In our Love App-tually series, Mashable shines a light into the foggy world of online dating. It is cuffing season after all.
I never imagined a dating app could make me feel guilty.
But there I was, sitting on my sofa, worrying if I was, to quote indie pop band London Grammar, wasting my young years.
It had been a difficult week, to say the least. I was sleep-deprived and my anxiety was running riot. What I needed most right then and there was a quiet, restorative night of doing nothing. I was hiding under a blanket on my sofa when my phone started flashing like a lighthouse on the horizon.
Four Hinge notifications appeared on my home screen in close succession. I had a new match named Jake. My eye scrolled downwards to see that Jake wasn’t wasting any time: He wanted to meet up. Right now.
I really didn’t want to do that. It was 9 p.m. and I was in my pyjamas watching Cheer. The last thing I wanted to do was leave the house for what felt like a booty call. My instinct was to put myself first on this night. But that came with a small kick of guilt that I was somehow failing at dating.
I couldn’t seem to shake the feeling that I was boring and a tiny bit selfish for wanting to stay home. You’ll be alone forever at this rate, whispered a small voice in my head. How had a message from a stranger had this effect on me? Truth is, Jake is one of many guys in my phone asking to meet up straight after matching.
Dating app interactions are becoming increasingly fast-paced. That palpable culture shift is a reaction against the “swiping fatigue” that began to plague the dating industry in 2018. This swiping ennui resulted in daters collecting countless matches, but having low-quality interactions that didn’t lead to an actual in-person date. “Breadcrumbing” — a term for daters who have interminable chats with their matches with zero intention of meeting up — became a scourge for people genuinely looking for love, not a penpal. Daters became more and more frustrated with accumulating matches who didn’t seem serious about testing the waters offline.
Now the pendulum has swung so far in the opposite direction, we may have overcorrected. But we can fix this. We can bring balance back to the online dating world by being honest about preferring to chat online before meeting up IRL. If you’re in need of self-care and don’t feel like explaining why, then don’t. If your schedule is packed, suggest alternatives like voice-noting or FaceTime. It is 100 percent OK to say no when a match wants to meet up straight away. Spare yourself the guilt, if you can.
As for me, I had nothing against Jake. But I’d had zero conversation with him, so I had absolutely no idea whether we were even a good match personality-wise. I weighed whether I wanted to expend the mental energy of explaining the reasons why I couldn’t meet up right now. But, to be frank, I just didn’t feel like it. I didn’t have to explain anything. I ignored the request, stowed away my phone and hit play on my TV remote.
A few days later — and feeling well-rested after several nights on the sofa — I spotted a tweet that really spoke to me. Poorna Bell, an author and journalist who writes about mental health, tweeted that if a match asks to meet up with very little notice, “don’t feel guilty or like you’ll miss out on ‘the one’ if you don’t. Work to your own timeline.”
Not sure who needs to hear this today but if you use dating apps and someone asks you to meet with not much notice, but you’ve planned to spend the day at home or have a quiet one, don’t feel guilty or like you’ll miss out on ‘the one’ if you don’t. Work to your own timeline.
— Poorna Bell (@poornabell) January 26, 2020
“I know it’s not as simple as this but the right person will wait,” Bell added. “The right person will understand you have a life and aren’t egotistical to assume you’d drop everything to meet with a random. And time with yourself even if that’s on the sofa with Netflix is as important.”
I knew from talking to friends that I was far from alone in feeling this way. But Bell’s tweet made me feel validated in the decision I’d made that night.
On-demand dating has been on the rise for some time. Couple that with the growing frustration with breadcrumbing and swiping fatigue and it makes sense that some people are trying to seal the deal and land a date straight away. This change in dating culture might explain why more and more daters are sliding into your inbox asking to meet up straight away.
Dating apps have also played a part in this gear-shift. Some popular apps are actively encouraging users to meet up sooner. Naomi Walkland, associate director for Europe and Middle East marketing at Bumble, told Mashable that “getting asked out on a date shortly after you have matched with someone online can sometimes be overwhelming.”
“At Bumble, we encourage people to meet as soon as you can,” Walkland added. “This is one of the reasons why we have a 24-hour window for replies so that it keeps the momentum going with you and your match.” After this finite period ends, the match expires and it’s no longer possible to get in touch. There is the option of extending that window, particularly if you don’t have “first move privileges” (a Bumble feature which allows only one person to break the ice first).
Hinge’s CMO Nathan Roth echoed these sentiments. “In today’s digital world, singles are so busy matching that they’re not actually connecting, in person, where it counts,” Roth told Mashable. “As the dating app that’s ‘designed to be deleted,’ we’re always encouraging our users to move things offline and go on a great date,” Roth continued.
While dating culture has shifted to combat swiping fatigue, not all online daters are on board with the newfound immediacy.
Adele, a home healthcare assistant who prefers to use only her first name as her surname is very recognisable, told me she feels “absolutely terrified, with a side of suspicion” when a match wants to meet up straight away.
She does not, however, feel pressured to meet up. “Especially with some of the horror stories you see, as well as my own experiences with online dating, my safety and comfort is the first thing I think of,” Adele said. “If they immediately push to meet and don’t even have like, a brief chat online first then I absolutely won’t go meet them.”
She does a “full vetting first” and prefers to see their Facebook and Instagram profiles before meeting up. “I’ve been out with quite a few guys via online dating and the nice, reasonable ones have completely understood that when you’re a lone woman going to meet a stranger for a date, you want to be as safe as possible,” she added. “My advice would be: If they have an issue with you saying no to meeting immediately then just steer well clear. Anyone worth seeing would understand.”
Sam Espensen, a spirits producer, used to feel pressured by matches, particularly when the other person is persistently pushing to meet up.
She did say yes once, but then cancelled a few hours before the date. “My Spidey Sense was tingling and it turned out to be correct — the person in question turned out to be majorly flawed,” she said, clarifying that they were “aggressive and stalkery and wouldn’t take no for an answer and refused to understand why women would be nervous about meeting someone straight away.”
She offered some great advice for anyone who might also be feeling pressured.
“Step back and think about why they’re pressuring you,” she said. “If they really like the sound of you, they’ll put some leg work in and communicate online/on the phone for a while before meeting up.” She said that anyone putting pressure on you at such an early stage is likely to do so in the future. “If they’re being really pushy, they probably don’t think you’ll agree to meeting with them after speaking online for a while first. And they may have bad intentions,” she added.
If you do want to meet up with this person, you could consider telling them you’re bringing a friend, Sam suggested. “Their reaction will tell you everything you need to know!”
There are other ways of “meeting” without having to take the step of meeting up in person. Some daters use WhatsApp voice notes to “pre-screen” their dates before meeting up IRL. Chatting over voice notes, if you’re comfortable with it, can provide the opportunity to get a sense of your match’s personality ahead of arranging a date. If your schedule is jam-packed, you could also try a quick video chat on FaceTime. Bumble also has a video calling feature so you can chat face-to-face over the app without disclosing your mobile number. If you notice a spark while voicenoting or video-chatting, try moving things into an in-person date.
Dating culture is in high-gear, but you don’t need to drop everything just to keep pace. There will be times in everyone’s life where meeting up immediately doesn’t work. Sometimes your busy work schedule won’t sync up with a match’s. Other times, your calendar might be free as a bird, but you’re in desperate need of downtime. The right person will understand. Don’t feel bad about putting yourself first.