(And without losing your freaking mind and faith in humanity)
by Coach Holly Coneway, M.Ed. LPC, BCC
I had a very eye-opening moment while watching a movie on Netflix a couple of nights ago. There was a scene in which a man approached a woman at a bar to strike up a conversation. She chatted with him for a few seconds and then annoyedly said something along the lines of “watch my finger” as she swiped left in front of his face. He was understandably confused and taken aback and asked what the gesture meant. She laughed in his face, rolled her eyes, and hissed something like, “You don’t know what it means to get swiped left on? It means I’m not interested. Leave me alone!” The whole scene was just terrible... Mean-spirited, cruel, devastating, confusing and wrought with all of the emotional turmoil so many of us know all too well when it comes to the world of modern dating.
In this land of apps, hook-ups, and subtle signals it can be easy to get so lost in it all that you lose sight of what your original intention was for downloading the app or signing up for the site.
Dating was once a fun way to meet new people and have new experiences as you got a clearer and clearer picture of what you are looking for in a potential life partner. I fear that all too often this original definition and intention behind dating is becoming obsolete and is leaving the self-worth and happiness of an entire generation in its wake of destruction. It is my hope that these 10 tips can remind you of your why and bring back some of the fun and intentionality to modern dating:
1. Know your values and your vision.
Downloading the app(s) without a strong sense of who you are and what you want can be a recipe for disaster. Time after time, people will sign up for a site or download an app with little to no sense of what they are bringing to the table as a potential partner and even less sense of what they want or need out of one. Having this very clear picture of who you are and what you want will definitely make you LESS APPEALING and you will probably have LESS MATCHES and go on LESS DATES but THAT’S A GOOD THING! Having a clear vision/values is a natural filtering process and only those who align with your vision will make it through your filter. In the same vein that living a minimalistic lifestyle is appealing, so is having a clear vision of your values and what you want/need out of a partner and relationship. Sure there will be less options, but the options you do have are all highly appealing and life-giving as opposed to having tons of options that are not in-line with your values and simply suck away your time, energy and self-worth.
2. Speaking of self-worth
This process of having your entire life’s worth judged on the look of your face, the shape of your body, and the content of your teeny profile is absolutely wrekcing people. If you are one of the millions of people who use online/swiping dating as their primary form of dating...you have a responsibility. You have a responsibility to both yourself and your fellow humans traveling this journey with you. We are all trying to write and figure out the rules for this journey as we bumble through it together. We are all building the plane as we are flying it. If you think about it, there is no one dictating the rules or norms for navigating this new world... WE are creating them! So, here's a call to action: Let’s create them in a way that does not do damage to our fellow humans’ self-worth. No matter what the landscape might call for, YOU have the power to decide how you immerse yourself in it. Of course, people have their likes/dislikes and you will not be attracted to everyone, but hold yourself to a high standard if that's what you want in return. Do not ghost people. Do not make snarky remarks about people’s looks or height or weight. Do not ask people who the cute friend in their pictures is and if they are single. The same goes for the way you talk to yourself throughout this journey. Be kind to yourself. Do not take it personally if you don’t have as many matches as you might like. Do not assume you did something wrong if you don’t hear back from someone. Don’t judge your entire worth on the look of your face, the shape of your body, or the content of your teeny profile. If you are a genuinely kind and honest human, doing your best to live in integrity and spread decency in the world...know that and remember that when you are swiping! Be nice… to yourself and to others!
3. Remember that your online self is still your offline self... Act the same!
All too often, the format of the app(s) causes our brains to think of our online self/our dating self as some other entity than our work self, our social self or our true self. A great way to combat this mental dissonance is to set standards for your behavior that feel good to you and don’t harm others. When you are first getting to know someone, be appropriate! Most people would never dream of, for example, walking up to a stranger and, within a few minutes, asking them to take their clothes off or pulling down their pants and showing their goods, but our online selves often feel invicible and bold, empowered by the anonymity the screen and physical distance provides us. By that same token. If someone you have a casual acquintanceship walked up to you and said hello in real life, you would say hello back. But often out online/dating/texting selves forget this and feel like its ok to just not speak when someone speaks to us. That’s rude! Just communicate. Be kind. Tell people if you have lost interest or met someone else, just like you would do if you saw them in real life.
4. Too many choices is crippling/unmanageable
A lot of times the failure to behave like our offline personas would/want to is due to the high volume of communication expected to keep up an active online dating life. How can we possibly remember to text and message and send a pic and ask for a number and follow on IG and accept a friend request on Facebook and on and on when we are talking to too many people at once? There is only so much communication and connection one person can manage. Between work, family, and friends you are already managing a ton of relationships, so it serves us well to be mindful about how many more we can realistically take on and handle in a way that lets us connect and interact in a way that feels authentic to ourselves. I know it can be tempting to get swipe-happy and to play the numbers game when you first get online and are overwhelmed with so many potential suitors in one place, but take a deep breath and remember that 100 undernourished, underdeveloped conversations/connections will end up being more of a source of frustration than 1 or 2 well-managed, well-nourished ones.
