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I Hate Dating Apps. Is There A Better Way?

How to date like it’s 1999.

Sex & The Single Mom

This time last year I made a pledge to get back out there and start dating again. I was married for almost 15 years, and after my divorce, I was sort of looking forward to giving apps a shot since they weren’t a thing the last time I was single. Little did I know that app dating is actual hell. I was ghosted by the people I was interested in, stalked by the ones I wasn’t. Not to mention the amount of false advertising from men who looked nothing like the pictures they posted.

I had big plans for a year of hot sex (I’m in my late 40s and feel very much in my prime, sexually) but was disappointed by the lack of men in theirs and am now convinced that meeting men on apps is not the way. At least not for me.

The thing is, it feels like these days, apps are the only way to meet people romantically, as no one seems to hit on anyone in person anymore. Are we so afraid of each other that no one is willing to walk up to a person they find attractive and say hello?

Either way, I am deleting the apps for good and starting 2024 without them. And I am putting this here as a promise to myself and also an invitation for anyone who is equally sick and tired of swiping to join me.


Old School

Dearest Old School,

First off, congratulations on breaking up with dating apps. It is hard to get out of a toxic relationship of any kind, especially when that toxic relationship comes with the promise that any swipe could be “the one.”

The first time I got back to dating after 13 years of marriage, I was insistent on having an open relationship because I got to see what was out there (Look! There are so many fish in the sea!). And while I do not feel that way anymore (SOS! Get me out of the sea!), I think there is a highly addictive component to online dating that is similar to gambling. Even those of us who know better are tempted to think, “What if the next swipe leads to someone great and someone else gets to them first? I must stay up fishing for another hour!”

It’s worth noting that although dating apps may tell you that their goal is to pair people off so that they can then delete the apps for good, this is a billion-dollar business (apps pulled in a cool $4.92 billion in 2022!) that capitalizes on single people staying single and using the apps forever and ever. They are designed to keep you using them. But at some point, you have to cut your losses, climb off your stool, and say “peace out” to the slot machines.

I consulted my teenage daughter about this, since teens do not use dating apps. Her response was that “adults need more confidence.”

While apps can bring people together who wouldn’t otherwise have found each other, they also hold us back from meeting people in our everyday lives. We have forgotten — or never really learned — how to look for them.

Dating apps, as well as social media, have done serious damage to our willingness to approach each other and bond, which is a serious concern I have and one that I think is a root cause of our isolation and division. It is so much easier to talk shit about people when we are not face-to-face with them.

All of this is to say, good for you for letting them go. To quote several Pinterest-worthy clichés all at once: “If they are not sparking joy in your one wild and precious life, then quit while you’re still alive.”

Just think of all the time you’ll now have to do things that do spark joy, like getting out of the house and meeting people in real life like we used to do in the ‘90s. They may not be in the majority, but there are still plenty of people who are as old-school as you are and are determined to meet in ways that don’t require dull prompts and airbrushed photos. It’s high time we ditch the avatar and bring back the meet-cute. People are hungry for meet-cutes. Just look at all the TikTok and IG accounts (more billion-dollar apps! Ahhh!) devoted to the stories of people who met in real life.

I consulted my teenage daughter about this, since teens do not use dating apps and seem to have no problem meeting people. And, yes, they go to school (an environment brimming with eligible possibilities) but a lot of teens do not date the people they go to school with because they abide by the “don’t shit where you eat” rule.

What would dating look like if we all decided to collectively delete the apps? Would we go out more? Make more conversation in elevators and more eye contact when stopped in traffic?

Her response was that “adults need more confidence.” She also insists that adults should be on Snapchat, which for the record I do not agree with. I do not want to be on Snapchat. Her point, though, was that when kids see each other in the wild, they approach each other and ask for each other’s “snap.”

There is no adult equivalent to this, of course. If a stranger asked for my IG or phone number, I would be like “absolutely not!” But sitting down to write this, I have asked myself why. I can’t help but wonder, is stranger danger a thing for adults? And if you vibe with a stranger in person, isn’t that far more telling than vibing with a photo on an app? Are we that afraid of each other in person? Have we been so conditioned to connect with our phones that we are unable to connect without them?

What would dating look like if we all decided to collectively delete the apps? Would we go out more? Make more conversation in elevators and more eye contact when stopped in traffic? Would we look to strangers as potential friends? Lovers? Spouses? Instead of another person getting in our way, why are you talking to me, leave me alone, would we be more open to setting each other up? Saying hello when we think someone is cute or writes something interesting or makes us laugh? Would we hug each other more and feel good about it?

I would like to take you up on your 2024 resolution to delete all the apps for an entire year and see what’s possible without them. In fact, I’m going to help recruit people to the cause.

Thank you, Old School. Here’s to us.

I want to answer any and all questions you have about the exhilarating, terrifying, and wonderful experience of dating and having sex with new people after becoming a parent. Send me your questions at

Rebecca Woolf writes Romper’s Sex & the Single Mom series. She has worked as a writer for more than two decades and is the author of two books, Rockabye: From Wild to Child and All of This: A Memoir of Death and Desire. You can subscribe to her newsletter, The Braid, for more. She lives in Los Angeles with her four children.