Sex And The Single Mom
On Dating Apps, I Can Be Anyone I Want. Including Four Different People.
A year of experimenting — as a columnist and a person — has lead me to this one fundamental truth.
It’s been about a year since I began writing “Sex and the Single Mom” for Romper, and I wanted to take a moment to thank everyone for your emails, DMs, and eyeballs these last twelve months. Being trusted for advice of any kind is a massive privilege and I hope you have felt seen, heard, and supported here. Or at the very least, laughed a little at the absurdity of dating while parenting, because oh baby, baby it’s a wild world
This week I wanted to circle back on where we started: Dating apps.
This spring, I accidentally subjected myself to a social experiment that led to a personal epiphany. In the past, when I have dated, I have been somewhat monog-app-mous, sticking to one app — occasionally two — for my own sanity. Over the years I have rotated Bumble, Hinge, Raya and Feeld, depending on where I was, what I wanted and how I felt at the time.
I typically get a month membership for one, let it time out, delete, and then sign up for a membership with another. Delete. Rinse. Repeat. Meet someone. Delete the apps. Break up. Reinstall them. IYKYK.
But a few months ago, after taking a break from dating, I went AWOL and downloaded all four apps at once. It had been well over a year since I’d casually dated anyone and I was feeling extremely rebound-y. So I said f**k it and threw my net into multiple pools. In one day I became a Rayan, a Bumbler, a Hingian, and a Feelder. But it wasn’t until I set up brand new profiles for all-of-the-above did I realize that I was presenting a different version of myself on each different app.
There are different kinds of intimacy, and anonymity often allows us to explore parts of ourselves we wouldn’t otherwise.
When I first launched this column, my fourteen-year-old daughter made me one of her signature “bad photo shop” posters wherein she put my face on every one of the Sex and the City characters’ bodies.
I was a confident yet demure looking Carrie, a sexually aggressive Samantha, a naïve yet ambitious Charlotte, and a cynical and sanctimonious Miranda. The faces were so good one would think Fable had seen every episode of the original show. (We did watch a few episodes together during Covid, all of which she found extremely problematic and she’s not wrong! And don’t even get me started on the reboot. I wrote about the terrible depiction of widowhood in season one; somehow they’ve made the second season even more insufferable.) But it occurred to me as I sat down to write about the four different dating app mes that emerged in that particular moment of chaos, that Fable had already illustrated them, exactly a year ago, when I first launched this column.
And so I present, a break down of my four Sex and the Single selves, in no particular order.
RAYA (aka Charlotte)
Raya boasts that it caters to a successful/celebrity clientele and while it certainly does, it also caters to “successful” creative people. Charlotte would have loved Raya in her 20s, hated it in her 50s and used it anyway because there is absolutely no way she would download any other app.
And while I would like to claim my Raya patronage as innocent and I’m just there because, gee why not, the truth is, I do want to date successful, creative people. That is attractive to me. And whether or not I would have met the same people on any of the other apps, my last two serious relationships were with people I met on Raya.
On Raya, I am... shy. I typically do not make the first move. And because my profile is linked to my Instagram account, I feel exposed and vulnerable — something I am perfectly comfortable with except when I’m dating.
Anyway, Charlotte would have totally met a Trey-adjacent Tech Bro on Raya. She would have also refused to use any other app. Which would have been her loss, because Harry would have definitely been on Feeld.
Which brings me to…
FEELD (a.k.a. Samantha)
Feeld is a dating app that centers sex — meaning, people do not post their real names but they do post their sexual acronyms. Most people on Feeld are not looking for relationships; they are looking to f**k/hook up/sext/FWB (friend with benefits).
Everyone claims to be GGG (good, giving, game) but that’s not always true. I seldom reveal my real name on this app let alone my full name. My pictures are suggestive and only a portion of my face is showing. I am fearless here because no one has to know my story, let alone what the entirety of my face looks like. I am shamelessly myself here, which is ironic since I am not Rebecca, I am “J.”
I am also fascinated by the idea that there are different kinds of intimacy, and anonymity often allows us to explore parts of ourselves we wouldn’t otherwise. People are far more transparent and comfortable talking about their sexual desires when their IG accounts aren’t attached to their profiles.
Samantha was always my favorite SATC character and the one I identified with most. And Feeld is by far my favorite dating app, even though it has only ever yielded to casual flings.
BUMBLE (A.k.a. Miranda)
Women make the first move on Bumble, which has meant that over there I am a much snarkier version of myself. My Bumble “bio” says nothing about me and is more of a jab at the faux-chivalry so many men boast about in dating apps.
If you’ve ever spent time on a dating app you will know that just as men can’t help sharing photos of themselves fishing, they seem compelled to claim that they are tall enough to reach things, tough enough to kill spiders, and strong enough to open jars. So I mention loving spiders and being very into opening jars because come on dudes! Don’t do that!
Anyway, I’m sort of defensive on Bumble. Definitely more sarcastic than I am in real life. But I also appreciate that there are men out there who can receive that kind of cynicism with understanding because (and I’ve buried the lede here) men on dating apps are 90% not great.
Which is totally something Miranda Hobbs would agree with.
HINGE (a.k.a. Carrie)
Hinge is both Basic and Beloved. The prompts are embarrassingly bad and yet, appeal to everyone with cringworthy these-prompts-fit-all philosophy.
I have found that Hinge appeals to a more vanilla crowd than the others. And I am absolutely certain that Carrie Bradshaw is the least exciting, most vanilla of the four. Not that there is anything wrong with vanilla but I do find it fascinating that the sex columnist we all grew up watching is the most squeamish about sex.
Hinge does have the most attractive interface; it is by far the best dressed of the bunch. Much like our girl CB.
On Hinge it doesn’t take much to stand out. Make a mediocre joke and people will comment on how hilarious you are. Post a somewhat attractive picture and strangers will propose marriage. Also, because everyone is on Hinge, you will run into your friends, exes, neighbors, and every single dad at your kids’ school. And then you will have to pretend you didn’t see each other.
And I can’t help but wonder how Hinge became the main character dating app, even though it’s the least exciting?
I do think there is something to be said for looking for more than one thing when dating — that it is possible to be looking for real love, a casual fling, a creative equal, a friend and/or all of the above. I sort of dig the idea of leaning in different directions, trying on different skins, and experimenting with different kinds of characters, relationships, and expectations.
At the very least it’s true that whatever it is you’re looking for, there’s an app for that. For better, for worse — and (if you happen to write a dating column) for research.
Cue: HBO (sorry Max!) static-y outro.
As always, if you have questions, you can send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line Sex and the Single Mom.
Rebecca Woolf writes Romper’s Sex & the Single Mom series. She has worked as a writer for more than two decades and is the author of two books, Rockabye: From Wild to Child and All of This: A Memoir of Death and Desire. You can subscribe to her newsletter, The Braid, for more. She lives in Los Angeles with her four children.