DATING WHEN I WAS 21 vs 31

I've been talking a lot lately about the dating scene to friends. Now days, I'm one of the only people in my friend group who is single, and I often hear people express their absolute horror at the idea of being single again in the age of dating apps. I can't really take offense to this attitude—My dating experience now days feels a whole world apart from when I was a young, optimistic 21-year-old.

Dating when I was 21 was easy. I was still in college and there is almost no easier time in your life to meet people than in college. I met my boyfriend at the time by making eye contact with him in the Subway line at the student union. It was literally that easy to meet new, exciting people. In my early- to mid-20s, I always met guys the old fashioned way: at bars, parties, or through friends. I made fun of online dating (app versions hadn't quite exploded in popularity yet). Who needs to meet people online when all you need to do to meet a new guy is walk outside? I had some friends in long-term relationships but also a lot of us were "just having fun." I also had my own reasons for wanting to be casual. I definitely didn't feel any rush to find the "love of my life."

The first time I used a dating app I was 27-years-old. Tinder was becoming super popular. Swiping and judging someone's worth based on your gut instinct from their photo was a fun past-time. I'd swipe threw people when I was bored, or I'd sit with a friend and we'd judge people together—swiping left or right, laughing at the absurdness of it all. Seeing a friend or a coworker pop-up on your feed was an amusing new reality. It all normalized very fast. In less than a year, we went from dating apps being a silly little game to "how else do you meet people?"

The summer when I was 29, I'd moved back stateside after spending a year living in China. I almost immediately got back on Tinder 'cause why not? I was resorting out my career and had time to kill. It was fun at first, but after awhile it felt like there was a shift in the the type of people on it. I got an overwhelming amount of request from people on Tinder for "threesomes" or "friends with benefit" situations."But we're not friends..." I received more dick pics than I ever wanted (Guys, never send a dick pick unless the person you're sending it to has expressed a desire to see it. Seriously!) The whole thing felt like a downer so I deleted my Tinder account. (Like wise, I had a bad experience with Bumble when it was first introduced to the Portland-area and refuse to ever get back on the app). I had always been the one telling my friends who complained about how hard it is to meet people to try just going to a bar,"it's always worked for me." But now I noticed I was meeting less and less new people. I had deleted dating apps, I wasn't really going out to bars the same way I use to, I didn't really have any single friends, and I wasn't exactly meeting new people through my career. My life circumstances, and to an extent the current dating culture, made it increasingly difficult to meet people the "old fashion" way.

I took a bunch of time off from dating in general. By the time I decided to re-enter the scene, I'd hadn't been in a long-term relationship for nearly 7 years. While I felt perfectly happy being single and not really in too much of a rush to "settle down and get married," I also didn't feel like being in casual flings anymore. I started to feel at a bit of a loss though for where to meet new people. How does everyone else find these people to go on dates with? Where are these people who aren't just looking for casual hook ups? What if I don't want to be in a threesome or some polyamorous relationship?  That's when I got the idea of getting set up on a series of blind dates by friends. "It'll be fun and old fashioned," I imagined. The problem? My friends don't really have any single, straight guy friends. (We're still working on potentially setting up a traditional blind date but it's looking like slim pickings).

In the meantime, I returned to the world of dating apps. This time I wanted to avoid the Tinder crowd so I scrolled through all the apps, assessing my options before landing on Hinge. It works fairly similar to Tinder but with less of a one-night-stand feel (I've received no salacious requests so far.) Recently, I also created an OkCupid account. I had slight prejudges against it, like this was the dating app for old, desperate people. I'm not sure where I got that idea from, maybe I'm mixing it up with eHarmony? I actually created my account because of a work project. I was surprised. It didn't feel particularly needy or desperate. It felt fun, kind of like when I was first on Tinder (I also found after opening my account that my roommate used OkCupid to find her boyfriend. It's her preferred dating app.) For someone who had been a bit snobby towards such dating methods in the past, I honestly find dating apps kind of a cool concept. While the swiping through person after person has a slight dehumanizing effect, I found it's been a nice avenue for meeting and talking to people I wouldn't have every known existed.

Will I find someone worth dating through a dating app? No idea. As someone who champions a woman's right to live as single, independent human and doesn't believe my success or worth as a person is depended on whether or not I get married, I find the concept of window shopping for a boyfriend kind of unappealing. But as someone who does enjoy having a couch buddy, quiet nights watching movies, cooking meals, and generally sharing my life with another person, I'm feeling really optimistic about OkCupid.

Do you use dating apps? Let me know about your own experiences and which apps you like and dislike!