I’m sure this comes as no surprise, but dating sucks. Honestly, it always sucked, but dating as a late 30s transgender woman is even worse than when I was dating as a late 20s male-passing individual. Then you add in a global pandemic and the entire thing goes to shit.
That’s dating in the year 2022 as a late 30s transgender woman: shit.
I often wonder how cisgender heterosexual people actually do it. How does a cis person just go up to someone and ask them out, and assume so many variables are true that a date would even remotely be in the asking? The entire concept of “this person is hot and therefore I want to date them” is completely foreign to me, and yet that seems to be exactly what I am expected to do in order to find a partner that I want to spend my life with.
Maybe the fact that I consider so many variables is where I’m failing, but I can’t for the life of me think of a reason to stop doing exactly that. So many things have to be true for someone to even consider going out with me. It’s easy to think that the dating pool is roughly 50% of the single population when you’re cisgender and heterosexual, but as a gay transgender person that number is drastically slimmed down. A study done in 2020 reveals that the LGBT population is roughly 4.5% in the US. On a state level, Illinois is 4.3%. But wait! That includes members of the LGBT community that are only attracted to men or masculine individuals. That’s certainly not me. Also removing the non-zero percent of LGBT people who are anti-transgender, or would not date a transgender person for whatever reason, and now we’re down to a very small number.
Now, scale that down to a regional level. Illinois is a large state, and most dating apps have a rough radius of 100 miles surrounding the individual. That puts me at about a 2 hour radius around me. Fortunately, that 100 mile radius covers most of the St. Louis area, which gives me a pretty large metropolitan area to work with, though it’s hard to say how many people are willing to date someone outside of that metropolitan area. I might be willing to travel, but if they’re not they’ll likely never swipe right on my profile.
Oh God, I mentioned swiping. What is swiping, you ask? Do you really want to know? Swiping is what dating is in the year 2022. You open an app, and swipe one of three directions. Swipe left and that user is hidden forever from your profile, never to be seen again. Swipe up and that user is given a notification that you are begging for their attention. Swipe right and if you’re lucky enough that they also see your profile and swipe right, you match! Matching means different things on different applications, but generally if you match with someone you have a certain amount of time to send them a message, or wait and hope they send you a message instead.
But Mattie, why not go to a bar and get a drink and meet people? I don’t really drink, and as far as I know there are no gay bars near me. I’d have to drive down to St. Louis to hit the bar scene, and then I’m driving and potentially drinking and that’s not a great combination. I do intend to hit up a few bars at some point, once the pandemic subsides, but now? At the height of Omicron? Not going to happen.
Also pre-pandemic there were meetups and LGBT support groups, but it seems really sketchy to me to be using a support group as a dating pool. Meetups are a different story, but as far as I can tell there wasn’t much of a local LGBT meetup either. The local scene is barely existent.
So that leaves me with a folder of dating apps on my phone’s home screen.
Tinder: The big one. Unfortunately “big one” also means the least relevant swipes. Largely people who are incredibly thirsty use Tinder, and more power to them, but that’s not why I’m here. I want something beyond a physical relationship. I want a reason to delete the dating app forever. Tinder feels very much like looking for a needle in a haystack sometimes. One of my favorite features of Tinder is that you can put 5 tags on your profile as to your interests. In practice it’d let you find someone to match based on something like “Board Games” but in practice everyone just has LGBT, Movies, Music, Art, Netflix. Which is like, the opposite of useful.
Hinge: I installed this because it billed itself as the dating app meant to be deleted. They were right, as the user interface is the worst and finding matches is even harder than on other dating sites. The biggest problem with Hinge is that despite being essentially a swipe-based matching system, there is no swiping. Instead you either like a photo or a blurb clicking on a heart, or pass by tapping on the X. The lack of swipe makes the experience much worse than the other apps, though it gets points for emphasizing users answering prompts and having more than just photos. Sadly, in practice, those prompts get one or two word answers that don’t actually tell anyone anything at all.
