For over a month, I could sense something was wrong. Uncomfortable with myself and in my own skin, finding myself bursting into bleak tears on a bi-nightly basis – it really couldn’t carry on. Upon performing a self-assessment of my life, an overview of proceedings in a desperate search to find out the cause of the problem, I think I found it. Dating apps. Right now, for me, they’re causing more harm than good to my sense of self and my wellbeing. In fact, they were making me profoundly unhappy. After over 14 months where dating apps have been our main, and in some months only, source of meeting new people – I have been one of the many people dependent on them. Hooked on them. Desperate for them to work. Willing something, anything , to happen. And I’m only just realising how much I’ve been using them to emotionally self-harm.
As a society, we’re force feed a narrative when it comes to relationships and the role they play within our lives. As an enteral singleton, with brief spurts of dating and situationships that have been variable (mostly not-good) I constantly feel flawed. Broken. Unwanted. Clearly there must be something not right with me, otherwise I’d be with someone won’t I? Whether anyone actually thinks that about me, I neither know nor care. That’s a relatively new train of thought for me, and it feels so empowering that I’m starting to think, believe and finally feel that way.
What scares me is how I’ve lately found myself thinking that about myself. Using the last month as my main example – although I know it is has happened countless times in the past – I have induced a spiral of self-loathing within myself about myself through my experiences of the apps. For the past month I have alternated between Bumble, Hinge and Match.com to less than minimal success. To no success, to be frank with you. I have come out of May with precisely the same amount of romantic prospects – none. Zero. Zilch. Nada.
Logically I know there’s many aspects at play here that are fully out of my control. There’s the algatrium, that secret formula every one of these apps has that dictates the prospective love matches we see. It’s unquestionable this will incorporate a rating of attractiveness and eligibility (we’ll return to this shortly). There’s the fact we’re in a global pandemic and all of us are beyond shattered, fatigued and talking wounded – should we get a match, what are we going to talk about? Must we talk about all that has gone on, where we’ve had over a year of our fertility and youth stolen away from us? How about the fact some of these apps are time-sensitive, with matches expiring after a certain window of silence? Yes, Bumble, I may not have put my phone down since mid-March 2021, but it doesn’t mean I’m able to respond instantly to your notification that is intruding whatever I am currently doing – and what if life gets in the way and holds up his response to my undoubtedly witty first message. Hinge, you’re not so innocent either – your Rose system is total madness.
For those unfamiliar with it (and thank your lucky stars for that fact) every week a user on the app – with the basic version, not paying for additional extras – gets given one Rose to give to one of their matches. Using old money, it’s equivalent to a Superlike on Tinder; a way of showing your match that you’re not just keen on them. You’re very, you-must-show-them-instantly keen. But you’re only given one Rose a week, unless you wish to pay £3 for 3 more Roses. There’s two ways you can spend these Roses, whilst swiping through your suggestions list or you can visit the standouts section. Everyday you’ll be shown 8 prospects who are the Crème de la crème, the best of the best candidates who are more than likely what the app has identified (correctly or otherwise) as you’re type. These standouts never appear in your main feed, you’ll only see them there in that section. And they won’t necessarily be there tomorrow. And you can’t just ‘like’ them, the only means of contact is to give them that one Rose you have each week. And it’s this numbers game that is really horrific when you lay it out, and exposes the most toxic aspect that is fundamental to these apps. You’re given one rose a week, but at 8 candidates a day, that’s 56 candidates over the course of the week to spend that single rose on. Do you spend it on that person, with that funny bio or picture, or should you hold out just in case? What is someone better comes along? And what exactly is ‘better’ when it comes to these apps?
As someone who doesn’t tick the boxes for conventional beauty standards, it’s probably not me. At 181cm tall, I am roughly 17cm taller than the national average for a woman in the UK. But I’m not tall and willowy, with my clothing size on the high street varying from a sometimes 12 to an often 18. There’s also my mane of red hair, the colour of which I share with less than 2% of the world. These ‘differences’ about myself make me feel vulnerable, things I’ve rejected rather than embraced. In previous years of my dating life, this has resulted in my appearing in a certain type of person’s (ahem, man’s) dream venn diagram – a niche taste that has often resulted in uncomfortable festishisation and disturbing messages. I’m also 8 months into a journey of Long Covid, which has warped my connection with my body and made me feel like its tenant rather than its owner. And let’s not go down the rabbit hole of my various nerouses and self-image complexes – many of which have been worsened so, so much by this last month of dating app usage.
My tipping point this week was when this emotional self-flaggation, from how I was viewing myself combined with a lack of matches & messages, became terrifying levels of torture. I realised I was spending around 90 minutes a day swipping and hoping. And, within that accumulated time, there was no-one who liked me back. This formed the thought that I was therefore being rejected by every man I had swiped yes on – hundreds, thousands of rejections. No-one wanted me. I wasn’t good enough. I was undateable. I must be broken. No-one will ever want me.
Now, let me tell you, having my brain say that to me at 3.12am one morning was a stinging slap to the face and a cold stab to the heart. If I really felt that way about myself, what good would I be to anyone else. I would never, ever dare say that to anyone else. If someone I loved dare to say that about themselves, I would be devastated – therefore, how could I dare be saying that to myself and treating myself in this way?
That’s when I uninstalled them on my phone, there and then, and set myself a minimum of a two week enforced break with no exceptions and extreme likelihood of extension. I’m now on day four and, in all honesty, I wish I could say I don’t miss them. I feel weirdly ashamed to say I feel adrift without them, they’re addictive in a way that defies comprehension. It also feels like, as a result, I’m no longer ‘trying’ or ‘making an effort’ to meet someone. To preserve and protect myself, to try and heal from the damage I’ve inflicted on myself, I’ve essentially had to cut off the only way of meeting new people in the Covid-infested landscape that is 2021.
But right now, I just can not do it. As Mama Ru says – If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell can you love somebody else? Right now, I scarcely even like myself, so I’ve got a long way to go – so it’s about time I work on being my own cheerleader and work towards loving again the stranger who was myself.