Dating is hard. Always has been, always will be.
Finding an ideal partner is like trying to figure out if a book with a beautiful cover will actually prove itself to be an amazing page-turner or a complete drag.
You never know until you try. Once you do try, however, you’re in danger of falling head over heels for the story – even if it’s full of haunted woods and ominous shadows.
To put it bluntly, one of the reasons why dating is so hard is because entering a relationship – committing yourself to someone for years or decades – is a life-changing event, one you usually go through with insufficient knowledge of your partner.
The person you choose ultimately plays a role in your overall life satisfaction, and how the heck are you supposed to know if this is the right decision when you’ve only known each other for three months?
Hence books and covers.
And dating today is harder than ever. After all, we didn’t have that much choice just a hundred years ago, which often made it easier to settle down. While this came with its own set of cons (like, uhm, becoming the prisoner of your own marriage), nearly one-half of Americans find that dating has, in fact, gotten more difficult.
So, why is dating so hard in 2023? And how can you make it easier for yourself?
Let’s jump in!
Modern Dating and the Paradox of Choice
“Why is it so hard to meet someone?” you ask.
“Because there are too many potential someones. If you had less choice, it’d be easier,” I answer.
“Huh?! Surely not!”
Unfortunately, yes. The idea that maximizing the freedom of choice automatically leads to higher life satisfaction isn’t entirely true. The psychologist Barry Schwartz actually argues that the more options you have, the more effort it takes to make a decision.
If you’re choosing between two brands of toothpaste, you count the pros and cons. If there are twenty of them right in front of you, though, how do you know which is the right one? In the words of the writer and academic Eva Hoffman:
“Confronted with ten varieties of soap or toothpaste, I stand paralyzed, my capillaries tightening into a panicky headache. Just how am I to know which is the real thing, the Platonic toothpaste?”
Dating is no different.
In his book The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, Schwartz suggests that learning to choose well is hard as it is, but learning to choose well in a world of unlimited possibilities is perhaps too hard: you swipe on Tinder for hours, perplexed at the amount of potential romantic partners.
In the end, it’s too much. You uninstall the app.
…only to install it again when you feel lonely.
The paradox of choice can lead to a freeze response – you simply don’t go on any date because you feel overwhelmed – or even to perfectionism. After all, why would you settle down for someone imperfect when there are so many options out there?
Which brings us to…
The Grass Is Greener and All That Jazz
Relationships shatter easily nowadays. Children are used to packing their bags on Sundays to shuffle between their parents’ houses, and a divorce is something that’s always on the cards – if this marriage doesn’t make you happy, feel free to move on.
While the freedom to exit an unhappy marriage means that making one commitment doesn’t have to ruin your whole life, it also means that the commitment didn’t hold as much value to begin with.
People break up and divorce for a variety of reasons, one of them being the fact that you can always find someone else to date. The grass can always be greener elsewhere.
Once you get on this hedonic treadmill, it’s not easy to get off. The array of possibilities out there magnifies your partner’s every flaw.
He’s a bad cook. Surely, there’s a guy somewhere who could make you delicious lasagne every week.
She’s so messy. There are plenty of women on planet Earth who keep their houses spotless.
The dissatisfaction with your current partner can overshadow all their positive qualities because of the simple fact that you can always choose someone else. Someone better, perhaps. Someone more suited to you.
Or that’s what you think, anyway.
Too often, we forget the 80% our partner gives us and look for the missing 20% as if it could finally complete us.
Too much choice breeds impossible expectations.
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Fulfill Me Completely or Else I Leave
Many of us have difficulty dating nowadays due to the overwhelming demands we are used to placing on our romantic partners.
In the past, we had a whole community to share our life with. When marriage eventually became a solely economic enterprise, we knew we had to look for passion elsewhere.
Nowadays, we marry for love. It’s a wonderful thing to stand at the wedding altar with someone who sets your heart afire – at the same time, however, we need to be conscious of how much we require of our partner.
In the words of the relationships expert Esther Perel:
“Modern relationships are cauldrons of contradictory longings: safety and excitement, grounding and transcendence, the comfort of love and the heat of passion. We want it all, and we want it with one person.”
