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How to Date Without an App

Look around, lean in, and join up.

Key points

  • Dating apps may be common, but they’re not the only way to meet.
  • Plenty of people are still being introduced through their communities and social networks.
  • If you’re thinking about taking a dating app cleanse, start by looking for romantic partners nearby.

I recently had a conversation with a friend who was fed up with dating apps. Over 10 years and thousands of dollars later, they’d gotten her nowhere. She was still single, but not by choice. She was ready to call it quits.

“What other options do I have?” she wanted to know. “How do people find dates if they’re not on the apps?”

For readers of a certain age, her question might seem absurd. But for Millennials and Gen Zers, online dating has existed for our entire dating lives.

It’s well known that we’re the first generations to have grown up in a world of digital dating, making us the subjects of what Lori Gottlieb described in The Atlantic as “a social experiment of unprecedented proportions.” For context, I was in elementary school when some of today’s most well-known online dating sites were just starting out. Fast forward a few decades and usage has soared, but people’s attitudes toward online dating remain mixed. While roughly half (53 percent) of users say they’ve had positive experiences, others haven’t been faring nearly as well.

Dating apps may be common, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still meet people organically. The hardest part can be knowing where to look. So whether you’re done with dating apps for good or if you just want to give yourself more options, here are some tips for meeting people “in the wild.”

Lean on Your Friends

Beyond dating apps, studies continue to show that one of the top ways that people meet romantic partners is through their social networks. Your social network can play a valuable role in facilitating introductions and making your relationship a success. Researchers have found that relationships are more likely to endure when they have support from a couple’s family and friends.

Ask your friends to set you up or better yet, join them at parties and happy hours where you can get to know their acquaintances. Friends can be great matchmakers and connect you with new networks of people you might not already know.

Look Around

A hundred years ago, it wasn’t unusual for people to marry someone who lived in the same neighborhood. You’re more likely to be attracted to someone you’re exposed to frequently. Research on the mere exposure effect shows that we like things we’re familiar with, and that includes people.

The next time you’re at the gym or the dog park, pay attention to who’s around you. There may be people there whom you haven’t noticed before and who you’re likely to run into again and again. As an added bonus, if it’s somewhere you both regularly go, then you already have something in common.

Join a Club

Sharing similar interests with someone increases the likelihood that you’ll find each other attractive. To meet new people, try joining an interest group, playing in a sports league, or taking a foreign language class. You could also check out an event that’s designed specifically for singles, such as speed dating, which academic researchers have been using for some time to facilitate new relationships. If it’s an activity or event you’d be interested in doing anyway, you’re likely to have fun regardless of whether you meet someone—something that can’t always be said about dating apps.

Something that dating apps do incredibly well is introduce you to the people around you. Finding ways to do this on your own will make you less reliant on the apps and more open to different ways of meeting people.

Facebook image: Dean Drobot/Shutterstock


Bossard, J. H. S. (1932). Residential propinquity as a factor in marriage selection. American Journal of Sociology, 38(2), 219-224.

Gottlieb, L. (2006, March 1). How do I love thee? The Atlantic.

McClain, C., & Gelles-Watnick, R. (2023, February 2). From looking for love to swiping the field: Online dating in the U.S. Pew Research Center.

Rosenfeld, M. J., Thomas, R. J., & Hausen, S. (2019). Disintermediating your friends: How online dating in the United States displaces other ways of meeting. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 116(36), 17753-17758.

Sprecher, S., & Felmlee, D. (1992). The influence of parents and friends on the quality and stability of romantic relationships: A three-wave longitudinal investigation. Journal of Marriage and Family, 54(4), 888-900.

Zajonc, R. B. (1968). Attitudinal effects of mere exposure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 9(2), 1-27.

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