It all started one cool and misty summer evening this past August. I was sitting on a bench in a park illuminated by the moon, the stars, a couple street lights, and I was not alone. Next to me was a guy I met on Tinder. And, so far, it was the best Tinder date I’d been on. It was my fourth date with someone I’d met on the internet, and the only one so far I didn’t desperately want to forget. He bought me ice cream, participated in the conversation enough that my back didn’t ache from carrying it alone, and wore pants (NOT SHORTS). I wouldn’t say I was enjoying myself, but I wasn’t actively looking for a way to cut the night short.
I considered all of this as we sat on this bench in this park and he rattled on about his family and taking speech therapy lessons as a kid with drag queens; I zoned in and out of the conversation, of course laughing and nodding at the correct moments. Then he stopped talking and the conversation stalled. I sat for a minute, staring straight ahead, considering what to say next when I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. Before I knew it, he’d crossed the half a foot of space I’d strategically placed between us on the bench and was heading straight for my lips (I think?).
The timing was so wrong, my body language had in no way indicated that I was into some physical canoodling. There’d been no previous physical contact during our date, we hadn’t even really strayed away from friend vibes. He really just went for it with absolutely no encouragement. There was only one way to react, or so my body automatically decided, which was to swerve so hard I almost fell off the bench. Then it was awkward, so awkward. I almost wanted to yell at him for his poor judgement. Had he never seen people kiss in movies? With their faces close, eyes fixed on lips, smiling suggestively at each other, talking in vaguely coded “I wanna kiss you” words? He hadn’t said anything and he didn’t say anything now. He shut down. I tried to apologize and explain, but all I could think was, This officially tops the list. My not-so-bad Tinder date had quickly turned into the worst one of them all and I was through, done, finito.
"My not-so-bad Tinder date had quickly turned into the worst one of them all and I was through, done, finito."
When I got home, after relaying the whole sordid tale to my roommate, of course, I grabbed my phone and angrily deleted the evil app with its mocking “flame” icon. Then sent Bumble on its way too. And Hinge. I disabled my message notifications on Instagram and Twitter (you still get DMs, but you won't know it unless you go out of your way to check). I didn’t quite have the energy to decide if I should delete my social media altogether. Then I laid down on my bed in a huff with my thoughts whirling. Was it a mistake? In the moment, all I wanted was to be rid of the source of embarrassment and humiliation Tinder and other dating apps seemed to be. Bury the cringey date in the park with the boy who didn’t talk in full sentences, erase the night I went to get Indian food with a guy who spent most of the night in the bathroom, and banish the one who didn’t even pay for my drink but expected for me to go home with him. Dating via the internet hadn’t actually brought anything good into my life besides an ego boost every once in a while, and as a self-proclaimed serial monogamist, was it even the right place for me? I knew what I wanted. I wanted a relationship, someone I could depend on, a commitment. Yes, a little old-fashioned for a gal in her 20s. Then I had my “aha” moment: Maybe going back to the “old-fashioned” methods of dating was the key.
"Then I had my “aha” moment: Maybe going back to the“old-fashioned” methods of dating was the key."
According to research done by communications consultancy firm We Are Flint in 2018, about one in five U.S. men, and one in ten U.S. women of adults aged 18 and over use Tinder. Further, a study conducted by sociologists Michael Rosenfeld and Sonia Hausen of Stanford University, and Reuben Thomas of University of New Mexico in 2017, found that 39% of heterosexual couples and 65% of same-sex couples who met in 2017 met online. But Rosenfeld and his associates make the argument that, “Internet meeting is displacing the roles that family and friends once played in bringing couples together.” The study found that a combined 27% of couples who met in 2017 met through family or friends and 27% (interestingly) met in a bar or restaurant. So it seems, while meeting people the traditional way is no longer the dominant method, it’s still fairly successful. So I thought, what’s stopping me from being part of that 27%?
When I googled “traditional dating methods,” being set-up by friends was by far the most heavily cited. So, I dove in. I called, texted, hinted at, and begged every single one of my friends to set me up with someone. And can you believe only one of them really came through? The first friend I asked, a girlfriend who’s also in college and is in a committed relationship, was enthusiastic at first and claimed her boyfriend had many cute friends she could potentially “hook me up with.” It sounds hopeful, but then when I followed up she sent me his Instagram and told me to just DM him. I tried to explain to her that the whole point was to have her set me up directly and not use social media at all. She claimed it would be weird if she was to set it up for me and I, honestly, didn’t know what to say to her at that point. Though most of my friends told me they couldn’t think of a single man they knew worthy of my time — so at least she tried.
The “I’ll Introduce You.”
