As a psychologist in private practice, I hear a lot of complaints about online dating. My clients have been ghosted, catfished, breadcrumbed, disappointed, and discouraged. Many have also found love, friendship, interesting conversation, and connection. Modern dating is tough and it’s challenging to date in a way that feels healthy and authentic. Below is a dating framework that I use with my clients:
- Identify Your Dating Values. Think about what’s most important to you about dating. What are you hoping to gain from it? Are you looking for a relationship or a committed partnership? Maybe you want a causal physical or emotional connection, or you just moved to a new city and want to make friends. Make a list of your five most important values (such as friendship, long-term partnership, an activity partner) as well as your deal breakers. These are your dating guideposts.
- Develop a Dating System. Create a system or methodology for viewing profiles, swiping, communicating, and then meeting people. Think about your ideal dating partner and deal breakers. Set your profile filters to match. The larger the dating pool the narrower your filters can be. Consider having layers of screening to gather data about compatibility such as texting, then a phone or video call, and then a face-to-face meeting.
- Use Mindfulness. Mindfulness refers to focusing one’s attention on the present moment. You can practice mindfulness in dating to learn about yourself. For instance, each time you feel the urge to check a dating app notice what feelings are present. Perhaps a feeling of boredom, loneliness, curiosity, excitement, or a longing for attention or validation. Noticing these feelings can clue you into an underlying value or unmet emotional need. For instance, loneliness might signal a longing for connection.
- Use Timeboxing. Dating apps are designed to keep our attention. You may find yourself mindlessly swiping while in line at the grocery or in-between meetings. To avoid mindless swiping and mundane text exchanges try timeboxing. Timeboxing refers to a time management strategy where you dedicate a fixed amount of time to a planned activity. Devote one or two chunks of time in the day to dating activity (this includes swiping, texting on the app, and phone calls). Also, consider setting limits around how many people to communicate with on the app and how many dates per week feels manageable.
- Get Good at Spotting Red Flags and Green Flags. Become an expert in identifying red and green flags in dating (more to come on this topic). Green flags might look like consistent communication, effort spent on making a profile and responding to messages, and openness without oversharing. Red flags might include one or very few profile pictures, limited information in a profile, inconsistent or low effort communication (think “hey”), or the opposite such as demanding and frequent communication, asking to meet right away.
- Move from URL to IRL ASAP. If you text frequently with someone you haven’t met it’s easy to let your guard down quickly. This can create a false sense of intimacy. Since you don’t know the other person yet your mind fills in all the gaps to conjure up your ideal partner. In other words, a lot of online communication before meeting can lead to fantasizing, making it more difficult to accept and like the real person. Bottom line, good online chemistry does not necessarily translate to real life.