A few months ago, a cute guy approached me at a bar and chatted me up. When he turned around to say something to his buddy and poof! I was gone, skittering to the other side of the bar where my friend was waiting. “Ariana, why did you run away?” my friend asked in disbelief. “He’s hot!”
Why did I run away? It’s kinda my thing. I’m a 23-year-old woman living in an age of swipeable romance, but until recently, I’d never used a dating app, or even really casually dated. Being single has always been enough for me, but when the new year struck, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t shutting myself off from an experience that could be special. So I had decided to do the unthinkable: I, a dating app virgin, joined all the major dating apps with the goal of going on one date per app to help me get over my dating fears. I agreed to go out with anyone who asked and asked out anyone I was interested in.
Over the course of 4 weeks, I matched with 206 men, texted 21 of them, and made plans with 15 of them. Here’s what happened. Spoiler alert: I’m still single.
The App: Coffee Meets Bagel
CMB relies on a system of “coffee beans” in exchange for matches and “flowers,” sent by admirers referred to as “bagels.” The concept is cute, albeit unnecessary and kind of confusing. You can see which bagels like you in a scroll-down list of profiles labeled, “he likes you, he likes you, he likes you.” The first time I use it I feel flattered, and also slightly attacked.
Date #1: Sam*
A handsome dental student from LA, Sam chooses a bar in the East Village for our date, but it turns out to be too crowded, so we’re forced to relocate. I settle in with a glass of wine and find out he’s driven, smart, and wants to be a dental influencer (!!!) on Instagram (in hindsight, this explains a lot.) As he continues to extol on the business potential of social media to me, a social media editor, he suddenly gets up from his side of the table and plops down next to me. Awkward! He asks how tall I am and it leads to a conversation on average heights in America.
“Do you know the average penis size?” he asks casually.
“I don’t. Do you?” I fire back.
“No, I don’t.”
Moments later, he starts talking politics. “It doesn’t matter to me if Obama is president or Trump is president,” he declares. I decline his subsequent invitation to go to another “dancing bar” a couple blocks away.
I don’t hear from Sam in the days after our date and I’m relieved. I recount the whole experience to ELLE.com’s senior editor Estelle Tang, who relishes in my bad date story. “At least it can’t get any worse,” I tell her. Her eyes widen. “Oh, Ariana. It can get get so, so much worse.”
Over a week later, he messages me and I pull my first ghost.
The App: Tinder Gold
Tinder was everything I expected it to be: No frills, straight-forward, and definitely the most superficial. Swipe right if you’re interested, swipe left if you’re not. I found the most catfish-y profiles on Tinder, including one guy who lied about his age and confessed he was “old enough” to be my father.
I used Tinder Gold, which allows you to see every person that’s swiped right on you in a big scroll-down list, so you can pick and choose who you’d like to match with.
Date #2: Omar*
I meet Omar at a wine bar near my office after work. I’m feeling a lot less pre-date anxiety, because I chose the spot and it’s familiar territory.
A first year med-student, Omar has an easy smile and I decide he’s a nice guy. We have a perfectly pleasant date with lots of wine, but no sparks or memorable conversation. At the end of the night, he walks me to the subway and hugs me. “We should do this again,” he says. In a panicked jerk reaction, I say, “Yeah!” and regret it.
A couple hours later, I get a follow up text asking if I’d like to go out again. I consult two friends, who insist I come clean. I feel bad, but go through with it. He never replies back.
The App: Hinge
Hinge profiles have a good balance of photos versus personality, making it the most relationship-oriented app. It’s my favorite app, but I have a lot of difficulty landing a date. I air my frustrations to ELLE.com news editor Alyssa Bailey, who met her boyfriend on Tinder. “Did I tell you I used to have all my dating apps in a folder called Hell?” she says.
Date #3: Kevin*
Before my date with Kevin, I attend my friend’s party where I have two drinks. Armed with liquid courage, I meet him at a hotel bar. After an awkward goose chase trying to find each other, we finally figure it out (he was upstairs on the rooftop bar, silly Kevin!) and find seats at a quiet table.
An investment banker, Kevin has his shit together, something I hadn’t sensed from the two guys I previously went out with. We have a lot in common and conversation flows easily. I like him and I decide that if he asks me out again, I’ll say yes. I talk for the most part and am rambling and it soon hits me that I’m kind of drunk—closer to a wine-happy drunk, but teetering towards a problematic, office holiday party drunk. After an hour or so, I mention that I have to be up early tomorrow and he grabs the check.
In retrospect, I truly don’t believe I was out of line that night, even with all my chattiness. Kevin may beg to differ though, seeing as I never hear from him again.
The app: Bumble Boost
Bumble is known for letting women make the first move after finding a match. This wasn’t too impactful for me, as I was scrambling to meet a deadline and messaging just about anyone with a phone and discernible online trail.
Date #4: Damien*
For my final date, I meet Damien at the same wine bar near my office. Instead of sitting across from me, he sits down close next to me, which again, makes me uncomfortable.
Damien has a “keep it 100” mentality, offering sage wisdom such as, “Money can’t buy happiness.” He’s a designer at a popular clothing company and asks a lot of questions about my job. I answer, but he continues to press on the subject. “How do you know who your consumer is?” he quizzes me. “What kind of data do you use?” Our date starts to feel like an informational interview.
Our conversation beyond work is awkward and difficult and I find myself scrambling for topics to think of. Instead of taking his turn to ask a question, he just stares at me with a small smile on his face.
He finally asks what I do in my free time, and I give basic answers like reading or spending time with family and friends. “Wow,” he says, shaking his head. “I’ve never had this much in common with someone.”
Feeling flustered, I excuse myself to the bathroom and call ELLE.com writer and producer Chloe Hall, who helps me come up with a work emergency. I return to Damien and tell him I have to leave. “I think this went well,” he says. “We had a lot of good conversation.”
Two days pass before I hear from Damien again. He asks how the work emergency went and I pull ghost #2. Empowering!
The Apps: The League and Raya
I was also on two elite dating apps: The League and Raya. Both require applications before joining. The League uses your LinkedIn profile for information like education and job position for membership. Raya, an exclusive dating app for creatives and celebrities, is the most difficult to join and refers on Instagram and connections in your contact list.
If your application isn’t approved, you get waitlisted, which is another level of rejection you don’t need in your dating life (isn’t regular human rejection enough?) As one friend who applied for The League said, “I was put on waitlist, said ‘fuck this,’ and deleted it.”
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it was hard to find dates on these apps. Dating pools are smaller, since not everyone can join. I also found matches are a lot less likely to message you, and I question if it’s because there’s something inherently snobby about elite dating apps. Due to the difficulty and my deadline, I end up with zero dates.
So, after four weeks of incessant swiping, texting, and lots of cocktails, I regret to inform you that I did not find the Benjamin Barry to my Andie Anderson. I did, however, conquer my dating fears. I may even stay on an app or two.
Dating is frustrating, exciting, awkward, and funny as hell. But more than anything, it’s a learning experience of what you like, don’t like, and are willing to endure—and for that I’m grateful. And when all hope is lost with a date and you find yourself hiding in a bathroom, or completely zoning out, or ghosting, at least you’ve got a good story to tell.
*Names have been changed.