If someone asked me what the hardest part of my 20s has been up to this point, I would answer without a bit of hesitation – dating.
Moving back in with my parents after college? Tough. Job hunting? Not a fun process. Making friends? A close second, but still not the winner (for more on this read my article, “How to Make Friends as an Adult”).
As a young adult living in the age of selfie sticks and Snapchat, dating is hands-down the hardest thing I’ve dealt with up to this point. And while this has been my personal experience, I know I’m not alone.
I’m 26 years old, and have been single for three years. I’ve had one “serious” relationship in my life…and I met him on Match.com.
My technological journey started pre-dating apps like Tinder or Hinge, when your two main options were Match.com and eHarmony (and yes, you had to pay). I like to tell myself I was ahead of the times, as I ventured into the uncharted territory of online dating before it really blew up for our generation.
I had never had much luck with dating before that. I didn’t seriously date anyone in high school or college, and while it was tough sometimes, it wasn’t a main priority for me. I was a bit on the shy side, and though I’ve lived in the South for most my life, my northern roots kept me from aspiring to be a wife at 21. Not until I got to the end of my college career did I really start wanting something more serious and wondering why it seemed to be so hard for me. Most of my friends were in committed relationships and some were already married. I felt like I was getting left behind.
When I moved home after college, I really felt energized to put myself out there. What I found was that I literally had no idea how to meet guys my age – especially without the forced college hangouts of sorority mixers or class picnics, where members of the opposite sex were guaranteed to be present. Take it from someone who has (embarrassingly) tried — it doesn’t matter if you take an hour to get ready and try to look super approachable while sitting alone at a coffee shop. The cute guy at the next table is not going to say anything.
Enter online dating.
When I decided to give Match.com a go, (I paid $35, which forced me to put in effort and try to get my money’s worth), it was weird. How much should I put on my profile? Should I try to be funny? What if my jokes get lost in technological translation? Why do all my photos seem really awkward all of the sudden? You get the point. What was even weirder was getting the first message. Even though I’d done my fair share of AIM and Facebook messaging, talking to a total stranger with the intention of possibly dating them was scary and made me feel very vulnerable. Also, as a woman, you hear lots of horror stories going into online dating. All I was trying to do was meet someone, but in the back of my mind, I had to worry about getting kidnapped, drugged or having my identity stolen (thanks for all those, Mom).
I was on Match for a little over a month before I met my boyfriend, who I dated for close to 8 months. While that relationship didn’t work out, it put my mind at ease about online dating because, guess what? He was a regular person, just like me, trying something different.
Since then, online dating has become the norm, and I’m no stranger to it. I’ve tried Tinder and Hinge, along with my initial stint on Match.com, and I’ve met a lot of people. Even after years of swiping, messaging and meeting, I’m still learning. But here’s what I know:
Tip 1: Do Not Overthink It
As I said, when I first logged on, online dating was weird, so I totally understand the hesitation. But I can’t tell you how many guys I’ve gone out with who have told me that I was their first online date, and they were really glad I ended up being normal. …Thanks? Online dating is here to stay (I’ve been to a Tinder wedding, guys), but some still feed into the stigma that it’s a desperate move. I’m not saying there aren’t a couple oddballs who might have other motives, but I think you’ll find that offline, too. To me, it’s become another way to meet people – plain and simple.
Tip 2: Meet in Person
There’s absolutely no way to know if you have a true connection with someone through a screen. I’ve talked people who have seemed awesome over text, then ended up less-than-exciting in person, as well as the opposite. Online dating should be a quick introduction, with plans to meet (during the day in a public place, of course). If the other person doesn’t show interest in meeting relatively soon after the initial conversation, move on.
Tip 3: Be Yourself
Technology gives people lots of tools to enhance themselves, and I think it can be really tempting – whether with filters and the right camera angle, a little white lie, or strategically chosen photos to make yourself seem super outdoorsy or artsy. If you’re not that into the outdoors, don’t pick a bunch of photos of the one time you went hiking just because that’s what you think guys will like. I want someone who likes me for my personality, morals and character, not because I’ve been rock climbing or can take a perfect selfie.
Tip 4: Learn From Your Experiences
I’ve been online dating on and off for years. And I’m still single. But it would take a whole other article to explain how much I’ve grown and learned about myself through my experiences. Is it still hard? Very. Do I feel lonely sometimes? For sure. Dating (online or off) is an emotional roller coaster. But I’m much more confident, know myself better, and (mostly) what I’m looking for in a partner. I’ve met awesome people along the way, some who are still friends. Plus, it’s made my life more interesting than it’s ever been. Seriously, some of the stories I have – you just can’t make this stuff up.
So, if you’re single and looking, my advice would be to put yourself out there and give online dating a chance. Even if you don’t end up finding your perfect match, I promise you’ll learn something new about yourself. And hey, you never know…the love of your life could be just a swipe away.