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Illustration by Adam De Souza

First Person is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at

According to Stanford University, it only takes 240 seconds to know if you like someone.

In just four minutes, in that short amount of time, you can make toast, listen to an entire song or be half way through your makeup routine.

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A mere 240 seconds out of the 86,400 in every day is nothing in the grand scheme of things.

So why can’t I make the time? Perhaps because online dating apps have twisted how young people relate. So many of us have just given up on meeting people in person. As we divulge more into a society of swipes and likes, I realize that dating apps are making it harder for me to reach out and touch someone.

What has the Internet done to love?

Stanford’s 2013 study states that online dating is a $1.5-billion industry. But for most of us, it’s become a fashionable way to get a quick confidence boost: When a beautiful-looking person swipes on you, you feel good about yourself.

Until recently, I never saw an issue in my dating patterns. Online, I can juggle multiple people at once, the majority of whom I will never meet in person. And while I might judge some men for being “players,” I also note that I’ve got 168 Bumble notifications to get through.

I would typically message someone for a month or so, go on a date, then never see them again. I often become less interested over time and immediately found someone new to fill the gap. I would tell myself, “He just wasn’t the one for me.”

Looking back at the year I had and the people I’ve talked to, I realized that at the end of the day, I did get hurt. I tried to hide it by simply moving on, but I gave myself no time to reflect – I just swiped to the next pretty face. I’d swipe while commuting, during a class lecture or while in my pajamas after a night out. But what if I’d already met that special someone in person? What if I never gave them those 240 seconds, just simply swiped left in real life?

There was a time when women would meet men in their social circles and interact in an unemotional way, mentally whittling down who would end up with husband potential based on status and financial state. It was like a prehistoric Tinder swipe, controlled by parents.

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Early in the 20th century, young people thought they were radical by no longer having strict courtships, they wanted their love lives to be a social and loving experience. Then, in the 1960s, the free-love movement shaped North American society.

As it turns out, the first dating app was created in the late sixties. “Date-mate” was an online questionnaire that paired potential lovers together. Ironically, it was invented by Stanford University, the same place that authored the 240-second study. All it tells me is that over 50 years later, society still can’t get online dating right.

When talking to my mom about dating, she always says that I need to cut down how many men I talk to at once. She makes it seem so easy.

The sad thing is, today this advice seems like it belongs in a fairy tale.

My online dating life has become a game for my friends, they love to hear my updates. They always ask me which guy I am talking to for the month, and which one will end up being the one for me. They have so much hope, and so do I, that I will find that one person, that diamond in the rough. Yet I am never able to find those 240 seconds in the day.

I’ve tried to give it up. My friends know my routine. They call me out for announcing that I have deleted Bumble, yet download it again two days later. I tend to do this on a monthly basis.

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Apps like Bumble and Tinder serve up men and women on a tempting silver platter. It’s turned into a game for me. I look at the pictures, maybe read the bio and sometimes send a quick “heyoo.” Then after a few messages back and forth … well, instead of truly communicating and reaching out I simply move on to the next person. It is less work and less painful than fully expressing how one feels.

Why do I do this to myself? For the thrill? For the quick fix? Am I too afraid of heartbreak?

I’ve realized it is fear. The fear of not being good enough, of being too naive and, ultimately, being rejected yet again.

Peering at a screen is easier and less emotionally draining but in reality, the lack of real communication is only making things worse.

In the big city I live in, I pass an absurd amount of people per day. Commuting, learning, working, walking, driving, it is impossible to count how many. Some of those faces I hold on to: the beautiful man at the coffee shop who spelled my name wrong, that gorgeous guy on the streetcar I assumed wouldn’t think anything of me and the woman with the cool sense of style I was too afraid to talk to in person. What stopped me from reaching out? Was it the screens I often hide behind? Have apps made it harder for me to spark normal conversations? I’m still working that out.

I’m trying to change. I’m trying to give new people a chance and not let fear overpower the impulse. And for me, that simple change is groundbreaking. I’m trying to carve out those 240 seconds to get to know someone.

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Melanie Morton lives in Toronto.

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