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Dating And Relationships - Dating | July 2, 2021, 10:19 CDT

Digital Dating Freaked Me Out. Then I Tried It.

Scared of the apps? Don’t be—meeting people online is possible even if it's new to you.
Courtney Johnston
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Photography by David Heisler

Somehow—don't ask me how—I'd managed to get through the majority of my life without ever downloading a dating app. I tended to fall into long-term relationships pretty quickly and never got around to dating.

So when I found myself freshly single in my early 30s in a city where I didn't know many people, I faced a hard truth: Unless I was going to overcome my fear of approaching strangers in public, I was going to need to explore the terrifying world of dating apps if I hoped to meet someone new.

I'd never even really dated

While I find the concept of dating fascinating, ultimately, I was never successful at it. I'd had one or two boyfriends in high school, one through college, another after moving to a new city, then met someone at work right after that. I didn't jump into relationship after relationship but rather formed friendships once I was single that eventually turned into relationships.

After recognizing my frustrating pattern, I took a year off from seeing anyone. I didn't want to dive back into anything serious and I wanted to take some time to learn more about myself, my needs and my desires. When I was finally ready to explore the dating scene, I was intimidated by all the options out there.

If you're new to online dating or hoping to find a serious connection through digital apps, here are some tips that helped me.

Actor and filmmaker Gino Cafarelli discusses the challenges of meeting someone in a world of digital land mines. Watch the full interview here.


1. Listen to friends, but follow your instincts

All my friends were on Tinder, Bumble, Grindr and other apps whose names sounded made up to me. I loved hearing stories about how they used these apps, what they did to stand out online and even read some of their more embarrassing exchanges.

Somewhere in the midst of this talk, I found myself adhering to pretty subjective advice about how to use each app. Never write back too soon. Don't focus on one match. Don't answer his questions honestly. While my friends had good intentions, their advice just didn't work for me.

I appreciated leaning on people with more experience than myself to guide me through the process, but ultimately, go with your gut when deciding what to put in your profile or say to a match.

2. Carefully consider your filters

I met my now-boyfriend on Bumble, but came very close to never matching with him. When I set my age filters, I thought more about the ages of my previous significant others, rather than considering what age range was best for me.

After swiping through what felt like all the guys in my city, I finally upped my age limits by one year. I quickly matched with my now-boyfriend, who had a birthday coming up that week. Not only did I almost not match with him, but had I waited to increase my age limits and his birthday had passed, I would have missed him again.

Of course, this story isn't the rule most of the time, but it's important to carefully consider your filters before eliminating potential matches.

3. Take a break if you need to

I had a lot of anxiety about my first experience on Bumble. After a few hours of scrolling and getting matched, I actually deactivated my account. The entire process felt unnatural and foreign. I was shopping for a date. For someone who had never even dated before, it felt bizarre.

It took me a few weeks, but I eventually felt comfortable reactivating my account and began talking to different guys. If you feel uncomfortable or anxious while using any dating app, try taking a break until you feel ready to jump back in.

4. Check your ego

I won't lie, the constant attention and even downright cringe-worthy comments from guys were a real confidence booster. But it's pretty easy for your ego to get inflated when you're constantly receiving positive attention from strangers.

This is actually one of the reasons I took a break from dating apps (in addition to my trepidation). I didn't like the way they made me feel. I also noticed I was getting addicted to the feeling and wanted to make sure if I went back to dating apps, I did so with a healthy attitude.

5. Set rules, but feel free to break them

Everyone I know on dating apps has rules about what they will and will not allow. While boundaries are great, some rules are a little extreme. For instance, I have a friend who won't write back if the other person reaches out and only says, "Hi." I'm not saying this isn't a good rule, but I also can't lie and say I've never done this. With some people, I've felt intimidated or strangely shy (yes, even online) and really struggled to start the conversation.

I'm not saying you shouldn't have rules set up as safeguards. I just don't want you to be afraid to bend the rules from time to time.

Online dating is weird, but I'd do it again

I can't say I'm a fan of online dating, even though all of my experiences with digital dating apps were mostly positive. I'm glad I'm no longer on the dating apps, but if I was single right now, I'm sure I'd use them again.

So, if you're new to online dating and feeling like you're just about the only person on the planet who doesn't understand the appeal, you're not alone! Online dating is weird. Shopping for a date is weird. But, strangely enough, it's a little fun, too.

Courtney Johnston