Historically, dating has always had its challenges. (Romeo and Juliet, much?) But in the age of Hinge and Bumble, it’s arguably more challenging than ever—particularly if you’ve been logging serious smartphone time. According to psychiatrist Drew Ramsey, MD, the problem isn’t you; it’s the way swiping can make you feel about dating. Here, Dr. Ramsey shares his best advice for staying sane while dating… and having better experiences, too.
If you are worried that Facebook invaded your privacy, consider for a moment what profiles, swiping, and hook-up culture have done to your dating life. Love, sex, or whatever combination of those you hope for is now dependent on an algorithm. That’s a tall order in the age of swiping left and right.
Listening to people talk about dating these days, I hear the same yearning for human connection that seems to have always existed. But damn, it seems hard to find. Just to be clear, I think that special someone is out there for you. I see people fall in love all the time—but you have to stay resilient.
Here are my top 9 online dating tips for keeping your sanity in the age of swiping.
1. Swipe. Message. Meet.
Online platforms are a tool for one thing: meeting people. Don’t forget this and don’t make it a big deal. You’re just meeting some new folks—what fun! Sure, I’m a little old-school, but no profile tells you the important things like what someone smells like or if they make you laugh. Chemistry. Spark. Limerence. Totally inaccurate feelings unless you are in person.
If you’re not comfortable meeting up immediately, suggest a Skype call or even a classic phone call. These methods of communication certainly won’t replace a non-digital meet-up, but they will give you more of a 360-degree idea of a person than, say, a text conversation that goes How are you? Fine, how are you? And so on.
2. Be direct, but not cruel, about your feelings
As a psychiatrist, I worry my dating advice might not have enough game in it. But it seems that people do best when they are authentic, even blunt. Everyone fears there is some super-complex game going on that is secretly coded in text frequency and emoji choice. Not true, in my experience. The two most attractive qualities are a love of fun and a willingness to communicate directly.
Research from 2011 found that direct communication leads to better relationship longevity overall. That doesn’t mean that you can just say whatever pops into your mind about the other person, but if you’re into them—say something.
3. Enjoy your life in the meantime
Dating and romance is just one part of your life. It’s easy for that to become the most important part, especially when your phone is beeping and buzzing with the promise of The One. That’s the thing that’s missing, isn’t it? The truth of the matter is that you make the joy in your life. And the more your nourish your relationships to friends, work, and community, the better you’ll be at keeping online dating from driving you nuts.
A 2018 Harvard study of over 700 people found that our relationships at large (not just romantic ones) offer the feeling of fulfillment. Keep that in perspective as you search for the romantic piece of this puzzle.
4. Don’t find your match; find someone who will help you grow
Trying to find that certain someone who likes green juice, hot yoga, travel, is gluten-free, dairy-neutral, and has freakishly smooth skin? First, good luck with that—but more importantly, why? A wonderful aspect of real intimacy is being different and working to understand and respect our differences. Understand what you need in a partner and try to ascertain something about the needs and drives of your date.
A famous Stanford paper released in 2017 defied the long-held notion that “opposites attract,” but that doesn’t mean that you can’t give your prospective love interest the opportunity to show you that you do have similarities. A love of oat milk just isn’t one.
5. Don’t let your imagination block you from really seeing a person
Stop playing the “what if” game. We can’t really know why strangers like us or don’t. You evoke powerful feelings in people and they imagine a lot of stuff, just as you do about them. Remember, no one really knows you at first so they are rejecting a fantasy about you.
There’s no doubt that it’s a blow to your self-esteem if someone says “no” to a date. When scientists placed people in an MRI machine and asked them to recall moments when a potential partner shot them down, their brains lit up in the same way they would while experiencing physical pain. But what we call a “rejection” is really just someone expressing that they don’t see a match. That’s okay: It will bring you closer to finding someone who looks at you and knows, yes, you go together like peanut butter and jelly.
6. Keep your dating life in perspective
Speaking of creating unrealistic fantasies, idealizing people is really not cool and horribly self-defeating. See people for who they are. They have challenges just like you. The great news is that they also have needs just like you. You owe it to them as a fellow human being to see the many ways in which their personality refracts, and to honor them all—even the ones that don’t directly serve you.
If you go into date two or three already yielding a full picture of who that person is to you, you may end up only seeing what you want to see (or being disappointed that you don’t see it). Keep the same open mind about whoever you’re meeting up with that you want them to offer you in return.
7. Pick a day of the week to go on dates
Sure, making calendar time for dating is not exactly romantic. But look, your life is busy, and there are certain times that you’re more likely to feel up for meeting a stranger for coffee. Friday nights? Probably not—you’ll likely be wiped after a long week. But what about a quick tea break on a Tuesday afternoon? Or a walk after work on a Wednesday? Find a few comfortable safe places with good light that are convenient to work or home. Then work them like a part-time, yet serious job.
If you don’t schedule time for dates just like you would an exercise regimen or a meal-prepping day, you might just wind up pushing your meetup so far in the future that all your matches expire.
8. Be open to virtual dating experiences
Eat together on video chat before you eat together in real life. Eating with someone teaches you so much about them: how they nourish themselves, how they think about and interact with food. It’s not about liking the same foods, although people often think it is. It’s about observing your future partner in one of their natural environments.
If eating on camera makes you nervous, there are other ways to interact online via games, a virtual happy hour, or (if you’re bold) a yoga class. Don’t feel like you have to jump into IRL hangouts before you get a good read on the person. It’s really up to you when and where these dates take place.
9. Use the flexibility of online dating to your advantage
Don’t make it a big deal—you’re just meeting new folks. What fun! Clearly, dating has gotten more flexibly in this age. You can meet for short amounts of time or give someone a preliminary date via video chat. A recently-released Stanford study found that 39 percent of heterosexual couples now meet online, so we know that this type of match-making can work. Cyberspace dating is what you make it, so shape it to be your own.
What should Drew write about next? Send your questions and suggestions to email@example.com.
This post was originally published on April 23, 2018; updated on June 1, 2020.