After nagging every friend I had to set me up on a date with a handsome male, only one came through and it was, surprisingly, the only guy friend I felt comfortable enough to ask. He’s pretty involved with Greek life at his university nearby, so I figured it wouldn’t be too hard for him to find a guy I might be compatible with — and he did. But, he also thought it was a bit awkward to set me up on a blind date so he recommended I come along to one of his fraternity’s functions and he’d introduce us. While it wasn’t the traditional set-up I’d been hoping for, I figured it was the best I was going to get. When we arrived at the function, I in a cocktail dress and him in a suit to boot, I made a beeline for the bar for a drink to calm my nerves. My friend then introduced me to his frat brother — we’ll call him Ben. Ben was tall and dressed like Bond, with gold cufflinks and a coiffed hairdo. His smile was warm and his handshake firm and professional. We spent that night engrossed in fluid conversation, discussing his finance major and my affinity for the color purple. We bonded over a shared love of Friends and whiskey sours. I found myself pleasantly surprised by how easy he was to be around.
"After nagging every friend I had to set me up on a date with a handsome male, only one came through and it was, surprisingly, the only guy friend I felt comfortable enough to ask."
“I’m glad you came tonight,” he told me as the function dwindled to a close. I blushed. He was forward and that might’ve been the most attractive thing about him. “Give me your number so we can go out for real next time.” He came off slightly cocky, but I could forgive him for that, I think. I obliged and immediately wondered how long it would take for him to text me, or if he actually would. I laid in bed that night replaying the whole thing over and over in my head and how easy it had been. There were only ever mild moments of awkwardness, and when he hugged me goodbye he’d left the faintest smell of Polo cologne on my jacket. I wasn’t jumping up and down, waking up my roommates to tell them every detail, excited about Ben like I’d been about the start of past relationships, but it definitely had felt like the start of something.
Then, life happened. He texted me after the obligatory, Cosmo-specified three-day rule. Hey, it’s Ben. Just wanted to say it was great meeting you. I responded likewise. We spent the next day and a half-heartedly keeping up a small talk conversation over text until I finally made the leap he clearly wasn’t going to take and asked him out. He responded enthusiastically enough, but when I pushed for a date and time when he was available all I got was a vague “I’ll let you know” and then radio silence. I was a little hurt at first. Did I do something wrong? Was I too forward? I felt slighted until I remembered that he had little obligation to me. Other than being in a fraternity with my friend and a semi-pleasant night spent chatting at a function, we had no real connection. So I took it as a lesson-learned and changed tactics.
Fine, I’ll Do It Myself.
I started writing my number on a customer’s coffee cup at the local cafe and bakery I work at, to which I got no response, (I think he now frequents the Dunkin’ across the street instead). Then, I went to a speed dating event just to see forty men in their forties and walked right out. I thought, I might just have more luck finding something lasting in a relationship with someone I already know well. Maybe that’s what set-ups and internet dating have in common, a stranger-danger component. So I approached a longtime friend who’d given hints in the past of wanting to be more. I always disregarded them because I wasn’t sure if he was really into it or just being flirty, and he’d never been explicit. After a couple more conventional dating failures I was feeling like I really needed a win. At least it was almost a guaranteed good time.
"The date started with coffee, as all good dates should. There’s nothing I love more than a strong cappuccino in a real mug and my friend-turned-date (we’ll call him Steven) proved himself right off the bat by insisting he pay."
The day started with coffee, as all good days should. There’s nothing I love more than a strong cappuccino in a real mug and my friend-turned-date (we’ll call him Steven) proved himself right off the bat by insisting he pay. Chivalry at its best. We then headed to an art museum, my favorite place to take my men. There’s just something about touting my art knowledge and watching their faces glaze over in boredom that gets me hot, hot, hot. I’m kidding, mostly. There is something about being in a museum on a first date, when everything is new and sexual tensions are high. It’s like the urge to touch each other is almost as strong as the urge to stroke Monet’s delicate fields of wildflowers. But, in Steven’s case, there was not even a sizzle. Not even Auguste Rodin’s sensual and evocative bronze statues could elicit a response from him. Not a hand on the small of my back or a brush of the back of my hand. A coy whisper in my ear or a mischievous, lingering glance at a Renaissance nude.
"There is something about being in a museum on a first date, when everything is new and sexual tensions are high. It’s like the urge to touch each other is almost as strong as the urge to stroke Monet’s delicate fields of wildflowers."
Friends had accused us of flirting in the past, but it wasn’t until then that I realized it was more of a bickering banter kind of flirting. He loved to start arguments with me, question every view and opinion I had. When I was trying to talk about art, he was digging for my stance on the Middle Eastern conflict. And while sometimes I enjoyed the challenge and revelled in my ability to prove myself right, I started to wonder if he wasn’t just doing it for fun. Did he really believe in the effectiveness of trickle down economics? What if his vehement defense of the U.S. military wasn’t a joke? I started to realize that chemistry might not be the only thing we didn’t have in common. But something in me pushed those gut feelings aside. Maybe it was my desperation to make something work or my friends’ voices in my head telling me Steven is a really good guy and I should give him a chance.
