Why Dating Is Harder Now Than Ever Before
Dating is harder now than ever before. Here’s why:
- We define our own identities, unlike our ancestors, whose lives were defined by their communities.
- We have thousands of options at our fingertips, which causes us to question our decisions.
- We’re uncomfortable making big decisions when we can’t research our way to the right answer.
- Social media leads us to believe that everyone else is in healthier, happier relationships than we are.
- Far too few of us have good relationship role models.
- There are far more models for dating and long-term relationships.
- We’re bombarded with messaging that we need to get this decision “right”—and that a right answer exists at all.
But there’s hope. Using insights from behavioral science, we can take control of our love lives.
The Three Dating Tendencies
Many people suffer from dating blind spots—patterns of behavior that hold them back from finding love, but which they can’t identify on their own.
The author has categorized the most common blind spots into a framework called The Three Dating Tendencies. Each group struggles with unrealistic expectations.
- The Romanticizer has unrealistic expectations of relationships. They want the soul mate, the happily ever after—the whole fairy tale.
- The Maximizer has unrealistic expectations of their partner. They love to explore their options and want to feel absolutely confident they’re making the right decision.
- The Hesitater has unrealistic expectations of themselves. They feel like they’re not ready to date.
Understanding your dating tendency helps you discover what’s holding you back and how you can overcome these blind spots.
Disney Lied to Us
Our mindset matters! The ability to shift your mindset from soul mate to work-it-out beliefs could mean the difference between finding a life partner or not.
People with soul mate beliefs reject promising partners because they don’t match their vision for what love should look and feel like. They think that love will just happen to them. They expect love to be effortless. If it’s not, they must be with the wrong person.
People with a work-it-out mindset know that relationships take effort and that building a successful relationship is a process.
Our belief in fate and fairy tales—caused in part by Disney movies, rom-coms, and social media—creates unrealistic expectations for finding and sustaining relationships. Remember, no one is perfect, including you. Even Prince Charming has morning breath.
The Happily-Ever-After Fallacy is the mistaken idea that the hard work of love is finding someone. In reality, that’s only the beginning. Staying in love takes work, too. If you expect relationships to be easy, you’ll be caught off guard when they hit an inevitable rough patch.
Don’t Let Perfect Be the Enemy of Great
Maximizers obsess over making the right decision. They want to explore every possible option before they make a choice. Even when they decide, they constantly wonder what they’re missing out on. Satisficers figure out what they want and stop looking once they’ve met their criteria. They don’t settle, they merely stop worrying what else is out there once they’ve made a decision.
Research shows that Satisficers tend to be happier, because in the end, satisfaction comes from how you feel about your decision, not the decision itself.
The current dating climate creates Maximizers out of many of us. No one ever seems good enough, and we wonder if we could be happier with someone else. Maximizing tendencies in relationships can lead to mental anguish, costly delays in decision-making, and missed opportunities.
Maximizers assume there is a right answer for whom to be with. And there’s not.
This knowledge can help us commit without worrying about what else is out there. The power of rationalization can also help us embrace our decisions.
Don’t Wait, Date
Hesitaters delay dating because they don’t feel 100 percent ready yet and want to put their best foot forward. But no one ever feels 100 percent ready for anything. At a certain point, you just have to start.
Perfection is a lie. Everyone else is imperfect, too—even the person you’ll eventually end up with.
By waiting to date, Hesitaters miss out on a chance to develop their dating skills and figure out what type of person they want to be with.
Here’s how you can learn to overcome your hesitation:
- Set deadlines for yourself.
- Do prep work for your new dating life.
- Tell others about your plan.
- Commit to your new identity as a “dater.”
- Start with small goals.
- Be compassionate with yourself.
- STOP TALKING TO YOUR EX!
Learn Your Attachment Style
Attachment theory is a popular framework for understanding relationships. It can help explain why you’re attracted to certain people, why past relationships haven’t worked out, and why you’re trapped in a pattern of bad habits.
You may be anxiously attached if you crave a lot of closeness but are insecure about your relationship’s future and your partner’s interest in you. You may be avoidantly attached if you feel uncomfortable with intimacy and value independence over connection. You may be securely attached if you are comfortable with intimacy, spending time alone, and drawing clear boundaries.