Bumble: Billing itself as a different kind of dating app, women have to make the first move, though, as a mostly gay transgender woman that doesn’t really make any difference to how Hinge and Tinder work. Bumble adds the “down swipe” which lets you see more photos of the user, as well as answers to various questions. This probably makes it my favorite dating app, simply because one of my criteria is to have more than just photos.
OK Cupid: At one time the only dating app I was willing to use, but as “swiping” became more popular, OK Cupid decided rather than relying on it’s awesome profile system, to create engagement by just copying what Tinder does. Slowly but surely features are being removed from OK Cupid until all that is left is a pale comparison to its once highly recommended glory. I should note that almost all of my in person dates have come from OK Cupid though, so take that as you will.
Zoe: While it’s supposed to be a lesbian dating app, it still has a suspicious number of men and couples. I don’t really understand that, but whatever. Basically works just like Bumble and Tinder, except seeing more than just a photo takes an extra tap. I probably get the most likes on Zoe, but since you have to pay to see who liked you that’s less helpful than it sounds.
Her: So bad I actually deleted it and don’t intend to reinstall. It’s just basically Zoe but buggier, and once you’ve swiped left on someone, the algorithm might show you that person again 2 days later. Just in case you might have changed your mind about the couple seeking a unicorn.
Discord: Honorable mention, but not an actual dating app. Discord is a chat service that has lots of communities that are LGBT friendly that can be used to meet people. I’m on several semi-local Discord servers, and while I’ve met people I enjoy talking to on Discord, it hasn’t really produced anyone that’s dating material. The semi-local servers all skew a bit young for me.
So, let’s talk about “likes.” When you swipe right on someone, you get pushed somewhere in the next pile of profiles that particular user will see. The next time they log in, they will do some swiping, and invariably see your profile and swipe left. Alternatively you can swipe up on someone, and it does basically the same thing but in addition tells that user that you specifically swiped up on them. I have no idea if that actually works or not. I think I’ve only had one match come from an up swipe.
Unfortunately, dating apps love telling you about people that liked you. This is one of the main paid features of dating apps. In practice, getting likes usually just returns people you have no interest in seeing anyways. I’ve yet to match someone purely because of having seen that they liked me. The mutual like is where it’s at, and most dating apps let you chat for free as long as you both liked each other. Hilariously finding who likes you is pretty easy on most apps even without a paid account. They generally blur out the user’s profile picture, but if you pay attention to your next few swipes it’s easy to tell which one of them was from a like on their part.
What’s worse than notifications on a like is apps that tell you specifically that you missed a match. Swipe left on someone that previously liked you will result in a notification five to ten minutes later saying you missed a match. This infuriates me, because I obviously swiped left on them for a reason. Something about their profile led to me saying “no, this isn’t the person for me” and having been told they liked me does not change that opinion. No means no, OK Cupid, jeez.
So all of this sounds relatively painless, right? A handful of apps that once or twice a week you swipe through various profiles and hope to find matches. That’s not so bad, right? The problem is that all of these apps are doing their best to drive engagement and get you to sign up for their monthly premium services. These matches are almost always largely driven by looks, which feels incredibly shallow to me.
The first major pitfall of most dating apps is that none of them have an option to hide couples. You see, if you’re a very specific type of person being a moderately attractive cisgender woman that’s willing to have sex with a married couple you’ll find tons of matches. This is what dating apps call a “unicorn.” Everyone is looking for one. If you’re the type of person to have sex with a married couple, you’ll be rolling in the matches.
I’m pretty sure unicorns don’t actually exist in the real world.
Next up are the left swipes on mothers. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against someone with kids from a previous relationship. I don’t have kids. I don’t want kids. I have no intention of being a mother to someone. Aunt? Sure. I love my nieces and nephews, but kids of my own? Never. Not gonna happen. Sorry mom.
