Finding love shouldn't be confusing and miserable.
Technology, including online dating apps and websites, has drastically changed the cultural landscape to find true love. The quest for true love and a lifelong partner hasn’t changed a whole lot over time. But the ways we go about accomplishing this goal has evolved tremendously. The channels in which we communicate are also more varied than ever before. You can text, snap, and follow to demonstrate interest. Something utterly foreign to Gen X’s and older.
Some of these changes certainly are positive. We have more paths to meet people we would typically never meet. But reality tells us there’s a darker side as well. We are less emotionally connected, more lonely, anxious and depressed despite technology. We are also more at risk for being deceived (i.e., catfished) and treated poorly (i.e. ghosted or breadcrumbed). We even have an entire industry of dating professionals ready to help us navigate our ongoing digital dating dilemmas.
What are the top complaints of those trying to find love in the age of technology? And are there strategic ways to achieve more successful outcomes? Are there better ways to cope when things go wrong?
As a psychotherapist that frequently deep dives into the reasons some people repeat unhealthy relationship patterns over and over, I think I have some insights to share. First, let’s look at seven top complaints about modern dating:
Here are the top 7 complaints about modern dating and how you can get past them to find true love and lasting relationships:
1. I can’t get a fair chance.
There are seemingly endless romantic prospects! Page after page. Swipe after swipe. So many potential partners, so little time! Too many choices make choosing more difficult, not less. If we think we are missing out on the next great option, we won’t settle on one particular person. We are also more apt to ditch a potential relationship sooner instead of trying to resolve friction or ride out a rough patch knowing so many other options are available. Taking the “stock market” approach—constantly buying and selling—affects our engagement and effort when dating.
2. Communication is poor.
Science tells us that a significant portion of communication is non-verbal. Facial expressions, tone of voice, eye contact, and body language provide critical cues to help us understand and respond to others effectively. Face to face conversations (and even phone or video conversations) are essential but often the less popular mode of communication. Much can be miscommunicated or misunderstood using texting which is now the most popular method of communication (especially for dating). I’m sure some potentially great relationships tanked early due to some misinterpretation of a text message.
3. There’s no accountability.
People readily flake out, fail to follow through, or thoughtfully express themselves. The most unequivocal evidence of this is what’s now termed “ghosting.” This is when someone (the “ghoster”) suddenly ceases communication with no explanation leaving the other person (the “ghostee”) bewildered. This not only shows a lack of accountability in dating but worse: a lack of empathy.
4. Social Media “rules” are confusing.
What to do or not do on social media is a big challenge for modern dating. Knowing what’s acceptable (and on which social media profile) is daunting. For example, what’s appropriate if you are just starting to date? What about if you are in a full-blown relationship? What if the person you’re steadily dating doesn’t update their relationship status? What if they do it too soon? Is it okay to follow exes? Like their posts? What do you do if you break up? The bottom line is that there are varying rules, behavior, and etiquette whether you are interested in someone, starting to date someone new, in an exclusive relationship with someone, or just broke up with someone. There’s a lack of consensus on what is acceptable and what is not.
5. It’s hard to meet someone the “old fashioned” way.
I realize that people actually DO meet in real life. But online and app-based dating is a reality, and it’s here to stay. There’s a good bit of research that concludes that partners who met online have successful relationships. The odds of meeting a potential romantic partner is also significantly increased when you venture into the online dating world.
We also know there’s a dark side too. Online dating platforms allow more opportunity for deceit and unkind behavior. Perhaps it’s essential to also remember that most humans in the natural world have are looking down at their phone or are using earbuds, hence lowering their chances of meeting organically anyway!
6. It’s a time and energy suck.
Dating feels like hard work, and often there is a lot of wasted time. Meeting Mr. Wrong, even just for coffee, is an hour you will never get back. As much work as it is, it is work that should be done, nonetheless. Dating is a process to help you find the person you may wish to one day commit to, live with, and have babies with. Therefore, it’s the most important work you will ever do! There are limited other options to find a mate than putting in the work (unless you go the route of an arranged marriage—likely not your thing).
7. It’s challenging to navigate gender roles and politics.
Showing romantic or sexual interest in someone, particularly in heteronormative dating, has taken some serious twists and turns throughout the years. Post the #metoo movement, many are desperate for some direction, knowledge, and resources to help navigate expectations for appropriate behavior. Men are fearful of offending and women are afraid of being victimized creating polarization between them. What it means to be respectful and receive explicit consent should not be so confusing, yet it is.
So here are 3 ways you can navigate these dating problems and have a successful relationship: :
1. Practice good communication.
Being transparent and direct in your communication preferences at the outset it helpful.
For example, stating you prefer phone calls to texting. If a text or post comes off negatively, check it out before assuming anything. If there is something important or sensitive to talk about, have the conversation in person, or at the very least, by video or phone.
Know that if you're getting consistent online attention from someone, it’s likely that they’re interested in you. Avoid playing games and reciprocate signs of interest (or be clear about disinterest) as well.
If the relationship gets more serious, have a conversation about when your social media status should change to “in a relationship.” You also need to discuss what to do about friends and followers who are exes. Listen and care about your partner’s feelings.
2. Push past your comfort zone.
Even when we say we wish we could meet someone in an “organic” way, we are still taking risks that get us to the finish line. One of you still must ask for the cell number or social media handles. One of you still must plan the date. Both of you still must take emotional risks to open up and be vulnerable.
You also take risks when you go online to date. You’re putting yourself into a public forum to be judged and rejected, but also admired and pursued. You can adopt a smart dating strategy with an open heart and a sense of humor. I advise people to tell themselves they are “meeting other humans” instead of “dating.” This perspective shift lightens the intensity and expectations.
3. Take personal responsibility.
Be proactive and goal-oriented in your search for love. Take responsibility for yourself, how you act and communicate. Set intentions for what you want out of dating and pass on that which doesn't line up. Hold yourself to a high standard to not behave in a way you would not want to be treated.
This will bring empathy to the process of finding love and will also help you attract someone with similar values.
Genuine connection is at a premium nowadays.
There are more ways to connect than ever, yet ironically many people feel more alone and disconnected. Understanding how to navigate modern dating dilemmas will build your competency and in turn, improve your odds of finding just who you’re looking for.
Dr. Marni Feuerman* is a licensed psychotherapist and author of Ghosted and Breadcrumbed: Stop Falling for Unavailable Men and Get Smart about Healthy Relationships available on Amazon and everywhere else books are sold. Sign up for her newsletter to keep in touch and get the latest content on love, dating and relationships.
*Author note: This article was originally written for and appeared on YourTango.com.