Over the past year, in talking to hundreds of daters while researching my forthcoming book, one of the biggest complaints I’ve heard about time and again is the effect of apps on the dating landscape.
I can’t tell you how many single men and women gave a giant sigh when asked how dating was going. These people were on Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, Happn, The League, Match, or OKCupid. Sometimes, they were on all of them. But something was still amiss; they were getting lots of matches, but they were not finding real prospects.
One 25-year-old New Yorker, who we’ll call Cam, summed it up pretty well. “I’ve noticed that dating is hard because there are so many singles,” she explained. “After a date, people have the attitude of, ‘It wasn’t 100 percent what I wanted,’ instead of just giving that second date a try.”
With the emergence of apps, we’ve become more voracious daters but we’ve simultaneously adopted habits that are counterproductive for relationships. Instead of giving people a chance to surprise us and recognizing that nobody’s perfect, we toss back anything that has the slightest ding or hint of a flaw. We see people as disposable, because, out beyond our date, there is such a wide pool of other suitors — perhaps just a hair better than the last.
Here’s the truth: You can only control your mindset and your behavior; change will have to come one dater at a time. But if you’re looking to build relationships, or meet potential relationship prospects from apps, you have to force those mindset shifts upon yourself. Here are several ways you can start right now.
Tip #1: Slow Down
You want to avoid the insidious mindset of, ‘Hey, there are so many potential matches on this thing!’ It’s a great idea to set parameters on how much you use an app. Maybe that’s 15 minutes a day, only right before bed, until you match with five people — I don’t know. Just make sure swiping does not feel like a hobby, but a necessity to find prospects.
If you’re looking for genuine dating prospects, discard anyone who hasn’t taken the time to write a single thing, or anyone with an abundance of shirtless/scantily clad photos. Then, really read the profiles. Sure, you want your date to be attractive — which is a barrier to entry — but you also want to consider what that person is about. If you have absolutely nothing in common or you’re not intrigued, it’s a left swipe. Even if you think they’re really hot.
Tip #2: Adhere to ‘The Rule of 3’
Once you’ve matched with someone, start making moves. Anyone who won’t make those moves with you needs to go; they’re likely just wasting time, have other prospects, or don’t really want to meet up. I like the Rule of 3, which is about maintaining a small pool of potential mates — so you have selection, in case some fall through.
It’s most effective to take the budding relationship off the app in a reasonable amount of time; a few hours of back-and-forth should suffice, before giving out your number. This helps, because you don’t associate the person with the app anymore. They’re a real, live person with a phone number! (I’ve very rarely exchanged phone numbers with a prospect and never met him.)
The aim is to get three prospects into your suitor pool (on your phone), and then shut down all in-app communication and swiping. If those dates fall through, you can go back to the app — but for however long, focus on just three. That act alone will reduce the effect of the Paradox of Choice on your decision-making.
Tip #3: Vary Your ‘Type’
It’s really easy to fall into the “type” trap with online dating and apps. Since you have all that information right there, you can filter for a specific look, specific educational background, specific job criteria, etc. Don’t do it! Usually, a person’s “type” is manufactured by what they think they want. Research has shown us that whether we actually know what we want is highly debatable.
We do know that similarities typically exist between the best, most-satisfying matches, which is why assortative mating is a thing; we tend to choose people with similar intellectual profiles, goals, backgrounds, values, and so forth. But what we also know is that people surprise you, and there’s a host of personality and compatibility data you just can’t gather via app. In fact, a study published in May 2017 showed that when app users rated a date as ‘average’ before meeting someone, they often significantly increased their rating after meeting that person. As it turns out, likability and fun are hard to measure on a screen.
All that said, make sure each prospect in your pool of three feels inherently different. Maybe one is just your type on paper (what you think you want), but maybe you had great conversation with another (he seemed super-witty!), and perhaps the third has the same random, quirky hobby as you do (who knew she liked knitting?). Just keep mixing it up. It’ll be more fun — and you’re more likely to hit upon a match if you’re varying the types of people you meet. Don’t be rigid.
Tip #4: Don’t Be Afraid to Pursue (A Bit)
There are a ton of matches in any major metropolitan area. If you really like one of the prospects you meet, you might have to put yourself out there a bit. There’s absolutely no guarantee that they’re using apps in an effective manner. They could be swiping so much, they’re crippled with indecision. Or they could be trying to meet up with a ton of people for first dates, instead of setting up second dates.
Everyone is the same in the beginning: disposable. You have no history together, even if you like each other. It can be hard for people to devote time to one person — and if they’re not open to a relationship, they totally won’t. Likewise, if dates become too spaced-out, and you’re not seeing someone for two weeks or so (especially if you’re also meeting other prospects), it’s as if you’ll have to repeat the first date over and over again. Then, you’re really not building a relationship. Or any semblance of rapport. Sometimes, people need a little bit of guidance when there’s so much distraction — and a little prod in the right direction, toward relationship-building.
If you like someone, pursue them. Don’t wait around to see if they’ll set up another date; do it yourself. Cut through their noise as you’re trying to cut through your own. Build history and have experiences together, which is the only way a date becomes a relationship prospect with substance. Make a goal to see anyone you really like once a week (10 days tops). If they can’t make that investment, then they won’t be able to build a relationship. Or they’re not ready to do so. Let them go.
Tip #5: Get Out There IRL
Some seasoned daters in their 30s or 40s told me about the good ol’ days of meeting prospects in person. When you got a phone number, you used it. You were excited about it! It probably took effort to get — whether that meant attending an event, or putting yourself out there and actually asking for it in person. Whoa.
Today, we pass over a lot of potential (great) matches because apps are easier. The risk of rejection is nonexistent. If one prospect dies, there are 28,346 others exactly where they came from. That said, I think that starting a relationship with an investment (i.e., asking for digits) makes you value it more from the get-go. While maybe you meet more compatible partners via apps, that doesn’t mean that apps are the strategy that works best for you. Keep meeting people IRL — and if you’re interested, ask them out.
One of the best pieces of wisdom I’ve encountered? A man, in his mid-30s, had tried everything to meet someone. He finally stumbled upon the most random piece of advice, but he internalized it and tried it out: Continue to do the ordinary things you do everyday, and also the things you’d want your best self to do. He ended up meeting his future wife taking a leadership class in a remote international location.
You never know how you’re going to meet your next relationship prospect. So, be surprised. Try a lot. Don’t focus on that silly flaw or two. Invest when you feel connection and compatibility (a.k.a. “potential”). Apps are an adventure for most daters — but relationships can be an even better ride.
Jenna Birch is a journalist, dating coach, and author of The Love Gap (Grand Central Life & Style, January 2018). Her relationship column appears on Yahoo every Friday. To ask her a question, which may appear in an upcoming post, send an email to email@example.com with “YAHOO QUESTION” in the subject line.
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