If you’re looking at dating from a strictly logistical point of view, it should be easier now than in the past. There are a million different dating apps and services to help you find someone. Gone are the days where your only options were to go to a crowded bar and hope for the best. We no longer rely on a friend or relative to set us up with someone they love. This new way of meeting potential romantic partners has its upsides, but online dating in my 30s is also a brutal grind I wasn’t expecting.
Dating in my 30s, as a single parent, wasn’t something I planned on. I spent most of my 20s in a relationship, and I figured we’d get married. So when our relationship ended a month before my 30th birthday, I found myself in uncharted territory. Dating has become a vast digital landscape, and to get anywhere you have to become a bit of a professional. In today’s swipe culture, you’re playing an intricate game, but with flesh and blood feelings.
After deciding I was ready to date again, I was overwhelmed by the options available. Gone were the days of choosing between Match or eHarmony. Even OkCupid didn’t pack the same punch. Now it’s all about Tinder, Bumble, or one of the dozen other online dating apps. I found myself hunched over my laptop Googling “best dating apps” just to figure out where to start. It’s too much to have a dozen accounts to keep track of. On top of that, I identify as queer and exclusively date women. But in talking to my straight women friends, it’s a grind no matter who you date.
With online dating, much like the lottery, you have to be in it to win it. There is the time you spend agonizing over the best pictures of yourself to use first. (Face not too obscured, a variety of poses, and avoid group pictures) Then there’s the bio. It’s so hard to talk about yourself objectively, but crucial if you want good matches. Many good sentences have been deleted and rewritten out of sheer terror that I’d come off as “too much” or “not enough.” Of course all of this is in my head. Rationally I know this, but dating apps can make you feel completely irrational sometimes.
Sometimes it feels like a full-time job just maintaining your presence. Your online dating profile is always a work in progress. There are always changes to make. If you aren’t getting any matches (or any good matches), maybe it’s your pictures. So you change those. But then there’s your bio. Should you make it funnier? Less snarky? Are you coming off desperate? Sometimes I wish there was a way to add a feedback option to my profile so I could tell what’s working and what isn’t. It’s the not knowing that’s the hardest part. There is so much anxiety driving most of the decisions when it comes to how you present yourself on your profile.
Then there’s the sheer number of dating apps to navigate. Online dating is exhausting if for no other reason than the amount of time you put into it. At any given time, you could be using up to three different apps to find one date. If you’re not having much luck on Tinder, try Bumble. No good bees in the hive? Move on to Coffee Meets Bagel. For queer women and trans/non-binary folks, there are several apps. They’re great, but the amount of crossover can be a lot sometimes.
Swipe fatigue is so real. When I’m really focused on my search (or finding life utterly boring), I have a routine. Each night, I allot about a half hour to checking online dating apps. When I find myself mostly swiping left, I switch to the next one and so on. Usually it’s an emotionally draining process, which is why I only devote a short period of my day to it. I may be really diligent and check everyday for a few weeks — then I may just say “fuck it” and not open any apps for a month.
The fatigue is even more real as a single mom. I simply don’t always have the time and energy to devote to looking, let alone actually going out. I don’t want to be alone, but spending time talking to someone is tiring. Especially if it never goes anywhere. If we actually do make it to a date, that feels like an even bigger accomplishment, simply because of the coordination — and expense (hello, babysitters!) — it takes to make that happen.
One of the only benefits to online dating in my 30s is having friends who are doing it too. Having people to commiserate with when it gets to be too much is a lifesaver. We all understand how absolutely exhausting dating in your 30s is. I love helping pick out selfies and rewrite bios for my friends, but nothing is more fun than sharing screenshots of some of the profiles we come across during our swiping adventures. Some of the men’s profiles that my friends send remind me of why I don’t date cis men, honestly. When you’re wading knee deep through trash men (and women), it’s nice to have people to share the truly absurd moments with. And boy, have there been plenty.
Some days it feels like I’ll be stuck in the hell that is online dating forever. No matter how much time and effort I put in, finding someone is hard. There’s no way of knowing if a person is “the one” from a few pictures and a couple of meticulously written paragraphs. I have no idea if the love of my life is waiting for me on an app. In the meantime, though, I’ll keep swiping with the hope that they are.