Tinder, Bumble, OKCupid… you’ve probably heard me rant and rave before about dating apps. I’m not a fan. And for love addicts, easy access to online dating can be like an open bottle of scotch to an alcoholic. Trouble. With anything, online dating can either be a fun and exciting “place” to hook-up and meet new people, or it can be a huge disappointment, where hopes and expectations never seem to meet reality. The difference depends on you and where you’re coming from, namely, the values you assign it and the way in which you define dating. If you find yourself booking a round-trip ticket from Philly to LA just to hook up with someone you met on Tinder, you’re doing it wrong. If you go on to OK Cupid a week before Valentine’s day to find someone to be your Valentine, you’re doing it wrong. And if your expectations are that every guy has the potential to be Mr. Right, you are also doing it wrong.
- SET YOUR GOALS Before you even dare create an account (OK, I know I’m probably too late on this), make sure you have a written set of DATING RULES and CLEAR INTENTIONS for yourself. What are your dating goals? To find a Friends with Benefits? Or to meet the man of your dreams? Do you want to date one guy at a time or fifty? Are you OK with sex on a first date? And if so, do you have the necessary protection from pregnancy and disease? What is your ultimate wish and what is your bottom line? What are your deal breakers? And what is your list of red flags? What are willing to say yes to? And, are you willing to say no? Most importantly, SET YOUR EXPECTATIONS and be realistic. Just because you go on a date with someone, it does not indicate that you are now a couple. Just because a date rejected you it doesn’t mean you’re worthless. Using dating apps takes thick skin. And to thicken your skin, you must know who you are and that you have enormous value with or without a bunch of strangers telling you so. Goals always help you to know what you want. That doesn’t mean you’ll get it. But it means you have a direction and can, from time to time, assess whether you are on track or off course. Most importantly, if you don’t have goals, dating rules, intentions and expectations, the dating apps and the people you meet on them are the boss. Not you.
- MAKE LOGICAL DECISIONS about people you meet. DO NOT MAKE EMOTIONAL ONES. John from Santa Monica lives 10 hours away from you, shares none of your same goals but he’s really hot and he’s in town every other weekend. He’s got red flags galore…but he sent you a smiley face and a heart! “Aww,” you think, “He’s the one.” SWIPE LEFT, woman. That’s not a logical decision. Not to mention he used emojis. We need to learn to make decisions with our head and our gut, not our heart. Just as you typically don’t make a decision about whether to take the bus or the subway with your heart, you shouldn’t use your heart for dating either. And I am talking dating, not love. Big difference. We need to reserve our heart for more intimate matters which entail big ticket items. Falling in love, buying a car, having a baby, getting married, accepting a job offer. Not whether to go out with Joe, one of the 50 guys you winked at, who winked back. For him, use your head and your gut. Ask yourself questions like, “Does he look like he could possibly be a serial killer?” “Does he seem normal?” “Do we share similar interests?” Depending on YOUR GOALS for dating (are you just looking for a hook-up or something more substantial?) consider things like age, driving distance, job, clothing, style, marital status, etc. All these things, though not as fun to consider, are all part of making healthy logical decisions about people. And the truth is, you can’t make a well-formed decision about anyone until you meet them in person. So, along with making decisions with your brain, also reserve judgment until you meet. And even then, I hate to be a killjoy, even then reserve judgment. It takes a while to get to know someone, not a few dates.
- LOSE THE FANTASY THINKING. If there’s one place you should not be when you enter into dating app world it’s La La Land. Most love addicts are fantasy driven. We do what’s called “filling in the gaps.” That means we invent qualities and behaviors and truths that might not exist so as to feed ourselves the story of a perfect romance that we so desperately crave. For example, if you meet a guy through Tinder you cannot see him in person, you cannot smell him, touch him, or see any of his quirky idiosyncrasies. You can’t see how he eats, how he walks, what he wears. All these things go into making realistic judgments about people that you need to make in order to know if they are even close to being a good match. And yet, oftentimes, love addicts will look at a pic of someone, read a few lines about his interests or hobbies, and determine (by filling in the gaps) that he’s the one before even meeting him. Granted, this is more of a problem the longer you remain online and don’t meet in person. Nonetheless, the risk of fantasizing about men and women in photos or on screen is high. Just ask any one who’s fallen madly in love with Ryan Gosling.
