I mindlessly swiped left until a photo of a bearded man happily posing with his golden Lab appeared on my cell phone screen. His profile was free of gym selfies showing off six-pack abs. I swiped right. He could be a keeper. “You matched” appeared in bold letters. I excitedly pushed my phone into my mom’s face. “What do you think about this guy?” I asked.
She moved her head from side to side, unsuccessfully dodging my phone in order to watch a catfight that was unfolding on The Bachelor. In the episode, grown women were walking a catwalk in hopes of winning pilot Peter Weber’s heart.
My mom finally caved and glanced at the friendly-looking guy. It was probably the millionth dating app profile I showed her that week. “Sure, message him,” she said before focusing back on the show.
I pulled my phone in close and started typing. After a few minutes of writing, deleting and writing again, I settled on a one-word message: “Hey.” I never heard back. This is what rom-com dreams are made of. Meg Ryan would be proud.
Never in a million years did I think I’d be so open about my love life — especially to my own mom.
It was mostly just the two of us when I was growing up, and while we were (and still are) very close, we’d always butt heads, as teenagers and mothers do. We were a real-life version of Gilmore Girls, without all the fast-talking. And since I was her only child, I got all the attention, which had its advantages, especially during Christmastime. But most of the time I craved my privacy and space, and my love life was no exception. It was top-secret intel, reserved for my best friends.
Now in my 20s, I found myself doing something I never thought I’d ever do: I granted my mom security clearance into my love life. And as a result, she bore witness to many of my potential suitors, failed first dates, and broken hearts. I’ve turned to her more than ever because she once walked the road I now found myself on.
More than a decade ago, online dating was gaining popularity, and by 2007, it became “the second-highest online industry for paid content,” according to HuffPost. Around the same time, my Gen-X mom took to her desktop computer and joined EHarmony, one of the OG dating sites. My mom, who was not-so-recently divorced, led a busy life with a full-time job and a daughter entering high school. Even then, I could tell she wanted someone special to share her life with. It was difficult as a single mom to find a good man out in the real world. Online dating became a way for her to meet like-minded people.
Her first outing was anything but romantic. I remember wishing her luck as she drove off to meet her date. She arrived home visibly disappointed. She told me he didn't look anything like his profile photos and there was no chemistry. Probably spooked, she put online dating on the back burner for a couple of years.
It wasn’t until I set off for college in 2010 that my mom, now an empty nester, decided to give it another try. I was with her every step of the way, supporting her through countless phone calls and visits home from school. I was there when she thought she met The One. When her heart was broken, I brought her reinforcements with the names of Ben and Jerry. I became her shoulder to cry on, cheerleader, and sometimes assistant. I’d offer my opinion when my mom was unsure of what to wear, and if I wasn’t home to help, I’d judge the selfies she’d text me. In a true role-reversal, I once found myself demanding my mom put on a sweater over her dress!
At the time, as a college student, I dabbled in online dating, but I was mostly focused on my studies and friends. Whenever I did land a date on an app, I’d send my mom a photo of the guy, asking her, "Yay or nay?" She'd always respond something along the lines of, "Go for it, but be careful." She knew from experience.
It wasn’t until a couple of years after Tinder launched in 2012, making app-based dating cool, that I got serious about finding someone in the digital sphere. At the time, I was in my mid 20s with a successful journalism career but a lackluster love life. I tried dating in the real world, but it seemed more and more people were on the apps. Some of my friends, many of whom met their significant others online, were getting engaged.
Even my mom, after dating a couple of frogs, finally met her prince via Match.com in 2013. They tied the knot two years later.
I had high hopes of meeting the same goals, but I had no idea how tough online dating would be, and how much I’d need my mom through it all.
After college, I joined so many apps: Bumble, Hinge, Match, you name it. When I wasn’t finding success on an app, I’d delete it and join another one. I'd go on a lot of first dates until I'd meet someone I thought could be The One; when that relationship fizzled, I'd be back at square one, heartbroken, but stronger and more confident in myself than ever before.
Sure, dating apps can be fun — if they weren’t, no one would be on them. Online, my dating pool expanded beyond my city: I met a lot of great guys, had memorable dates, and felt hopeful, a feeling I didn’t necessarily have offline.
But it wasn’t all rosy. Sometimes the online dating world made me feel lonelier. At night I’d find myself alone mindlessly swiping left or right on guys I probably wouldn’t ever meet; having great conversations that never went beyond instant message; or going on dates that never went past first. I’ve been ghosted and even breadcrumbed (where the guy strings you along with no plans for commitment).
It was my mom’s unwavering support that kept me afloat. She became my shoulder to cry on, cheerleader, and sometimes assistant, approving or rejecting my first date outfits and the profiles of guys I texted her. She’d give me tips on what to do: Always let him pay for dinner, and also what not to do: Don’t meet in a dark, scary place with no one around.
Dating itself is an emotional journey, and my mom understood where I was coming from. She’d been ghosted, disappointed, and heartbroken. When I was either of those, she’d be there for me with ice cream in tow.
Going through the ups and downs of online dating made me appreciate my mom even more. I admire her. She made things happen for herself instead of waiting (who knows how long) for fate to intervene. She found love in what was then an unexpected place. She fended off the weirdos, fell in love, had her heart broken, but patched it back up.
Online dating is now “a billion dollar global industry,” which grew exponentially after the introduction of mobile phones, BBC News reports. And according to research group eMarketer, “the industry is expected to grow by as much as 30 percent over the next two to three years.”
As I continue to live my life and date guys I meet online, or out in the real world, I can’t help but think how crazy it is that my mom and I come from two different generations, yet our worlds somehow blended into one because of online dating. I see her now, not just as my mom, but as a woman. And in this brave new world of dating, which keeps getting more interesting by the minute, I try modeling myself after that woman.
For can't-miss news, expert beauty advice, genius home solutions, delicious recipes, and lots more, sign up for the Good Housekeeping newsletter.
You Might Also Like