On The Unfounded Fear of Online Dating

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Bad breakups breed bad decisions.  Maybe buying five flavors of Ben & Jerry’s at the grocery store was excessive (but who can resist “Karamel Sutra”?) and okay, it’s possible you didn’t need to send that “Imissyoutakemeback” text at 2 a.m. after a night of gin and tonics. And maybe that LBD you bought in a burst of “I’m better without you, asshole” chutzpah was just a little too expensive.

These are tried and true methods of coping. But in the internet age, the post-breakup routine has expanded to include a virtual world of easily accessible sex, digital confidence boosters and free meals. Yes, I’m talking about dating apps.

Tinder, OkCupid, Grindr and Bumble have become some of the most popular ways for college students to connect with people they are attracted to… or might be attracted to. Although there is little hard data on the number of college students using these apps in particular, we do know that 10 percent of people ages 18-24 are using online dating.

As more and more students retreat to the internet for some much needed human interaction, many media outlets have claimed these apps are causing “a dating apocalypse.” They argue that the relationship between hookup culture, dating apps and instant gratification has caused a dearth of long-term relationships and respect for women. The media often focuses on women in these criticisms because of the dubious claim that women want relationships and men want hookups.

Couple these gloom and doom reports of online dating with high numbers of college breakups, and what do you get? Dumpees hopping on Tinder to avoid that horrible empty breakup pit.

It would seem like using dating apps post-breakup should be catastrophic. But in my experience, it’s not. Online dating can actually lead to a healthy, happy long term relationship. Here’s my story:

After one of the worst breakups in all of human history (I might be exaggerating here, but it did include a cross-country road trip and a surprise plane ride out of LAX), I embarked on a journey of self discovery, maturation and… crying. Loads and loads of crying. I even cried to the cab driver who took me to the airport. Every time a love song came on the radio, he looked at me sheepishly, paused awkwardly, and changed the station.

When I wasn’t crying, I was writing blues music with a weird bearded guy I met from Whole Foods, posting embarrassing amounts of poetry to Tumblr and consuming an inordinate amount of chocolate. I reminded myself on a daily basis that life would go on. Period.

But there was still that hole. Maybe the hole was the person I had lost, or maybe it was boredom. Maybe it was both, mingled with an insatiable curiosity about this easily accessible virtual world of prospective boyfriends. My newfound singlehood combined with my assertion that I was “totally and completely fine” led me to create a profile on Tinder on my birthday.

Pre-breakup, I had considered datings apps to be disgusting commodifications of sex, partially on account of the media blitzkrieg surrounding it. But post-breakup, daily boosts of confidence from hot strangers were a welcome reprieve from all the crying.

To be fair, there were a lot of problems with the men I found on Tinder and OkCupid, so I can’t outright dismiss every negative media claim. Most of the profiles I encountered were offensive, dumb or just boring.

Until one day I found the (Tinder) One.

I crave what the poet Richard Siken wrote of in ‘Crush.’ But I understand that love is sometimes more like ‘You Fit Into Me” by Margaret Atwood,’” his About me section read. In one picture, he was smiling like a goofball with a Chihuahua hanging out inside his shirt. In another, he was in Algeria, biting his cupid bow lips. And another, featured him wearing indie glasses in front of a bookshelf.

I got so excited that I screenshotted the picture to my best friend with a heart-eyes emoji rant. He had these incredible brown eyes that were simultaneously sexy and innocent. And he liked Margaret Atwood. Problem: he lived 75 miles away. The whole thing seemed like a pipe dream.

By now, I had been on these apps for five months and had been on over forty dates. I understood both the highs and lows. I had several casual AND respectful (no, the two are not mutually exclusive) relationships with people who would have gladly turned our dates into a committed relationship.

I knew at that point that dating apps are not as nightmarish as people make them out to be. Whether you’re looking for a relationship or a casual hookup, you have to set boundaries–meaning open communication about your needs, expectations, etc. But that’s true for all relationships, online or not, and that’s easy to forget.

Instead of thinking about the perils of online dating, let’s think about why people use them in the first place. Online dating can expose you to people far outside of your comfort zone, people you might never have met otherwise. Maybe those people will challenge your views and change your perspective on the world. Maybe they will make you so deliriously happy that you can’t imagine spending your time with anyone else.

I know that online dating did those things for me. That guy I mentioned who lived 75 miles away with the sparkly eyes and adorable dog? We’ve been dating for four months now. And every night before we go to sleep, he whispers in my ear: “I’m so glad I found you.”

Chelsea is a senior at the UW-Madison, majoring in Creative Writing and Sociology. In her free time, she enjoys petting strangers' dogs, making a mean fish fry, and riding her bike (until it was inevitably stolen). When she graduates, she hopes to adopt several German Shepherds and become a starving writer in New York City.

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