Struggling with dating? Perhaps you’re placing too many expectations on your significant other. Perhaps you assume they should provide all of the following at once:
- Share your favorite hobbies with you
- Move in the same social circles
- Agree with all your opinions
- Provide you with exactly what you need when upset 100% of the time
- Give you high-quality counsel on all aspects of life
- Be the most amazing lover 24/7
- Always have something to chat with you about
The list goes on.
The thing is, no one can fulfill you entirely. Your partner can tick off all the important boxes while also lacking in other ways, and that’s okay.
After all, your girlfriend or boyfriend shouldn’t be the only person that makes you happy. Make sure to spend a lot of time with friends and family, too.
It’s not about whether your partner can become the center of your universe. It’s about whether they fit into the constellation you’ve built for yourself.
» You Might Like: Will I Find Love? (When You’re Ready It Will Find You).
Dating Anxiety Is a Thing
A 2021 study has found that there is a positive association between using dating apps and experiencing anxiety and depression.
While this doesn’t mean that going on Tinder dates will automatically make you depressed – some people find dating apps fun and useful – it only adds to the modern issue that is our decreasing mental health.
What’s more, there’s a thing called dating anxiety: excessive nervousness, fear, and negative thinking related to dating. Doctors say it can manifest in:
- A fast heart rate
- Repetitive negative thoughts
You can also feel sick before a date and fight tooth and nail just to convince yourself not to cancel.
As someone who’s experienced it, I can tell you it literally feels like forcing your body to move forward with the sheer willpower of your mind while you’re being pulled back by some invisible rope at the same time. The urge to flee is immense.
Dating anxiety can be a kind of social anxiety. It can also be linked to:
- Introversion and shyness
- Lack of confidence
- Dating inexperience
- Fear of rejection or embarrassment
- Previous relationship trauma
If you’re suffering from dating anxiety, I’ve got some scary news – your best bet is to actually get out there and date. As medical professionals advise:
“While avoiding situations you fear might alleviate your distress in the short term, you are teaching yourself that you can’t handle those triggers.”
Slow exposure therapy – placing yourself in situations out of your comfort zone and showing yourself you can get through them – is often the way to get better.
Personally, my anxiety has alleviated over the years precisely thanks to this.
Technology: Our Love, Our Nemesis
Technology connects us across long distances and disconnects us from those nearest to us.
As amazing as dating apps can be, technology itself can actually make dating more difficult. Here’s why.
Eyes Glued to the Phone
Remember when people had nothing to do on public transport and had to read a book or, help me God, talk to strangers?
That’s how many relationships were born. We had nothing to distract ourselves with when bored, nothing to help us pretend we’re busy when anxious at a party.
(Is there anyone who’s never pointlessly opened and closed apps in public just to appear less lonely?)
Dating is difficult because approaching people has become harder than it has to be.
When someone’s browsing on their phone with headphones on, they’re unlikely to lock eyes with you across the train. There’s no warm-up. You have to get up, get their attention, watch them pull their headphones off, and ask them out.
It’s like pulling someone out of their own inner world. We now feel like intruders where spontaneous interaction used to come naturally.
You Know Each Other Before You Know Each Other
Stalking someone’s social media has become such a norm it’s hardly questioned.
Talking to someone online? Scroll through their whole Instagram account to make up your own idea of who exactly they are.
Seen a new co-worker? Find them on LinkedIn and read what they have to say before you even know the sound of their voice.
In many ways, dating has become impersonal. While dating apps give you the space to advertise yourself as a dating-worthy product, social media allows you to learn about someone without ever actually speaking to them.
My friend was once preparing to go on a date. “I know the names of his siblings, what school he went to, what his favorite music bands are, and who he’ll vote for,” she said. “Now I have to make sure I don’t let anything slip out, or he’ll know I stalked him online.”
Imagine going on a date with someone and telling them personal information that they already know. It renders the whole interaction ingenuine.
Plus, sorting through someone’s social media means that you’re going on a date with certain expectations in mind. When they’re not met, you may feel crushed.
» Related: Signs that She’s Not Into You (Time to Move On)
Amicably End Things? Nah *Read*
Why is dating hard?
Maybe because so many people ghost each other.
A 2021 study has found that people ghost for a variety of reasons:
- They lack the skills to have an honest conversation
- They don’t feel confident enough to directly end things
- They choose not to pursue anything further in case it’d stir up emotional or sexual feelings they’re not ready for
- They don’t feel safe or comfortable with the person they ghost and so they remove themselves from the situation
While the last point is absolutely valid, the previous three show the absence of open and compassionate communication in the dating world.
