One in ten. According to a 2020 study by the Pew Research Center, that’s about the number of people who meet their romantic partners online these days. It may feel like everyone around you is matching with their significant other on Bumble or Hinge, but the stats show that connecting in real life is much more likely. If you’re looking to meet someone without online dating in 2022, experts have some advice: focus on you.
When the world first went on pause in February 2020, the best option for connecting with a potential romantic partner were first via an app, followed by a Zoom date or a socially distanced walk. But, as routines return to normal, easing back into meeting strangers can feel like an intimidating process. No less, priorities for a partner have shifted over the last few years. Match’s 2021 Singles In America survey found that, in 2021, some 78% of respondents wanted someone physically attractive (down from 90% in 2020), with increased interest in emotional maturity and open-mindedness instead. In short, mindless selfie swiping is no longer enough.
Lily Womble, an intersectional-feminist dating coach and the founder of Date Brazen, explains that while many of her clients feel successful in other areas of their life, they struggle with finding a partner. “The dating app space specifically is telling women to play the numbers game, to exhaust themselves, [and to not be] too picky — treating their love lives like a joke. Women come in feeling pretty isolated and lonely.”
Why You Should Consider Meeting A Partner Offline
For Greta Tufvesson, co-founder of matchmaking service The Bevy, spending too much time on the phone, whether it's simply swiping or in the talking stage, eliminates one key element of a relationship: the spark. “What people have forgotten is that so much of what makes relationships work is not just how you complement each other and commonalities and goals, but also the chemistry. Chemistry is not something you can get from technology, you can’t get it through apps. You can look at a picture and think wow she’s hot or he's hot, but you will never know until you actually meet the person.”
But, the act of connecting with a stranger in real life can be intimidating. “The practice of asking for what you want and putting yourself out there in the real world with the risk of rejection feels so tender,” says Womble. “[People] don’t have this sense of possibility because they’re not putting themselves out there to be rejected. Unfortunately, dating requires rejection.”
For content creator and brand consultant Cyrus Veyssi, the meet-cute with partner Michael was prompted by an act as simple as accidentally leaving their sunglasses at a spin class. “I asked my friend at the front desk if he could grab them for me and I would come to pick them up later,” they explain. “While I was at work, I received this random DM (that was a picture, no less) on Instagram and was freaking out because I thought it was probably a nude or something. I ended up taking the risk and opened the photo, and it was a selfie of Michael, [the general manager and] my now boyfriend, wearing those glasses I left at the studio. Very smooth move and icebreaker!”
Veyssi says that the chance meeting took the pressure off of their first date since there was no expectation or lead-up. Where an online connection might involve messaging for weeks before the first in-person interaction, the more casual setting allowed them to get to know each other without the same pressure. “I remember liking dating apps because they offered a sense of security, but I always remember there was so much build-up to meeting IRL,” they say. “You create this expectation of the person, and almost always, it's never the exact way you picture it when you meet.”
How To Seek Out The Right Partner
When starting the process of seeking out a new partner, Womble explains that the usual prompts of a dating app — ones that outline their sense of humor or go-to drink order — don’t effectively encapsulate some of the bigger questions you should be asking, especially if your goal is to find a long-term partner.
“Instead of a checklist of kind, funny, good job, nice,” she says. “I want people to know, what are the deeper personality traits you want? Why do you want them? And how do they show up in the world?” Once you’ve had a chance to delve into some of those larger concepts, whether they value social justice or are family-oriented, for example, you can formulate your own questions — and clue in friends who can be on the lookout too.
The same Pew Research Center study on dating lists finding someone looking for the same type of relationship, approaching people, and finding someone who meets expectations as the top listed reasons that daters struggle through the process. By adjusting your mindset and process before beginning to date again, you can enter the process better clued into the traits that will help to establish a more serious partnership.
Womble has an additional tip for those who find themselves stuck in a more negative thought process around dating — what she calls the “thank you, more please” challenge. “There are so many people in the world who are slivers of evidence that what you want exists in the real world in person,” she says. “So, the challenge that I give my clients is whenever you see anything that proves to you what you want as possible, your job is to say ‘thank you, more please’ out loud.”
The intended result is along the lines of the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, often referred to as the Frequency Illusion. After noticing something for the first time, there is a tendency to notice it more. Womble’s example is a red Honda Civic — once she considered purchasing one, she began to see them everywhere. Acknowledge the traits you want when you see them, and you’ll start to see them even more frequently.
Where To Meet A Partner
While it may be a usual rom-com formula to meet at a bar, avoid getting into the mentality of going somewhere with the intention of meeting a partner altogether. “I never met anyone substantial at a bar or club, but not because those substantial people weren't there, but because those specific environments didn't really offer the best opportunities to forge a relationship of any sort with anyone,” says Veyssi.
Instead, focus on your own interests and challenge yourself to try new things. The simple act of changing up your routine can help introduce you to someone new with a similar hobby. Veyessi’s suggestions include a rock climbing gym or a running club, but even a visit to a local park can have a surprising outcome.
“I met a girl who gardens at [New York’s] Elizabeth Street Garden and she met someone who wanted to start volunteering there,” says Katie Lloyd, VP at The Bevy. “Automatically they had so much in common that it was really easy on their first date. Lean into your own interest authentically and be open to having a conversation.”
This method is also one echoed by Womble. “In-person dating isn't just about ‘how can I go to a meet-up with all the single people and find the single people.’ It’s about what brings you joy in your life, and how you can fill your life with more in-person joy.”
When you do find yourself alone in public — at a favorite restaurant or sitting down for coffee, Tuvfesson suggests putting your phone away — no matter how awkward it may feel at first. “When I was dating, you didn’t pull out your phone in the same way that we’re guilty of now,” she says. “The minute you sit down at the bar, you pull out your phone. Everyone is looking at their phone. Before we used to look around and make eye contact with people.”
You never know, your perfect partner may be out there exploring their hobbies in the hopes of finding in-person joy (and potentially you).