- GROW THICKER SKIN: This might trigger some people who think that the expression, grow thicker skin is a hurtful insult designed by those who already have alligator skin. We more sensitive types don’t stand a chance in the pitbull-esque world of online dating, and truth be told, this may be useless advice if you believe it’s just not part of your nature to make that kind of change. But here’s the deal, if you don’t grow or already have thick skin, and a pretty good ability to get tossed around in the ring and emotionally beat up a bit, then, online dating is not for you. Search for Mr. Right the old fashion way—through friends, on your morning commute, at the gym, the library, the grocery store. It’s equally as exciting, but you have far more control. Dating apps, on the other hand, can be a harsh and impersonal place where one wrong selfie can deter the best date of your life. Where your 500-word bio cements your future. Where the pool of players is so deep you end up convinced that’s all there is. Not only that, but, you kinda have to be OK with objectification. Like it or not, when you put your picture up online, you’re like a piece of fruit at the grocery store. A bruised apple that looks picked over might make the perfect pie. And yet, in today’s world of perfection, you might sit there, unpurchased. How does this affect your self-esteem? I know it would rip me to shreds. And that’s because many of us tend to want/expect too much validation from others in order to feel good about ourselves. Unfortunately, people on dating apps are the worse providers of REAL validation. They don’t know us. At all. And it’s a learning lesson in self-worth to not let it get to you. Bottom line: cultivate thicker skin or find another, more gentler way.
- RE-DEFINE DATING: We obsessed types rarely ever dated. We met someone and fell madly in love. Why? Because we’re not looking for healthy intimacy as much as we are looking for a fix, or a parent figure, or someone to save us from ourselves. Remember, love addiction and obsession is not about love, it’s about avoiding the self. So…when a love addict goes online to seek out their version of a partner, their goals are typically not in sync with the rest of the dating pool’s goals. Many people on dating apps want casual. They want zero commitment. They want to play the field. Not everyone, but most. And that’s actually a good thing. At least for a little while. Love addicts tend not to know how to play that game and can be deeply and more easily hurt by things such as ghosting, or feeling used, or being lied to. These are all the natural, normal occurrences of dating that happen to the best of us, and yet, if you’re more sensitive to that world, it might not feel like a safe place. And so, you need to redefine what dating actually is, which is hard. I can start by telling you what dating is not: it is not falling in love. It’s not a relationship. It is not a commitment between two people. It is not a contract. Sometimes, dating is just sex. Or it’s just spooning someone for the night. Sometimes, it’s warm and fuzzy and filled with validating, loving, flattering words and actions, and then, Poof! it’s over. What you thought was the perfect date has disappeared back into the sea of singles, never to be seen or heard from again. This is all part of redefining what dating means. It means letting go of preconceived, 1950’s notions of dating that many of us still hold on to. It means letting go of the Hollywood version of dating, which typically means falling in love, impulsively, right on the spot and living happily ever after. It means letting go of fantasy, and even sometimes letting go of hope. So then, if dating is not love, sex, romance and fantasy, what the heck is it? Well, its bare bones definition is “going out with someone.” But, for our purposes, it is merely: a temporary arrangement to meet and be relatively kind to each other for the purpose of enjoying one another’s company, and maybe (maybe!) even getting to know each other, romantically and/or sexually. But sometimes, it’s not even that. Your best chance at re-defining dating is to approach it with a little something called mindfulness: the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.
Mindfulness is the absence of hopes, dreams, fantasies, wandering thoughts, expectations, assumptions and the gazillion other attempts our brains make at trying to define something and control something. Mindfulness just is. You can feel and experience but all the while, you are trying to avoid all the background noise of thoughts that tend to lead us away from what is happening right now. Example:
Josh: So glad we could finally get together and meet. You’re far prettier than your photo.
You: Yes, I agree and thank you! (Thinking: ooh, I wonder what he means by that? Is my selfie ugly? Is he just trying to flatter me?)
Mindfulness removes that kind of chatter. And this too:
You: I’m glad you called to see me again. (Thinking: I was beginning to wonder. It’s been two weeks. Is he dating others? Am I not good enough? He probably just wants to get laid).
Josh: Well, I’ve been busy with work, but really wanted to reach out.
Clearly re-defining dating should have been a blog on its own. And yet, it is an integral part of the larger picture of how to approach the dating app world.
Bottom line: many of us do not approach hooking up and dating and falling in love in a healthy way. We use men and relationship to soothe, to numb, to forget, to avoid. Many of us, not all, are addicted to the high of a new relationship and then come crashing down and obsess when it fails. These behaviors and emotions come from a place in our past that was hurt or they come from parents who never taught us how to be intimate, so we oftentimes mistake attention for love. One of the most important things we can do, therefore, is learn what real intimacy is. And to me, the best place to learn that is by meeting and getting to know people in person. Understanding attraction, understanding rejection and understanding how to detect red flags are hard things to learn. Dating apps make it all that much harder. But not impossible.
I would love to hear your own personal experiences with dating apps. Am I way off the mark, or pretty close?