Dating apps: Paradox of choice or the way to meet Mr Right?

SINGAPORE – Four pictures of a faceless, naked torso from different angles and one photo of raw salmon sushi.

Just another profile on a dating app.

What is this faceless salmon-loving man trying to say? That he has a good body? That he is a Japanese food fanatic? And why doesn’t he show his face? Is that not a surefire way to tell a woman you are unattractive?

Pondering these questions on the 7pm commute home – I couldn’t help but wonder why am I, or why is anyone, even using dating apps?

As a teenager, I naively imagined that my adulthood dating life would be like that of Carrie Bradshaw – the protagonist of Sex And The City (1998-2004), who, along with her branded heels, met men everywhere – including once at her therapist’s office.

While I do have a writing job (like Carrie), I have no Manolo Blahniks (unlike Carrie). And in 2019, meeting men in real life almost seems like an urban myth.

One of my friend’s parents met at a bus stop, while asking for directions. In the age of Google Maps – my friend wouldn’t have been born.

People now meet potential partners the way they do everything – virtually – on the myriad dating apps available.

There is Tinder – the anything-and-everything-goes app – where men and women look for everything – serious partners, flings, tour guides and even multi-level marketing clients.

The premise is simple. See someone you like? Swipe right. Thank you, next? Swipe left.

There is also the “superlike” option – swiping up. But that usually comes off a little desperate and is thus used sparingly.

Then there is Coffee Meets Bagel (CMB) – which shows users only profiles curated to their background and preferences. People on this app tend to be looking for the elusive Something Real.

Bumble allows only women to make the first move. Happn shows you someone you crossed paths with. The location-based app seemed romantic, until I realised my workplace is more Toa Payoh than Telok Ayer – where kopitiam uncles outnumber bachelors.

I dabbled in online dating briefly for two months last year. Stories from friends who met long-term, committed partners lured me onto Tinder and CMB.

And I picked both up again last month, in part to pen this column, even though the latter unceremoniously informed me on Valentine’s Day that my data had been compromised. What is privacy next to love, right?

My first experience with dating apps has somewhat mirrored the experience of dating itself.

Initially, it was new, fresh and exciting. Fun! Possibilities! Validation (from strangers on the Internet)!

Then after a few cheesy pick-up lines (“That superlike was accidental, for you, it should have been an ultralike!”) and chats with men (okay, one man) who decided to “mansplain” anime to me, I started to see the cracks.

But I hung on because what if, what if the next swipe leads to Mr Right?

Eventually, I realised the fun fades, the possibilities and conversations trailed off to nowhere and why the heck did I need validation from anyone apart from myself?

So when I gave dating apps another go last month, I was plagued by a deep sense of inertia.

Meeting people can be tiring simply because conversations get repetitive – who you are, what you do, where you grew up.

It can also be draining when you seem to meet more tropes of men than actual men.

Like the wanderlust bro. You know, that guy who says travel is his passion and has that one photo of him in Kyoto at either the Arashiyama bamboo forest or the Fushimi Inari Shrine. Or the hipster bros, who wear round glasses and list “cafe-hopping” as an interest.

Or the gym bro who wears a lot of sleeveless tees, takes selfies in the gym and bench press – a lot.

They can double as finance bros, the investment bankers/venture capitalists who love taking mirror selfies in posh public toilets and always wear suits that are too tight, to show off their bodies.

And there was the time I matched with the same guy, one year apart, on two different apps.

Some might say that’s meant to be but since both times started with him asking me for a purely sexual relationship (“kinky stuff”) and ended with me saying No – I’m going to wager it’s more amnesia than destiny.

Perhaps as a result of my low expectations, the experience was not as bad as I imagined it would be.

After three months of dating app experiences, where at least 800 men crossed my digital path, with over 200 matches, a hundred conversations and a handful of dates – I have talked to and met people I would not have otherwise.

While these dates have yet to materialise into relationships, they gave me a chance to learn how well I gel with different personalities. Dating apps have so far yet to find me a significant other, but it has made me reflect on my status as a single woman and the idea of choice.

After my last break-up, I assumed new people will come along, the way they always did. To my surprise – and panic – nothing, and nobody came along. The anxiety of never finding someone gnawed at me. Dating apps seemed to be the answer. All these choices – there must be someone.

But therein lies the paradox of choice – having too much choice is overwhelming. With so many options, how do you know which is “the best”? What if you don’t pick “the best”?

And thinking that your great love is the next man you swipe makes you more dismissive of the man in front of you.

It was only when I stopped thinking of dating apps as the magic portal to The One that I began to enjoy my time on it more.

I let go of the pressure of landing a man and stopped feeling like every guy that did not work out was a lost opportunity and waste of time.

Not coincidentally, that was also when I began accepting, embracing and even loving my singlehood.

If the American dream is a white picket fence, the Singaporean ideal seems to go a little like this: Marry the man you meet in university, get a Build-to-Order (BTO) flat and upgrade it to a condominium in five years.

As much as I cherish my solo dinners, movies and vacations, I still sometimes wish I lived that narrative. How good it must feel, for one’s romantic life to come to fruition.

But it is foolish to settle for settling’s sake, for the fear of being alone and most of all for a BTO. I refuse to settle.

Not because of the proverbial fish in the sea but because I have yet to meet someone I want to have, hold, change and grow with.

Perhaps one day I will. But before that person crosses my path by way of divine intervention or some Silicon Valley algorithm, I will remain single, and hopefully fabulous.

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