After the museum, and a whole day of exploring the city in relative comfort, we headed back to his apartment to make dinner and watch a movie. I was hesitant to agree to this plan, but could feel how much he wanted to continue our date and it softened my resolve. Making dinner turned out to be surprisingly fun. Cooking was truly the one thing he had no expertise in and was privy to whatever I deemed necessary for him to do. After we ate, we settled in to watch a movie. I let him put on SuperBad, even though I wasn’t really in the mood for a raunchy comedy. It didn’t seem like my preference for rom-coms would go over too well. It didn’t take long for the movie to take a backseat, and for Steven to come at me like we were two horny teenagers hooking up in a backseat. It was another one of those moments where I gave no indication, besides allowing him to sling an arm around my shoulder, that I was angling for a necking. This time I didn’t swerve, maybe due to PTSD from the awkwardness of my last near-miss or in an instinctive effort to preserve his ego and our friendship.
"It didn’t take long for the movie to take a backseat, and for Steven to come at me like we were two horny teenagers hooking up in a backseat."
While his overwet lips mawed mine, I started to think (yeah, that’s never good). I thought about the last guy I really liked and found it hard to remember the feeling of actually being excited to make out with someone. It was like reaching into the distant part of my memory, buried by random Gilmore Girls facts and One Direction song lyrics, and coming up with nothing. Then he oh-so-subtly tried to slip my dress and bra strap off my shoulder, and that’s when I slammed on the brakes. I knew our friendship wouldn’t survive the awkwardness of my exposed boob. Of course, he wondered about the sudden disgusted look on my face and I had to tell him I just wasn’t feeling it. I tried to be pretty candid, and told him I couldn’t see him as more than a friend and it took us being lip-locked to realize that. He took it pretty well considering the situation, but I think it’ll still be awhile before we can comfortably watch SuperBad together again.
Well, I definitely learned a lot. Like avoid most speed dating events, and if you’re dead set on trying it, make sure to go to one with a specified age range (and they’re mostly for the 24-35 folks). Oh, and approaching someone on public transit who you think is cute only leads to them looking appreciatively frightened then moving to the other end of the train. Seriously, though, when it comes to dating without the help of Tinder and Bumble or Instagram and Twitter, there’s a lot to consider. I was surprised to find out that my friends weren’t helpful when it came to set-ups and, maybe because of the popularity of online dating, found it awkward to put me in touch with a potential date when I could just “hit them up” via social media. I think this comes partly from the convenience of meeting people online but also might be the result of my age. Early twenties isn’t really the age men are at when they’re looking for serious relationships and set-ups. No one’s gonna agree to a set-up for casual sex when they could just find it on Tinder. Plus, people love to gossip. If a set-up doesn’t go as expected or is weird and awkward, there’s a strong possibility details of it will get relayed back to people you know and that’s never fun. Dating apps have the added benefit of some anonymity, since you’re typically talking and going out with people who you have little to no common acquaintances with. That also makes it much easier to ghost, “hit it and quit it” as the kids say.
"Early twenties isn’t really the age men are at when they’re looking for serious relationships and set-ups. No one’s gonna agree to a set-up for casual sex when they could just find it on Tinder."
I also learned that when meeting people IRL, the conditions truly have to be right for something to come of it. I could give you the boomer-esque “get off our phone, look up! You never know who you might see” lecture, but there’d be no point. Because even if you’re looking up and at the people around you, no one else is. Take my misstep on the subway. A decade or so ago, that might’ve been seen as more normal. Or at least normal for a man to approach someone they’re attracted to in public. Now, it screams crazy! In the same vein, writing your number on an innocent man’s coffee cup might just lose you a customer instead of giving you meet-cute material for your next novel.
And the final takeaway: Don’t try to turn a friendship into a relationship just because you don’t have any other options. Oh, and trust your gut. With Steven, I always knew on some level that it wasn’t right and that’s why I’d never explored a romantic relationship in the first place, even when it was clear he’d be into it. Though it’s harder to gauge a gut feeling online, and that’s one of the perks of traditional methods of meeting people, it can still help you weed out the ones that are just going to waste your time. Since this experiment ended, I’ve begun testing the waters of Tinder again, but I don’t even bother swiping right on someone who I would never approach in person. And while that’s limited my number of matches considerably, it makes me feel more active in avoiding the catasphrophic online dating experiences I’ve had in the past. My last words of wisdom: Don’t give up. Even though it seems like finding love, whether online or in-person, is as rare as getting struck by lightning, you’re not helping yourself any by throwing in the towel. People say love will find you, but it can’t find you if your hiding under a rock. Nothing will, not even the experiences you’ll regret in the moment but learn a lot from later.