"That's it. I'm done! I can't do it anymore. It's just too exhausting!" As I listen to my client describe his latest dating fiasco, I am struck by the familiarity of his words, his sentiments echoing those of many of my single clients, and of most single people I know. This collective frustration with dating seems to be a growing epidemic, in particular with online dating. It seems Tinder and similar dating apps have done for dating what videogames have done for, well, almost all forms of human interaction: desensitize and dehumanize. With the swipe of a finger or a tap on the delete button, it’s easier than ever to dismiss someone at the first sign of imperfection. Not tall enough, next. Not well-versed enough in foreign policy, delete. On to the next. The problem with this strategy is that instead of finding the One, you are more likely to end up with No One. You can look to your heart’s desire for perfection but be prepared to be disillusioned because it doesn’t exist. Human beings are flawed by nature. We have our fat days, our bad hair days (or weeks), and we all have our ugly, dark sides that we try our best to keep hidden from the world. Psychotherapist Carl Jung referred to these as our shadow selves, those traits that we deem inferior or unacceptable about ourselves. True love is finding a partner who sees these flaws and loves us anyway! Our imperfections are what make us unique. They are what make us human. Apps like Tinder, and a declining dating culture make that easy for many to forget.
Too Many Choices
This is not to dismiss online dating entirely and the opportunities it has afforded the many who have met their life partners online. Today, online dating is one of the most popular ways for couples to meet, and for those who may be too busy, or too shy to meet people offline, it has been a blessing. The problem with such impersonal dating apps as Tinder or Okcupid, for example, is too many choices. Much like going to a restaurant and being handed a menu 15 pages long. It’s overwhelming. You may immediately spot the dish that most appeals to you, or the one you have been thinking about all week, but why would you choose the first one you see when there are so many other options. What if you miss out by not choosing the ‘best’? What if there are better dishes out there?
Researcher Barry Schwartz refers to this phenomenon as “Choice Overload”. When there are too many options, he and his colleagues discovered, one of two things happen. Either satisfaction with the final choice is diminished, or people simply never end up choosing at all. This may explain why so many online first dates never lead to a second. Other factors identified through their research include the fear of regret, or missed opportunities, and what they refer to as ‘the curse of high expectations’. When we maintain unrealistic expectations, disappointment is inevitable. Though Schwartz’ research originally applied to material choices, it is just as applicable to romantic ones. But is there really a difference anymore in a culture in which people are seen as commodities and terms such as ‘trading up’ exist?
There is Hope
Fortunately, not everyone who participates in online dating falls prey to its potentially dehumanizing effects. Hence the countless couples and families that began with the right swipe of a finger. So is there a formula for determining who is susceptible to the Tinder Effect, and what, if anything, can be done about it? Many who find themselves in endless online-dating cycles with one failed date after another have likely had similar experiences offline, possibly beyond the romantic realm. Patterns have that funny way of repeating themselves. If you find yourself perpetually disappointed by a partner’s perceived shortcomings or find no one to be quite ‘good enough’, you may want to take a close look in the mirror. How do you feel about yourself? Do you think you are enough? Do you think you are loveable? Do you like yourself? Eliminating people like recyclable cans is a clear indication that something is wrong and, to quote Millionaire Matchmaker Patti Stanger, a good way to end up “alone in the nursing home”.
What you Can Do
If any of the above resonates with you, and you feel that you are ready to make a change in order to have more satisfying relationships, one effective way is through therapy. By taking an honest look at yourself and your patterns, in the presence of a trained professional, you’re likely to uncover some of your own blocks to achieving success in relationships, beyond a devolving dating culture. Once you begin to explore this, you will be on the path to loving and accepting yourself as you are, and closer to finding the one who will love and accept you just the same - flaws and all. Now go forth and swipe!
Allison Abrams is a licensed psychotherapist in private practice and a mindfulness coach with the NY division of Leading Minds Executive Coaching. If you are an individual interested in learning how therapy can help you achieve your goals, contact Allison at GoodTherapy.org. If you work for an organization that can benefit from executive coaching and mindfulness, call to inquire about Leading Minds Executive Coaching services.