Celibacy might suck, but it's better than dating apps. Hooking up with old friends is the way to go.

  • As a single mother who works from home, Nicola Prentis found that dating apps were the only way to meet new men.

  • App dating led to endless messaging, and even being ghosted, so she opted for long bouts of celibacy.

  • She turned to long-standing male friends for romance instead and has had far more fun.

In 2019, after becoming a single mother with only alternate weekends free to date, I joined Tinder, then OK Cupid, and even spent time on Bumble.

I had lived in seven countries, given birth to my two sons, and gone through a difficult breakup, but at this point was happily settled as a writer working from my home in Spain. The downside was that meeting men in real life was highly unlikely. I decided to give online dating another shot. I'd done it circa 2013, had a lot of fun, and found both long-term romances and friendships.

But, since then, the apps seemed to have changed the way dating worked. Instead of spending plenty of time on dates, like in the past, I spent most of my time on the apps having boring conversations that led nowhere. It was bad but not — yet — quite enough to make me abandon the apps and choose celibacy.

I was cruelly ghosted by an app hook-up

But then, I swiped on a truly interesting, attractive guy who lived a few minutes away. On our first in-person date, he brought wine and cooked me dinner in my kitchen. I returned the favor the next time. He spontaneously told me how much he liked me and seemed genuine and affectionate. Until, after three dates in three weeks, he suddenly ghosted me completely, including pointedly turning in the opposite direction on the street whenever we ran into each other.

With no friends in common, nor real-life links, it was easy for him to cut me dead. Hurt and with my self-confidence knocked, I deleted all the apps soon after. If they were the only game in town, I wasn't playing.

This is a big part of why Bumble's recent ad campaign got it so wrong. The campaign featured billboards with messages that included: "You know full well a vow of celibacy is not the answer." Another one read: "Thou shalt not give up on dating and become a nun."

Celibacy and a different approach to dating are, to me, the only answers to the kind of dehumanizing behavior the apps today provoke. Bumble has since removed the ads and vowed to make donations to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Instead of apps, I've found a real-life way to date, one that is about quality and meaningful connection and that works for me, even if it has meant celibate periods of up to two years at a time.

Old friends make amazing new partners

It started with a friend of 10 years. We'd always been close, and when I was newly single, he invited me to visit him in Ireland. In texts, he came right out and suggested we hook up. At first, I was coy, then curious, then enjoying the flirtation because I knew it was safe to. When I arrived, I had to let myself into his flat with a key he had hidden because he was away. He was due to get back a few hours after me, by which time I was asleep in his bed — that's how secure and relaxed I was.

Fast forward a sex-free year-and-a-half to when a friend of about 14 years, who'd always held a candle for me, invited me to Istanbul. It didn't work out as we weren't sexually compatible, but we're still friends. Why wouldn't we be after all those years and history?

Almost two celibate years later, another longtime friend of friends re-entered my life. We'd been on a couple of dinner-only dates nine years earlier which turned out to be the basis for a wonderful, weekend-long third date. A short couple of months after that, my brother-in-law's best friend, who I mostly knew through Facebook, struck up a conversation that led to two fun trips to the UK.

Resurrecting old flames and deepening long-term male friendships has been more fun and more rewarding than swiping strangers despite the months of celibacy in between.

Woman in a green sweater sitting on a chair with a laptop
The author stopped using dating apps and only dates men she already knows.honeyhousephotography.com

Celibacy might suck, but it's better than the apps

Excluding that disastrous internet date, the average length of time I've known a guy before sleeping with him is 12 years. That includes a guy I dated 21 years ago and recently reconnected with, and an outlier, someone I've known only one year before our friendship took a romantic turn. But, since single parenting and work take up most of my time, it would be hard to meet anyone new. And slow and celibate is my choice over the apps.

That the friendship is — or was at some point — solid is essential to me. Dating apps throw people together with none of the social glue that binds us in our IRL trusted networks. Some guy who swiped right is basically a complete stranger, even after a few dates or sleeping together. If I don't know his family or friends, and he doesn't know mine, who even is he? And, more importantly, who am I to him?

I trust men I have a history with even if I don't expect, or necessarily want, us to be together forever. But I know these long friendships, and even the acquaintances that are meshed into my friends and family, aren't going to disappear overnight. I trust that someone who has stayed in touch ever since we met will continue to care enough to check in and see how I'm doing.

Some people might call this style of dating "friends with benefits," but I don't. All too often, that's shorthand for a shallow, no-commitment hookup. But the way I see it, the friendship is the benefit. And long may I benefit from this kind of relationship, even with its lengthy periods of celibacy. I'd choose that over the soulless dating app experience any day.

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