5. Remember that the face on your screen is a real person who you want to meet IRL
One of the main problems I see occuring in the land of swiping is that people linger too long before taking the relationship offline. It begins to atrophy and die before it even begins. Even the smoothest of talkers and greatest of conversationalist will sputter out and stall when having to communicate with a stranger via the app for too long. Keep it in the front of your mind that this bubble you are messaging with is an actual human that, hopefully, you want to meet in real life on a date (you are both on dating apps after all… remember that the date is the intention… not wasting hours and days messaging back and forth). So, as soon as you have a pretty good idea that this person is not a serial killer and sounds like someone you'd actually vibe with, make a plan for a real, in-person date ASAP!
Pro tip: make sure you call this person at some point before you go on this date. I know, I know… who makes phone calls anymore?! But you really can tell a lot about a person from a quick phone call. You can hear their voice, begin to gauge if you have anything to talk about, start testing out/creating the chemistry between the two of you.
6. Over-communicate before, during, and after
As alluded to above, getting to in-person communication sooner rather than later could really help this new little seed of a relationship to take root. This person you are beginning a connection with is probably a complete stranger, so you should have SO MUCH to talk about! Before your first date, make a plan and make sure the other person knows and is totally comfortable with the plan. People love clarity. The decisiveness and ability to make and communicate a fun plan will really make you stand out in the crowd! On the date, bring your active-listening and genuine curiosity skills with you. Ask a lot of questions. Get to know this person. Be truly curious about them. Really listen to their answers. If you do these things, you will be pleasantly surprised how un-awkward the conversation can be. Remember that people love to talk about themselves, so ask more questions and do more listening than you do talking. If the initial conversation is flowing, take things deeper and begin to ask them about their expectations, hopes, fears, and plans for their life and for their relationships. Remember that the communication isn’t over just because the date is, though. If you had fun and want to see this person again.. Tell them that! If you didn’t feel the connection or you’re getting friend vibes… Tell them that! If you are confused and not sure where to go from here… Tell them that! If there is one thing that will make you stand out in this massive sea of potential mates it is communication: making and communicating a plan before the date, really talking and genuinely listening on the date, and making post-date ghosting a hard-no will all help make this process much smoother, clearer, and more fun!
7. Be mindful of your alcohol intake
With all the emotion and confusion surrounding modern dating, it is not at all surprising that most first dates involve alcohol in some way. However, more often than not, when people have too much to drink they let all of the things their logical brain knows and wants be washed away with each swig. You can have all the intentions, standards, and communication skills on the planet, but its all for naught if you drink too much. When you let alcohol dictate the date, one or both of you will almost inevitably drink too much and compromise your standards and/or behaviors in some way. Then you find yourself in a position where the whole fledgling relationship is off to a shaky and uncertain start. You aren’t sure if you actually had butterflies or you were just tipsy, aren’t quite sure if you were super attracted to them or you had on beer goggles. Mindful dating is a wonderful thing and it can be a great practice to remember right as you are about to have that pre-date glass of wine or order another cocktail with your potential new mate.
8. Be open
As difficult and confusing as modern dating can be, it can also be worth it! There are millions of people using these apps/sites. It has never in history been so easy to meet so many people… the odds are in your favor! All too often, people feel leary of online dating (definitely still be cautious) or make sweeping generalizations about everyone on the apps (“they just want to hook up” or “its weird” or “it never works for anyone”) and, in my opinion, these are excuses people make to deal with the confusion and discomfort that comes up when they think of trying to navigate this sea of possibility. If we let the overwhelm and confusion win, if we shut down and isolate so we don’t have to deal with it all, we may end up without the meaningful romantic relationship we seek. We have to be open (to both the pain and the possibility) if we ever want to get to the relationship we envision for ourselves. There was a hilarious, yet poignant, meme floating around a few years ago that said, “The only person you are ever going to meet staying home in your pajamas is the person who breaks in to steal your TV.” It’s so true! I talk to people all the time who desperately want to be married, yet are not dating at all. How does that work? A lot of us know the discipline and process it takes to achieve a long-term goal. We know that we have to take small, daily actions that lead us toward the bigger picture goals in our lives… dating is no different. Get out there and meet people. You never know how it might end up!
9. Support each other!
Dating is fun and funny and sad and inherently kind of messy. Remind yourself often that dating is intended to be that time in our lives where we can be young and free and spontaneous… open to all the possibilities and adventures that lay ahead. Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t, but remember that you are one of truly millions of people trying to figure this all out… you are not alone! How many great movies and shows have we seen that have groups of friends sitting around for hours dissecting and discussing their dating lives… sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly. Follow in their footsteps! Seek support and community with other people who are navigating all of this with you. Tell your funny first-date stories, ask for advice when you feel stuck, offer encouragement to others who are trying to figure all this out, seek support when something sad or confusing happens. Even better… talk to your dates about it all! Who better to empathize than someone living it too. Talking about dating with your dates is a great way to bond, get to know one another, and gain some great insight into where their head and heart are emotionally when it comes to dating and relationships.
10. HAVE FUN!
Most importantly… remember that this is all fun! Take full advantage of this time of freedom in your life. Not everyone you meet on the apps/sites is intended to be your romantic life partner. That doesn’t mean they aren’t a super fun and interesting person to get to know and learn from. As long as you are following the tips above and communicating openly with the person you meet, there is no harm in using this time to try new things, make cool memories, make some new friends, grow your network, etc, etc… the possibilities are endless when you take some of the pressure, stress, and confusion away from it.
HAVE FUN and HAPPY SWIPING!
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