Confessions of an online dating addict
My name is Giselle, and I'm an online dating addict.
Ever since my five-year relationship ended in 2014, I haven't gone more than a couple of weeks without using dating apps.
In those three years, I've gone on great dates and bad ones, had a few relationships, made wonderful new friends and racked up enough horror stories to fill a small library.
Online dating has been a powerful tool for me in many ways – it was a major factor in my recovery from vaginismus, and lately it's been invaluable in easing me into my recently realised queer identity – and yet in the past few months, I've strongly felt the need to step away.
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From ghosting to breadcrumbing ("the act of sending out flirtatious, but non-committal text messages in order to lure a sexual partner without expending much effort"), the world of online dating can be impersonal and unkind.
You know you're not the only fish in the sea, that whoever you're talking to or boning is probably talking to and boning others too.
Messages can get mixed, feelings can get hurt, and things can get confusing as hell. For all of their merits, dating apps can also foster a real sense of disposability. After all, who knows who else is just a swipe away?
And yet, whenever I had these negative experiences, I kept going back: Swiping, chatting, meeting up, having sex, getting hurt.
And then going back again, because for a long time I thought that these fleeting connections – skin on skin, whirlwind, heat, flash – were enough to quell the small, quiet voice that whispered steadily in my ear: Not good enough, not smart enough, not thin enough.
But maybe the next would be different, and so I continued, and the cycle went on: rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat.
When I felt truly comfortable and confident with myself, online dating was a blast – it was a fun way to make connections, whether platonic, sexual or romantic, and express myself physically in ways that made me feel invincible.
But in darker moments, when I used it as a way to validate myself – when I was yearning for something more profound – I found that it was toxic and damaging to my self-worth. It chewed me up and spat me out, and going on dates began to feel like more of a chore – a way to fill the void and make me forget just how deep my self-loathing went by losing myself in somebody else.
I desperately wanted other people to like me, to find me desirable, to combat the fact that I did not – could not – think those things about myself.
And I'd feel strong again, until the person would inevitably say they didn't want it to progress further, or not say anything at all, and I'd be back at square one. I wondered if it would have been different if I didn't put out so soon (girl, no – and if that's the case, that person belongs in the bin). I wondered if I could change things about myself to be enough. It always came back to me.
It is not anyone else's job to fix my insecurities. It is a hard thing that I must do alone, and the first step for me is to take romantic and sexual prospects off the table completely while I unpack my own issues and take steps to reconcile myself with them.
So it was, in recent weeks after a couple of such encounters, that I deleted all my apps. Not just deleting them from my phone; not just deactivating my accounts. Deleted. All matches and conversations gone. Zap. I don't know how long I'll be off it for – I just know that, right now, it is not what I need.
I strongly believe in sexual agency. Online dating has given that to me in past lives – it's been crucial for me coming to terms with my sexuality, wants and needs, and rebirthing me as an autonomous sexual being. Many of my physical encounters from dating apps have been formative in my realisation of who I am sexually – they transformed my world view.
But things change. People do, too. When I realised recently that casual sex was no longer working for me, at first I wondered if I was slut-shaming myself – if I was denying myself what I had once actively sought and enjoyed.
But there is nothing more empowering than listening to yourself, being honest about your motivations and feelings, and exercising self-care and self-preservation, even if it's different to what has worked in the past.
What that means for me right now is stepping away from online dating, and focusing on rebuilding the confidence I have lost in myself for various reasons over the years.
It doesn't mean I'm swearing off casual sex or online dating forever, but I'm much more invested in looking inwards to assess what's missing that I've tried so desperately to fill with imitations of intimacy, and addressing that to become the best version of myself – with or without a partner.
I hope this means that when I reenter the world of dating eventually, I'll know much better what I want and what I will not put up with.
If I can only Super Like one person a day (please, I'm not paying for Tinder Plus), from now on I sure as hell am going to make it myself.
- Sydney Morning Herald