The problem with mothers on dating sites is that they invariably include this as the first thing on their profile. These kids are also invariably “the best.” Sorry, but everyone’s kids can’t be the best. Also, if your kids are “your world” you probably don’t have much room for a relationship that doesn’t want to include them. What weirds me out even more is the mothers who have children who are actually adults, but still get listed on their profile. I guess this scares off women like myself who just don’t want kids, but if I was on a date with someone and we otherwise were hitting it off, and they told me they had a kid it probably wouldn’t bother me. The fact that kids are almost always front and center on the dating profile though? Huge turn off for me.
Another baffling group are the people who spend their entire profile talking about what they don’t want. If you don’t want men or couples, swipe left on them. You don’t have to tell me in a dating profile who you’re inevitably going to swipe left on. Swipe left on them and you’ll never see or hear from them. I can’t help but wonder if some people literally just swipe right on everyone hoping to maximize matches, but that seems to be extremely fraught. Why bother right swiping someone you’re not going to talk to if they do send you a message? I’ll never understand it.
Lastly, the number one thing to get me to swipe left on your profile is having any mention of Harry Potter. I don’t want to know you’re a Hufflepuff searching for their Slytherin. I hate that I even know what that means. I especially don’t want to see a photo of you pretending to push a cart of baggage through a brick wall. Frankly, read a new book. A different book. Literally any other book.
So what is it that I’m looking for, you might ask? Generally I have a few “rules” I follow as far as swiping right on someone goes. Note that none of these are hard and fast rules, but rather something like guidelines.
- By the numbers: +/- 10 years of me, within 100 miles. Most apps let you set these preferences so you’ll only see the numbers you’ve selected.
- Have an actual profile. If the only thing you’ve put on your profile are photos of yourself, I’m very very unlikely to swipe right.
- Actually talk about yourself in your profile. I want to know about you, that’s why I’m here. Tell me what you want and what you’re looking for at the very least.
- Have decent photos of yourself, and only you. If I have to guess which person in a photo is you, I’m not swiping right. Decent photos means no filters. I really hate snapchat filters.
- Use some semblance of complete sentences.
- Mostly monogamous. Polyamorous relationships are not really for me, especially if one side of the relationship is already married. I’m fine with dating around and seeing multiple people, but as I stated earlier my goal is to eventually meet someone to spend the rest of my life with.
- We have something in common. Mentioning a shared hobby goes a long way to getting a right swipe from me. I have a lot of hobbies, most are pretty nerdy, but if you mention one you’ll probably get a right swipe from me.
If I match with someone, I try to send a message that’s more than just “hello.” I try to say something about their profile that interests me. If a conversation develops over the course of the next couple of days I’ll usually ask if they want to take the conversation to a different chat service. Dating apps notoriously have the worst chat systems and I’m more than eager to move anywhere that lets me use GIFs and share links and have voice/video chats. However, that being said, the last thing I’m willing to do is give someone my actual cell phone number. At least with most other chat services it’s easy to block and ghost if things go poorly. I really don’t want to have to change my cell phone number.
I love voice chat dates when getting to know someone, but a video chat can be a nice substitute for an actual in person date. I just feel they’re a bit more formal than just voice. After a few days of chatting off-app, I might schedule a video chat or try and set up a time to actually go on a real date. Depending on my mood and how things are going.
The hardest part about dating is getting to the point that I want to invite them to meet my friends and family. This is especially true for my friends. I’ve known them for 15+ years and we’re about as close as anyone can get to one another and not be a literal family. My friends have stuck with me through thick and thin. They’ve always been honest with me about my partners, and I really should have listened to them more in the past, but things have to be pretty serious for me to want to take that step to introduce them.
It’s not all bleak though. I’ve had some luck over the past year, and met some really cool people. I don’t begrudge my time dating. I just wish I could find someone that I really really connect with, that could connect with me on the same level. It’s hard out there, but I’m confident that eventually the right person will come around.
In the meantime, it’s off to swiping.