Securely attached folks make up 50 percent of the population but not the dating pool, since they tend to get into relationships and stay in them. Anxiously attached and avoidantly attached people often date each other, reinforcing their worst tendencies.
If you’re anxiously attached or avoidantly attached, you can help yourself develop better relationship skills by looking for a secure partner and learning to self-regulate—managing disruptive impulses and emotions.
Look for a Life Partner, Not a Prom Date
Relationship science can teach us what really matters for committed long-term relationships. Seek Life Partners: people who are trustworthy and reliable and who will stay with you for the long haul. Avoid Prom Dates: individuals who are fun in the short term but ultimately let you down.
Superficial qualities like looks and money matter less for long-term relationship success than people think they do because lust fades and people adapt to their circumstances. The same goes for shared hobbies and similar personalities.
A great long-term partner is loyal, kind, and emotionally stable, a person with whom you can grow, make hard decisions, and fight constructively.
In the end, a relationship is about what happens when the two of you come together. Focus on the side of you this person brings out, because that’s who you’ll be whenever you’re with them.
You Think You Know What You Want, but You’re Wrong
We think we know what we want when it comes to a partner, but our intuition about what will lead to long-term happiness is often wrong.
Dating apps may cause us to focus on the wrong things. We value what gets measured. Because apps can only measure superficial traits, they exacerbate our shallowness.
Apps can make us more indecisive by overwhelming us with choices. They’ve created a habit of relationshopping—comparing and contrasting people as if they’re potential purchases.
We can learn to swipe smarter by expanding our settings to see more people, being less judgmental when we swipe, dating fewer people at a time, and transitioning to the date faster.
Meet People IRL (In Real Life)
While apps are the most common way people meet one another these days, you can still strategize ways to meet people IRL (in real life)
Get your friends and family to set you up on dates by letting them know this is something you’re interested in, making the process easy for them, saying yes to dates, and giving feedback (and gratitude). You can even offer incentives.
Connect with people you already know. Your person may be hidden in plain sight. All you have to do is change your frame of mind.
Introduce yourself to people when you’re out and above. Improve your chances by taking off your headphones and interacting with the world around you. If you’re at an event and you don’t know what to say, get in a line and start commenting on it! People in lines love to discuss lines.
This Is a Date, Not a Job Interview
We’re suffering from the rise of evaluative dating—cross-examinations that feel like job interviews. Throw out your checklist and shift to the experiential mindset. Stay present and pay attention to how you feel around the other person.
Mindset matters: Whether you believe the date will go well or poorly, you’re right. You can use a pre-date ritual to get into the right mental state before a date.
With a little planning, you can design better dates. Be thoughtful about where and when you go out. Incorporate play. Choose more creative activities, resist small talk, stay off your phone, and end on a high note. Be a good listener by offering support responses that encourage your date to elaborate on a story, instead of shift responses that direct the conversation back to you.
F**k the Spark
F**k the spark! Fireworks and instant chemistry are often absent at the beginning of a relationship. Chemistry can build over time.
Context matters. You may not feel the spark with someone, simply because of the environment in which you meet.
The spark is not always a good thing. That feeling of chemistry may actually be anxiety because the person doesn’t make it clear how they feel about you. Sometimes the presence of a spark is more an indication of how charming someone is—or how narcissistic—and less a sign of a shared connection.
If you feel the spark, that doesn’t necessarily mean the relationship is viable. Even if it leads you into a long-term relationship, it’s not nearly enough to keep the relationship going; nor is it a sign that you’re meant to be together.
Ditch the spark and go after the slow burn—someone who may not be particularly charming but would make a great long-term partner.
Go on the Second Date
The negativity bias is our natural tendency to ruminate on what’s gone wrong. You can override it by seeking out your date’s best qualities. Remember the dating version of the Golden Rule: Do not judge others the way you would not want to be judged.
We’re prone to the fundamental-attribution error—our tendency to believe someone’s actions reflect who they are rather than their circumstances. For example, if someone arrives late to a date, we may assume they’re selfish. We can override this error by coming up with a more compassionate reason for their behavior. Perhaps their boss dropped by their desk for a last-minute conversation when they were trying to leave work.
We are worse judges of character than we think, and it often takes time for attraction to grow. Therefore, we should create a default: Go on the second date.
