I match with asks me that dreaded question – What are you looking for? – I shake my head and sigh because I have to explain myself again.
I refuse to give a simple answer, but it’s not because I’m afraid of turning her off with the wrong answer. It’s because I don’t know her yet. I don’t want to make any promises and I don’t want to limit our potential.