According to research, ghosting can be incredibly bad for one’s mental health and self-esteem, which can subsequently make dating even more difficult. If people just disappear, why would you bother connecting in the first place?
It takes courage to tell someone you would rather not take things further, but being direct and genuine can ultimately make dating easier for them.
Vanishing without an explanation? That’s a proper cop-out, one that is somehow socially sanctioned and regularly practiced.
Of course, safety always comes first, which is also why ghosting is a completely understandable reaction to an uncomfortable or dangerous situation.
Many young women have reported being harassed or sent explicit messages on dating apps, not to mention the danger that comes with meeting IRL. The rise of technology means more people to date – however, it also means more people to avoid.
Before you go on a date with someone, make sure you:
- Watch out for any red flags
- Schedule a very public meeting place, such as a café or a restaurant
- Video chat if you’re very anxious
- Tell your friends where you’re going or share your location with them online
While this issue concerns more women than men, that doesn’t mean men shouldn’t be careful. Studies confirm that both genders practice catfishing, and your sexuality naturally plays a role as well.
Just because more men catfish doesn’t mean that other men can’t be their victims.
» You Might Like: How to Approach and Meet Women (and Get More Dates)
How to Make Dating Easier for Yourself
“Dating is impossible! And why is dating so hard for guys, anyway? Dating is so unnecessarily complicated!”
I hear you.
Finding a relationship is not easy, especially if you’re a man – women are usually pickier than men, which is why they do one swipe right for every thirty swipes left.
In the meantime, many men are going on an absolute swiping spree (what even is left?).
However, it’s usually only the guys who give up on dating completely that never find a relationship. Most people do end up coupled up, however hard modern dating is!
Here’s how to make dating easier.
Empty Out Your Sea
Look, there will always be other fish in the sea. The point is to find someone you love and get along with, commit to them, and choose them every single day.
Yes, even when they’re incredibly annoying.
No one will ever fulfill you 100% of the time. Seek out the person who embodies your 80%, and then compromise on the rest. Instead of running away when things get difficult, choose to work on the relationship.
If it’s worth it, it’ll work out.
» Related: Attract Women (and Make Them Want You).
Treat Dating as a Game
No, not in the playboy sense.
If you’re anxious about getting out of your comfort zone and approaching others, imagine that life is basically just a game. Except you are eventually bound to die, so you might just as well go for it.
If you ask someone out and they decline, there’s nothing gained and nothing lost. You may never even see them again.
If they accept, though… you’ve potentially gained a whole different future life.
See what’s missing? You never actually lose anything by kicking up the courage to ask someone on a date. And the more you practice, the more confident you get.
Extra Tip: Don’t let rejection bring you down. If they decline, it’s not personal. Don’t tie your self-worth to other people’s approval – instead, find your own power within yourself.
Use Singledom to Your Advantage
Being single doesn’t have to mean shrouding yourself in misery.
In fact, singledom is an excellent opportunity to bring the focus back to yourself and to what you want out of life.
The benefits of leading a single life are numerous. For instance, you can:
- Find new hobbies, develop new skills and pursue your passions
- Strengthen your relationships with family and friends
- Work on your self-esteem, heal from past experiences, and become your best supporter
- Figure out what kind of partner suits your lifestyle and what your priorities are
Plus, you get to learn how to be alone, which is an essential life skill.
» Before you go, you might like this article on why you’re better off not looking for love.
So, why is it so hard to date? Here’s the summary:
- The paradox of choice makes choosing the right partner much more difficult
- In a globalized world, it’s easier to always look elsewhere because of the plenitude of options
- We have increasingly higher demands on our partners
- Many people suffer from dating anxiety, which turns romantic interaction into a stressful experience
- Technology makes it more difficult to approach people, get to know each other in an authentic way, and use direct communication to sort through issues
While relationships are hard, dating doesn’t have to be too hard. It’s actually meant to be fun! To make things easier for yourself, make sure to:
- Choose your partner every single day despite the limitless options out there
- Get out of your comfort zone and realize you have nothing to lose
- Use your singledom to work on yourself, figure out what you want in life, and put your priorities & boundaries in place
Above all, dating is about love.
And no matter how difficult dating has become, love always finds a way to connect us – even with some obstacles in the way.
What’s your best piece of dating advice?
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