Decide, Don’t Slide
A decision point is a moment in which you decide whether to continue what you’re doing or choose a different path. It shifts your brain from unconscious thinking to deliberate decision-making. Relationships are full of decision points. They provide an opportunity to pause, take a breath, and reflect.
Psychologists describe two ways couples transition into the next stage of a relationship: deciding or sliding. Deciding means making intentional choices about relationship transitions. Those who slide slip into the next stage without giving it much thought. Couples who decide tend to enjoy healthier relationships.
When you start seeing someone, don’t make assumptions about whether you’re in a relationship. You need to DTR (define the relationship) to ensure that you’re on the same page about where you are and where you’re headed.
Moving in together makes you more likely to slide into marriage, so it’s important that you take this step seriously and talk about what it means for your future.
Stop Hitching and Stop Ditching
When people are deciding whether they should end it or mend it, they often fall into two categories: Ditchers or Hitchers.
Ditchers leave relationships too quickly, without giving them a chance to develop. They confuse falling in love with being in love, and expect the whole relationship to offer that initial excitement. They underestimate the opportunity cost of learning how to make relationships work.
Hitchers stay in relationships too long. Hitchers are affected by cognitive biases like the sunk-cost fallacy (continuing to invest in something because you’ve already dedicated a lot of resources to it) and loss aversion (our tendency to try and avoid losses because we experience them as particularly painful). Hitchers forgo the opportunity to find a more satisfying partnership.
To figure out whether to stay or go, consider your historical tendencies and determine if you’ve given the relationship a fair chance. Get input from someone you trust to help you make your decision. Ask yourself the Wardrobe Test question: If my partner were a piece of clothing in my closet, what would they be?
Make a Breakup Plan
When you’ve decided you want to break up with someone, it’s time to make a plan. Think through what you’re going to say and when and where you’re going to say it. Be kind but firm.
Use an accountability system and incentives to ensure that you follow through with your plan.
Make a post-breakup plan with your partner to take their needs into consideration. And don’t have breakup sex!
Make a post-breakup plan for yourself, including whom you’ll reach out to when you’re tempted to text your ex.
After the breakup, give the other person space. Don’t try to be the Nice Breakup Person. It makes you feel better but makes it harder for them to move on.
Reframe Your Breakup as a Gain, Not a Loss
We’re affected by framing—our tendency to evaluate things differently based on how they’re presented. You can speed up your recovery process after a breakup by reframing this experience from a loss to an opportunity for growth and learning.
Breakups wreak havoc on your physical and emotional health. But we’re more resilient than we think. What you feel during a breakup is only temporary.
Journaling helps. Write about the positive aspects of the breakup, and the negative aspects of the relationship, to help yourself move forward.
You can regain your sense of identity, which is often disrupted by a breakup, by participating in “rediscover yourself” activities—things that you enjoyed doing previously but gave up during your relationship.
You can grow from the experience by focusing on what you learned and what you’ll do differently in the future. Go from “Time heals all wounds” to “Meaning heals all wounds.”
Before You Tie the Knot, Do This
Love is a drug that intoxicates us.
The false-consensus effect is our tendency to think other people see things the same way we do. When love and the false-consensus effect combine early in relationships, couples often fail to discuss important aspects of their future before they decide to get married. They assume they both want the same things without ever confirming that, which can lead to unhappy endings.
Before you decide to tie the knot, you can override the false-consensus effect by completing a series of self-reflection and partner activities called “It’s About Time: Past, Present, and Future.” You should have conversations about the past (where you’ve been), the present (where you are now), and the future (where you’re going). And it’s crucial to make time to discuss topics like money, sex, religion, and children.
Over the last forty years, fewer and fewer of us are finding long-term relationship happiness. The good news is that great relationships are created, not discovered. You can build the relationship of your dreams.
Creating a relationship that can evolve is the key to making it last. We underestimate how much we’ll grow and change in the future, and should seek out relationships where we can learn and grow together with our partner.
In a world of Intentional Love, you design your life, you hold yourself accountable, you are honest with yourself about who you are and what you want, and most important, you course-correct when you need to. You don’t live someone else’s idea of life, you live yours. Now go out there and live intentionally ever after.