Online dating can be awesome – you have a huge pool of potential dates to select from, you are able to screen for basic compatibility ahead of time and you can “meet” people while you’re on the sofa in your sweats. But online dating has its downsides. The sheer number of people available can be overwhelming and a succession of mediocre (or even terrible) encounters can leave you feeling defeated.
The following ideas can help you get the most out of your time with online dating –
1 – Ensure Your Basic Emotional and Social Needs Are Already Met
If you are turning to online dating to have your emotional needs met, you’re setting yourself up for failure. You can expect to have many superficial encounters and even if you meet someone that you click with, it will take time to build emotional intimacy with them.
Asking your online matches to meet your basic needs for connection and validation isn’t fair to them. They are not looking for someone to take care of (or, if they are, it’s a red flag that they’re not ready for a relationship); they are seeking someone to spend time with and get to know. It’s a lose-lose situation when people are too “hungry” for connection when they begin dating – the grasping will push others away and the need for emotional contact will go unfulfilled.
2 – Limit Your Choices
I remember when I first made my Match account about nine years ago. A newbie to online dating, I cast a wide net, basically setting my parameters as males between the ages of 25 and 45 in the metro Atlanta area. I was rewarded with a never-ending stream of profiles that numbered close to 40,000. I knew I needed to date a lot of men to learn more about what I was looking for, but that seemed a little excessive.
I was hesitant about narrowing my parameters too much, as my goal was to meet a variety of people. Luckily, Match had a manageable number of “daily picks” that they sent out and so I limited myself to pursuing those profiles.
We all can become overwhelmed when there are too many choices. In fact, a study with a jam display in a supermarket found that when there were too many varieties to choose from (I think the limit was eight), customers were less likely to make a purchase. But as soon as the choices were narrowed, selections increased. When we have a seemingly infinite number to choose from, we believe that we can always find one better. Of course, that means the looking becomes endless.
Find a way to curate the profiles you see. If you’re on a large dating site, explore how you can narrow the potential matches you see. Alternately, consider signing up for a smaller, more specialized site that already filters matches for you. Because when it comes to online dating, the number of people available is both a blessing and a curse.
3 – Meet Early and Have an Easy Out
One of the best pieces of advice I received was to limit the amount of time spent messaging somebody before a meeting. It’s amazing how someone can seem like a perfect match via text, but become an immediate “No!” once you see them in person. Statistically, you’re going to meet a lot of duds (although I’ll explain soon how this can still be a “good” date). If you have already built somewhat of a relationship through messaging, it can difficult to cut them loose. Whereas if they are still a relative stranger, it’s much easier to say, “I’m just not feeling a connection. I hope you have a wonderful afternoon.”
Keep the initial encounter simple and ensure that you can leave early if you want. Coffee is a standard choice here for a reason – it’s cheap, it’s everywhere, it can be over in as little as twenty minutes and if there is a connection, you can always get a refill.
4 – View Each Encounter as a Lesson
This was my favorite way to avoid “bad” dates. Before each encounter, I would remind myself that my only goal was to learn something – about the other person, about myself or about some area of expertise that they had. And as long as I came away with some new information, I considered the date a win (even if I never wanted to see the man again!).
I found that this approach helped to remove some of the pressure off each date, because I wasn’t so worried about them being the “right” one. It aided in conversation, as my motivation truly was one of curiosity. And best of all, that knowledge stays with you even though the person may not.
5 – Get Out of Your Head
Anybody else like to stress about things? Overthink their choices? Worry that people won’t like you?
Yeah, me too.
And if that’s the attitude that you have before each date, dating is going to be stressful.
You may already know what works best for you to get into a flow state and get out of your head. Awesome. Do that before each encounter.
If you’re at a loss, here’s what worked for me –
I found one “date” dress that I wore constantly. It looked nice and (very importantly), it was super-comfortable. This removed any agonizing over what to wear for first dates. I scheduled dates for either right after work (so that I wouldn’t have the opportunity to let stress build) or for after a gym session (where the activity would bleed any anxiety). Before I got out of the car, I would take five deep breaths and remind myself that all I needed to do was learn one thing.
And then I jumped in, putting all my focus on my date so that there was no room left to reside in my own thoughts.
6 – Do Things You Enjoy
Dating takes time. So you may as well double up and do things you enjoy while you’re on a date. The benefits are two-fold: you are more likely to be relaxed and happy and your date will get an opportunity to get to know you better.
I went to museum exhibits, hiked nearby trails and went snow tubing on some of my dates. Sometimes I enjoyed the companionship, and sometimes the experience was the enjoyment. Eventually, I learned to keep a list of locations or upcoming events at the ready so that I could suggest them easily.
Alternately, be open to new experiences, that are novel either to both of you or only to you. There’s an energy that comes from novelty that can enrich any date.
7 – Depersonalize Any Rejections
I know rejection stings.
But when you’re rejected from an online connection or after a first date, that rejection has nothing to do with you. After all, the other person doesn’t even know you yet.
They have an expectation of what they want in their head. And based upon what they have seen, you don’t meet that expectation. That’s not a value judgement on you. It has nothing at all to do with you not being good enough.
You are simply not what they are looking for. As straightforward as somebody wanting a blue car instead of a red truck.
Keep being you. You’re exactly what somebody is looking for.
8 – Give People a Chance
I first met my now-husband nine years ago at a coffee shop after messaging on Match. If somebody had told me when I walked out of our meeting that I had just been with my future husband, I would have been incredulous. I mean, the date went fine, but there were no fireworks and no clear signs that we were a great team.
Those came months later.
Remember that the entire purpose of a first date is to decide if you want a second. The second is to figure out if you both want a third. Don’t worry too much about the unforeseeable future in the beginning and be open to somebody being the right fit even if there’s no sparks flying during the initial meeting.
Also, don’t be so wedded to a “type” that you ignore great people that could just bring out a whole other side of you. By all means, look for potential partners that share your basic values, energy level and life trajectory, but don’t be too limiting about the details.
9 – Take a Break When You Need To
Online dating can feel like a job. And it’s one you can quit at any time. Whenever you find yourself dating because you feel obligated or you find that you’re becoming bitter about the type of encounters you’re having, take a breather.
Dating is more a marathon than a sprint. Take the scenic route. Enjoy breaks when you need them. Focus on the other relationships in your life. The internet will still be there when you’re ready to return.
10 – Remind Yourself it’s a Numbers Game
You’re not going to find what you’re looking for on the first date. Or the second. But that doesn’t mean you won’t find it.
I think sometimes we see dating like a well-organized clothing store. You walk in, locate the gendered section you want, walk to the display that appeals to you and rifle through the rack until you locate your size.
But that’s not how it works.
Dating is more like a flea market where there is a lot of junk that you have to wade through to find the treasures. As a result, you have to commit some time and energy to the search. You may enter with an expectation of what you’re looking for, but then something completely different may catch your eye.
Be curious. Be patient. And have fun.
Life’s too short to do otherwise!