I Used a Very Unconventional Approach to Finding Love — And It Worked

a woman sitting on a chair
How Strangers Helped Me Fix My Love LifeSIMRAN DUA
how strangers on instagram helped me meet the love of my life
Seeing the sights while singleCourtesy of Simran Dua

Cast your mind back to 2014: Celebs took part in the ALS ice bucket challenge. Pharrell's "Happy" dominated the charts. Gwyneth and Chris "consciously uncoupled."

About that time, I was single and looking — and about to go on the ride of my life, thanks to a new era of online dating. Tinder had launched in 2012, Hinge in 2013 and Bumble graced us in December 2014. Instead of using desktop computers, logging into websites and writing long, email-like messages, we began swiping on our phones at any time, any place.

The trouble was, dating, especially online dating, was super lonely. Dating apps are already a solo activity: swipe, maybe match, message, maybe a date, rinse, repeat. My friends and family would ask how dating was going, but it was hard to talk about this thing in my life that I had little control over, especially since it wasn’t relatable to folks who hadn't dated in a while or never dated online.

So I turned to another app, Instagram, and created an anonymous account to document my dating journey (I joked to friends that it was a way to know I made it home safely from dates). For every date I went on, I posted a photo, or a few, along with my thoughts on how it went and what I was feeling. Followers would give me real-time feedback and encouragement. Once, after an uninspiring second date, I shared some grumpiness and received a DM in all caps: “DO NOT OVER THINK IT.” So I didn’t, and got back out there. After a tough date, someone else wrote: “I’m rooting for you!”

With my Instagram crew, dating no longer felt so lonely. I had created a community — one that was with me not only for the highs and lows of dating, but also one that helped me work through my insecurities as I learned about myself and what I was looking for. My followers seemed to notice my patterns far quicker than I did. Posting anonymously freed me to be uncensored.

Happily Ever After?

Four years after I started my anonymous Instagram account, I had a first date with a very handsome Sikh man. The butterflies were intense, the connection instant. But my IG family helped me temper my excitement with caution.

They coached me through the awkward second date and the third. They were there when I committed to an eight-hour-long date and asked for updates as I met his friends and family.

They were also among the first to know when we got married.

Along the way, something else happened: I realized, with my background in tech, finance and marketing, and a lot of first-hand experience, that I might be able to help improve the experience of dating. If love and belonging are fundamental human needs, I felt like everyone deserved to be supported while they tried to find and build a relationship, just like I was.

Then came the data. I was baffled to learn that there are over 1,500 dating apps and that the average person swipes 90 minutes a day on two to three apps, with no guarantee of a date. They do that because dating apps are as addictive as gambling.

Dating apps kind of suck the soul out of a very relatable human experience, namely meeting someone. Yet, my own experience taught me that non-singles care and that we can learn a lot from those who don’t share our relationship status. First, I tested the idea of non-singles joining a dating app as matchmakers, but the idea died quickly: 91% of all dating activity happens on six apps. There’s no way to escape those network effects.

On my wedding day!Valeria Valle Photo

Next, I tried community matchmaking. I created short videos about singles who wanted to meet new people by interviewing them and their family and friends. Viewers loved watching these videos and seeing if they could help, but daters were afraid to be on camera. I went back to the drawing board and spoke to hundreds of my readers, who had joined a newsletter I started soon after my Instagram love match. The data pointed me back to my anonymous account: 95% of folks craved a space to talk about their relationship outside of their close friends and family.

And so, earlier this year, I launched Chemistry, a space where you can openly talk about finding and building a romantic relationship with folks across relationship statuses, coaches and researchers. It is a coaching experience coupled with a community that’s rooting for you. Just like I had on my journey.

Relationships impact us — physically, financially, how we spend our time on the planet. Love is a great start, but as Patty Smith sings, “Sometimes, love just ain’t enough.” Beyond love, we need skill sets, community and a place to process this relatable human experience as we live our own unique version of it. I hope Chemistry can fill that need.

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