How to Date Without Using Apps

first date dinner eating pasta

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There are mental health benefits to dating in the real world and not scrolling on our phones. While dating online can be wonderful for some people, opportunities abound for meeting romantic partners in an organic way. Your psyche will benefit by dating IRL, too.

In this article, we’ll talk about the drawbacks of online dating and why people don’t date in person. We’ll discuss the benefits to your mental health when you meet people when you’re out and about. This article also covers how to effectively date in the real world and tips for the first conversation or date.

Drawbacks of Online Dating

Many people express disappointment and frustration about dating virtually. Some people lie about their age or height; others post outdated photos. Most agree there is deception in dating online.

Other drawbacks can include:

  • After exhaustively searching and swiping through potential partners, you might conclude you’re comparing their qualities against those for your ideal partners. Or after going out with a few people, you might see you’re choosing partners for sexual chemistry when you truly want intimacy.
  • When dating online you may not acknowledge you’re choosing your opposites. You’re going for someone exciting and edgy, like a player or bad boy. But though opposites might attract initially, similarities make for a better pairing in the long run.
  • If you do find someone online and date a few times, you might think things are going well. But that love interest can disappear in a second. Then you have to cope with the emotional letdown of being ghosted, which is common in the online dating world.
  • If you’re searching for commitment, the Pew Research Center says that 30% of adults in the US have used online dating, but only 12% of these people found a committed relationship or got married as a result of meeting someone online.
  • Another negative aspect of online dating affects young women. A great number of female users aged 18-34 reported in that Pew Research survey that they were contacted after they didn’t want to be, were harassed or sent sexually explicit messages. (Be sure to use online dating apps safely!)
  • Reviewing so many photos and profiles can turn into an activity like shopping. You’re viewing people superficially based on their appearances and this could become a bad habit.
  • You might develop a negative mindset. A 2019 study by Dutch researchers found that online daters became more likely to reject the profiles the longer they swiped—a phenomenon they called “rejection mind-set.”
  • The dating algorithms can trap you in an addictive activity. Though not expensive to your pocketbook it can become expensive in its damage to your mental health.

Why People Don’t Date IRL

People don’t focus on finding someone for romance in real life for a variety of reasons. Hesitation due to fear of rejection is a common barrier. It’s hard to be vulnerable, walk up to a person and be dismissed. It’s easier to reach out on an app and not hear back than it is to engage with someone attractive in real life and get rebuffed.

If they reject you while you’re both standing at the bar, let’s say, you might get embarrassed. It could hurt your self-esteem. You might then struggle with shame and think you’re not good enough.

Dr. Sabrina Romanoff, a Harvard-trained psychologist who practices couples therapy, reminds us, Low self-esteem is not a fixed trait. We don’t hold stable values of worth for ourselves, and for good reason. We need to be impacted by our experiences and environments to grow, become curious, and evolve. The key is if we are able to tolerate and hold feelings flexible or we remain stuck in rigid categories.”

Another reason people don’t date in real life is they don’t want to waste time. If you’re divorced and you flirt with the divorced coach of your son’s soccer team, it’s such a disappointment to learn that he’s already in a relationship. When you engage in the real world, you can’t always know if someone is open to dating or is already with someone. 

The structure for communication is harder in person, too.  When you date online or with an app, you know the process. You each send a few texts and responses before talking by cell, Face-Timing or meeting up. How you communicate in real life can proceed in less predictable ways.

Benefits of Dating IRL

Seeing a person’s energy, how they move and how they interact with you in real life certainly has advantages.

In online dating we might overlook people who don’t have the qualities on your list. The list was created by your brain. When meeting in person, you might find you’re compatible with someone you didn’t expect to be.

For example, though the person you meet at your friend’s wedding rehearsal dinner isn’t your “type” as they don’t have an advanced degree or live nearby, you might fall for them. Maybe they're interacting with your friends and the waiter nicely. You might also find compatibility clues when you’re face-to-face like they also perform acts of kindness, and are close to their family just like you.

Your long checklist could disappear after you’ve laughed with this charming person for two hours. They might bring out the best in you and you might feel good being around them.

Body Language

When you’re in proximity to someone IRL, you don’t just see a static photo or read a writeup. You can observe their body language. You might note no defensive stance with crossed arms, but rather the person you’re engaging with has a friendly open posture. Better yet, they might be inching closer from a public to a social distance to get to know you better.

Focus on One Person

With dating apps, we have so many choices. That’s what makes these apps in demand. But having too many choices has a negative impact. We get overwhelmed by “choice overload.”

Research shows that when offered too many options, people end up less satisfied with their final decision compared to when they are given fewer options to select from.

When you’re speaking with someone IRL, there aren’t other prospects to text with. You therefore have fewer options. You’re focusing on one person and getting to know one person in real time, one-on-one.

How to Effectively Start Dating IRL

Because dating virtually does save time and can be done at your convenience, you don’t have to quit your online apps completely. Dating online can lead to fostering meaningful connections, too. But consider adding the richness of meeting people IRL as another way to search for that special someone.

Here are some ways to meet that special someone IRL:

  • Smile and approach someone at the gym or with friends at local sporting events
  • Strike up a conversation with your friend’s sibling when visiting their home
  • Volunteer for organizations you really want to support anyway
  • Attend alumni events and chat with those from your alma mater
  • Ask friends to set you up on a formal or informal date
  • Participate in a variety of meet ups
  • Pay attention to someone who’s looking your way at Starbucks

Tips for The First Conversation or Date

Dr. Romanoff emphasizes that no one wants to feel like they’re in an interview when they first talk or date. She says, “The best conversations involve talking about the things that enliven you both. Think about what you look forward to doing on the weekends or plans you’re excited about and talk about that.”

People who date successfully since Covid are cultivating curiosity, getting creative and getting to know each other more cautiously, yet more deeply. Being genuine is paramount.

Dr. Romanoff adds, “Often it's less about the content of the conversation and more about the process of the date. If you are feeling comfortable and positive energy is flowing, you’ll both be more likely to have a good time. So, focus on thoughts and topics that get you excited.”

Dating is hard due to your own expectations and societal expectations. With social media’s photos of happy couples on idyllic vacations, the illusion that others are in happy relationships while you aren’t is underscored. But it isn’t true.

You can date mindfully by being proactive, letting rejection roll off you and approaching the search by choosing to be optimistic. Learn to date without using apps and you might find many benefits to your physical, intellectual and spiritual health.

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Anderson M., Vogels EA, and Turner E, The Virtues and Downsides of Online Dating, Pew Research Center. February 2020

  2. Pronk, T. M., & Denissen, J. J. A. (2020). A Rejection Mind-Set: Choice Overload in Online DatingSocial Psychological and Personality Science11(3), 388–396. doi:10.1177/1948550619866189

  3. Reutskaja E, Lindner A, Nagel R, Andersen RA, Camerer CF. Choice overload reduces neural signatures of choice set value in dorsal striatum and anterior cingulate cortexNat Hum Behav. 2018;2(12):925-935. doi:10.1038/s41562-018-0440-2

By Barbara Field
Barbara is a writer and speaker who is passionate about mental health, overall wellness, and women's issues.