By the time I was 27, two exes had asked me to marry them, and new men were asking me out on dates every week. Like clockwork, I was going out on a Friday with friends, chatting with new people, at the end of the night an appointment was set, same again on Saturday. I didn’t date everyone who asked me to, but it was so easy to meet people.
In 2013, I noticed a change. It was happening less and when they were out people were on the phone instead of looking up and making eye contact including me only I was on facebook or texting and them I have later learned from a roommate at the time, were likely on a dating app. I had heard of Tinder before and thought of it as a “hookup app”, which was not for me.
I wasn’t asked out in person once a month, and my roommate told me everyone was using apps, so I caved. At first it was fun. Swiping was easy and before I knew it I had 50 matches and the next day an inbox full of messages. Some led to dates, others led to nothing.
My journey into the dating app has started beautifully. I loved choosing my outfit, the anticipation of a potential new partner, and the new places I explored with others. It was fun, lighthearted and I didn’t take it seriously at first. But then a co-worker told me she had a date every night of the week to get her dinner paid for, and a male friend shared that he swiped every day to meet people just for sex. I laughed at these stories to mask my concern that every guy I met only wanted an instant connection.
From my friend’s stories, I wouldn’t go home with anyone on the first date, which more often than not resulted in the guy never texting me again. If they did, they would invite me back after the next date. It was difficult to get three out with the same person. In the span of three years, I went out on about one date a week, sometimes two. There were periods when I was dating exclusively or I was in a relationship, but these never lasted more than six months. Looking back, I’m happy. They were poor partnerships with people I wasn’t compatible with in the long run.
But at the time, I put up with behaviors that should have been red flags, probably out of fear of having to reenter the dating world. A boyfriend, who I ended things with after 4 months, repeatedly canceled plans at the last minute, without apologizing or providing any details on when we would see each other again next. The same man would silently treat me for days if I brought him up as an issue.
After a few years of this cycle, I began to notice that I had developed a fear of people disappearing. I stopped being excited about the potential of meeting someone and instead felt constantly stressed about whether or not I would see them again. So I became overly generous from the first date, determined to show off how awesome I was and completely unaware if the other person was a good match for me. In my third year on dating apps, at 30, my only priority was to get a guy to like me and “stay”.
Nothing drastic happened to “change” me from someone who had been proposed twice, to someone who feared doing something wrong and losing a potential partner, but after studying the impact of dating apps, I suspected that I had developed what is called “dating anxiety.” Studies have shown that higher levels of depression and anxiety have been observed in those who use dating apps where swiping is the primary function. In my case, this manifested as a fear of being “ghosted” and suppressing my own needs for fear of losing my new partner.
It was as if the dating game had changed so much that it became even more difficult to find genuine and lasting relationships. I heard stories of people giving up at the first challenge they faced in a new relationship, thinking it would be easy to find a replacement. I too was guilty of this “disposable dating” behavior.
It’s no surprise that dating has evolved this way; dating apps are often designed to keep you hooked. The dopamine hit of getting a match can keep users coming back. And, as I researched, I discovered that some apps even used a strategy of creating fake profiles to encourage people to subscribe.
So, four years after my first shot, I remembered the woman I was and realized that I missed her. I took a break to regain my confidence and find a way to make apps work for me. I started by changing my mindset. For example, instead of asking myself if someone liked me, I reversed the narration to: “Do I like him” and “Why”? focus on the qualities of a good game. I read books to help me learn more about behavior change and invested in a coach to retrain me to communicate my needs without worry. I felt ready not only to come back there, but also to try to find a way to improve the hot mess that dates to the present day.
My initial mission was to create a more human dating app. I did further research and interviewed men and women across the UK and US and saw that even though we all seem to want love, making assumptions about each other who can stop a good thing before it starts. Over time I came to the conclusion that the world didn’t need another dating app, instead I decided to use them to my advantage.
In 2017, I created my “333 Dating Strategy” to help navigate the world of dating. My dating game completely changed and I started seeing results almost immediately. My strategy is to date three people at a time; anything more than that becomes difficult to manage. I would go out with them for at least three months before committing, because, I thought, at that point I would probably have seen their best side and their imperfections, and I would be able to decide if we could develop a relationship. healthy together. Finally, I decided to give everyone I dated three chances when something bothered me, each time using healthy communication to try to resolve the issue. I felt like it would help me overcome any “disposable dating” mentality I had developed and gauge my partner’s emotional availability.
I felt confident again. I stayed present at every date, sharing stories and actively listening to what my date was saying, instead of worrying about what was going to happen next. I noticed that I was excited about dating them and constantly liked them. I felt like me. Three months later, I met my first longtime boyfriend in years.
Jason and I met on a dating app and I was honest that I wanted to take my time getting to know each other. He told me later that it made him feel comfortable and he appreciated that I wanted to get to know him. The pressure was lifted from us two and three months later he asked me if I was ready to stop dating other people. I was actually dating someone else who also wanted to be exclusive, but I chose Jason because we had both chemistry and compatibility.
Eventually, we broke up in 2019, because he wanted kids, and in the face of a very real conversation about it, I didn’t see that in my future. I took a love break during the pandemic and in September 2021, I started using my “333” strategy again. Three months later I was spending New Years Eve with a lovely new man and we are now together exclusively.
The biggest change for me is to experience deeper and more authentic connections with the people I meet. Be it friends, partners or even work colleagues. I have close relationships that feel strong and fun. Nothing more than that, I just wouldn’t want in my life.
I’m a coach myself now and I’ve used my strategy with my clients. They said it helps take the pressure off and helps them stay aware that they need to assess whether someone is a good match for them and know when it’s time to walk away, without blaming themselves.
I remember my first one-on-one client, Sarina. She went from being in tears to facing and changing her fears and dating habits. Six months later, she was in a new relationship, feeling safe and confident.
Our dating culture has changed and it is not going back to the way it was. Until dating apps take some responsibility in the new world they’ve created and genuinely help people use them in a healthy way, I believe the key to success is staying vigilant to maintain your well -to be on the path to love.
Haifa Barbari is a wellness coach and founder of the self-coaching app Be What Matters. You can find out more at bewhatmatters.co and follow Barbari on Instagram @thehaifab.
All opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.