24 May Dating In the Digital Age
An Open Letter to Single People…and to Married & Coupled People, Too
Dear Single People,
At the risk of revealing a great deal about my self (something we’re told to be very wary of doing as therapists), I am one of you. I’m a 33-year-old, single, straight female trying to figure out where and how I am going to meet my person. I’ve been doing this for a long time…my gosh, it feels like it’s been an eternity. I have tried dating people at the gym, using almost every dating app I can think of, online dating, getting set up by friends, going to church to find my partner in crime, taking classes, sitting in coffee shops, putting myself in places that make me uncomfortable just on the tiniest chance that I might meet someone amazing who wants to date me for the rest of my life. I have heard all of my friends tell me, “You’re so amazing; I don’t know why you haven’t been snatched up by now!?!” But the reality is that I’m still single. And I don’t say that to make you feel pity for me. I say that because dating in 2016 is SOOO hard and completely different from any other time in history.
Technology has collapsed our world so that people I would never have had access to before are one click or swipe away. The possibilities seem limitless. I can be in San Diego talking to someone clear across the country whom I have never met; or at the very least, I have access to people in new communities in my city or state that I would have never previously considered. This creates a new way of dating and a whole new set of variable and rules. Meeting potential partners is no longer done predominantly in communities, colleges, or the workplace. We single people now have to navigate a system that filters out matches we deem to be incompatible with the click of a button. This can be awesome or scary, and can leave us clueless about how to proceed. Here are some little nuggets of advice I have heard and learned along the way to help us all in the dating process:
- Avoid option paralysis. This is that tendency of yours to become so overwhelmed by the amount of choices available that you end up choosing none of them. Don’t get bogged down with all the options. Be selective about the people you talk to, but not picky. Once you strike up a good conversation with someone, make the choice go out for coffee or a drink. (Comedian Aziz Ansari discusses this concept in a much cooler way in his book, Modern Romance. If you haven’t checked it out, you should probably stop reading this immediately and go read it…and then come back and finish this, obviously.)
- Limit your screen time. Don’t go overboard with it. Spend an hour a day at most online. Otherwise, option paralysis will set in quickly, cementing you in singlehood forever!
- Don’t talk forever. This should go without saying, but I know friends who have carried on conversations with guys for weeks without any movement. At that point, someone is going to give up and move on. If you have one thing in common with a person, ask him/her out.
- Step out of the box. Don’t be rigid in your choices or only date your “type.” Try dating people you wouldn’t normally choose, but who seem interesting to you. Remember, dating is about learning what you do and don’t like in a person. The only way to do this is to be flexible in dating.
- Represent yourself well. Don’t make your profile pic too revealing. If you’re looking for a relationship, a pouty-lip selfie or a shirtless gym pic will not get you what you want. Use pictures of yourself that are flattering and true to who you are; pictures that show what your life is like and what your interests are.
- Avoid scams. If you’re communicating with someone and it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t be afraid to use Google to do a “background” check…just don’t let this turn into stalking. Suggest meeting up in person; if it’s a scam, he will have a ton of excuses why that’s impossible. This is your clue to run for the hills! And whatever you do, do not give any of your personal information out, other than your phone number (once you feel comfortable).
- It’s just a first date! Treat it like that. You are getting to know the other person, not planning your wedding and picking baby names. If you like one thing, just one thing!, about the other person, go on a second date. Give it a shot. If that keeps happening, plan and third and a fourth! Let your feelings for a person develop naturally over the course of time.
- He really isn’t that into you. I always hated this phrase. But the more I date, the more I realize the truth behind it, for men and women. If you’re talking to someone and you don’t hear from him for a while (meaning a few days), chances are (s)he has moved on and is talking to someone else. Don’t take it personally, just do the same. (S)he wasn’t right for you. The same goes for communication after the first (or any subsequent) date. It says nothing about your or your worth as a human. It just means that you go back to the dating app and start talking to someone else, keeping your fingers crossed that the next one actually wants to talk to you. It will happen.
- Ladies, set the pace of the relationship. Do not rush into anything, despite really wanting to dive in. If a guy is all-in, make sure to set a slow pace in order to prevent the (almost) inevitable “freak-out” or fade away. Don’t be available all the time; be busy. This will also allow you both time to build up anticipation and feelings for one another. You are looking for butterflies, not fireworks.
- Play interactional volleyball. Don’t go overboard with your texting and messages. Be patient and wait for the other person to respond. Let him or her return the serve. This is not a manipulative game, but the way normal conversation works. Please try it.
- Make online dating one piece of your dating pie. Take a cooking class, go to the gym, meet others through work, join a networking group, ask your coupled friends to set you up. The more you do, the more people you will meet.
- Safety first! Always meet in a public place for a few dates, until you can assess your safety with the other person. Have your own method of transportation available. Tell a trusted friend where you are going or share your GPS location with them. Do not drink too much or use drugs on a first date; these lower your inhibitions and capacity to make rational decisions. Trust your instincts.
- A word on dating apps. They can start to feel like human shopping after a certain point. I get that. Remember that they are free and that anyone can use them. Be safe and proceed with optimistic caution. Also, ladies, guys swipe right on every profile. They’re playing the odds. Why not do the same? And when you match with someone, read his profile and then decide if you want to chat. You can always unmatch them; you can play the odds too.
- An admonition to those who are married or coupled. If you are still reading at this point, I’m very impressed. But we need to have a word. Please stop trying to comfort your single friends with phrases like, “Don’t worry, you’ll find the right one” or “Your time is coming” or “I don’t get it, you’re such a catch!” These are empty encouragements that fall on deaf ears; they do nothing to support your friends. Instead, tell them that you remember how hard dating was and that the string of endless first dates sucks and then sit down with them and help them fill out their Match.com profiles. And when all else fails, hook your single friends up with other single friends!!
I stand united with you, my single friends, in this new world of dating. I believe we can learn to navigate it with grace and make wise, self-respecting choices that lead to positive coupling. In the meantime, thank God for Tinder. Happy swiping!
Sue Shrinkle, MS LMFT, is a Marriage and Family Therapist. She is currently in private practice at Coastal Counseling. If you would like to make an appointment with Sue, please call 1-888-470-4415.
This article and the information herein are for educational and informational purposes only. It is not meant as a substitute for professional psychological or therapeutic services. The self-help information provided by this blog are solely the opinion of the bloggers and should not be considered as a form of therapy, advice, direction, diagnosis, or treatment of any kind. Instead, the information is designed to be used in conjunction with ongoing treatment provided by a mental health professional. Use the information in this blog at your own risk. All of the information is provided “as-is,” with no warranties of any kind, express or implied.