Cultural commentators, numerous TikTok users and my single friends all agree: dating culture is a dumpster fire. If you’re not being ghosted, being served your sibling’s dating profile or being swindled out of your savings, your designer shoes are getting stolen. However, we’ve never had more access to hot singles in our area. Your future spouse could be just a swipe away during your next bathroom visit. This hope keeps us sifting through a sea of frogs who type “ahaha” after every message. It’s a numbers game that’s about as romantic as doing your taxes.
In addition to household names like Tinder and Hinge, there are now dating apps for nearly any dynamic or niche: Loosid for sober people, Feeld for kink-based or alternative relationship dynamics, Lumen for those over 50 seeking same.
In my experience, the apps usually deliver what they promise: humans to go on a date with. Some dates were fun, and only a few were alarmingly inappropriate – but nearly every one led to a handful of dates at most.
This last bit has many users at their wits’ end. “It just seems like nobody wants anything,” a single friend told me, frustrated.
More apps don’t necessarily mean better experiences. But if you’re in app rotation hell, a reframe could nudge you closer to the relationship you want – or at least make dating feel more beneficial, no matter the outcome. Here are some suggestions.
Treat dating as an opportunity for growth, rather than a means to an end
We’ve developed a novel vocabulary to describe all the ways that dating has become gamelike (ghosting, breadcrumbing, situationships), but accepting that dating has evolved makes it easier to shift our expectations and approach. We don’t have to settle for rude or disrespectful behavior, but we also don’t have to take it personally. “It’s important to approach dating as an opportunity for personal growth,” the therapist Sophia Cress tells me. “Instead of seeing setbacks as failures, they can be viewed as chances to discover more about oneself, cultivating resilience and a positive outlook.”
The paradox of choice can have paralyzing effects. “The sheer volume of potential matches on dating apps can be overwhelming, leading some to adopt a disposable mindset where connections are easily discarded in pursuit of the elusive ‘perfect’ match,” says Cress. “This approach undermines the value of investing time and effort into getting to know someone, hindering the development of genuine connections.”
Learning to manage expectations can help when navigating unexpected or disappointing outcomes. Dating can feel like an emotionally risky business, as can developing genuine feelings and daring to act on them. But going with it can produce unpredictable benefits or shiny nuggets of wisdom to take with you into the future.
Don’t think about dating as a waste of time
For obvious reasons, it’s easy to believe dating is “successful” only if the outcome is happily ever after. But no one and no date is a waste of time just because meeting them didn’t yield the desired results.
Everyone has expectations, spoken or unspoken, but it’s not necessarily your date’s responsibility to meet them (aside from basic manners and kindness). “People are more scared of failure than excited by the adventure of dating, understandably,” Ayla, 30, from Brooklyn tells me. “But what if, even if it didn’t work out, that date was really lovely and you got to learn some new things, you laughed, or you tried a new restaurant?”
Just enjoy flirting
Flirting can include the frisson with that person you grab drinks with sporadically, the will-they-won’t-they dynamic you have with your local barista, good chat with app matches, an exchange with that friend of a friend who may or may not be interested. This can show that you have more prospects than you think. Flirting can be fun without necessarily getting romantic, as it builds that exciting anything could happen energy.
Cress says flirting “should be viewed as a natural expression of interest and playfulness” rather than a set of predefined actions or performances. So how do you do it? “Embracing a positive and self-assured energy can be attractive,” she says. “Engaging in active listening and responding genuinely to the other person’s cues fosters a reciprocal exchange of energy, creating a connection that goes beyond surface-level interactions.”
Use dates and relationships as opportunities for self-reflection
Getting emotionally entangled with new people can unearth dormant triggers and tender bits. Such vulnerable work is valuable for your own wellbeing and evolution as well as future relationships. “The more people I meet and date, the more I know who I am and what’s important to me,” Peter, 36, from Oakland, tells me. “I set boundaries for both them and myself, and when they cross them I check in with myself – and then I ask why I’m letting someone treat me in a way that we both know is not acceptable.”
“Casual dating can also broaden one’s worldview and enhance empathy by exposing [you] to different perspectives and lifestyles,” Cress explains. Daters “may discover their tolerance for ambiguity, preferences in communication frequency, or comfort levels with vulnerability. These insights can contribute to increased self-confidence and a better understanding of one’s needs and desires in a romantic partnership.”
Most dates do not work out for everyone involved – if you aren’t turning someone down or calling it quits, they’re potentially doing it to you. Learning to take an L like a champ is a useful (and attractive) skill. “Experiencing a range of dating outcomes, both positive and negative, can help individuals develop emotional resilience,” Cress says. “It equips them to handle the challenges of modern dating with poise and self-confidence. As a result, they become better able to navigate the ups and downs of the dating scene, which can lead to healthier future relationships.”
Delete your apps
If you’re truly unhappy dating on the apps, delete them. “Being continuously exposed to the unpredictable nature of dating apps can take a toll on one’s emotions, so taking a step back to focus on self-care is essential,” says Cress. “If the continuous use of dating apps becomes more of a burden than a pleasant experience, it might be an indication that it’s time to take a break or delete.”
In my experience, there’s a sweet spot to how long being on an app is fruitful – typically a season. The longer you linger, the returns diminish. You’ve probably matched with everyone you’re going to match with. Conversations have either led to dates or gone cold. Then fatigue sets in. Each person devolves into a Pokémon card, and swiping becomes tedious. Get rid of the apps and shift your efforts to other parts of your life or meeting people in other ways.
“This doesn’t necessarily mean giving up on finding a partner, but rather prioritizing emotional resilience and wellbeing,” Cress says. She encourages pursuing activities that bring joy and fulfillment outside of romantic relationships as a way to contribute to overall happiness.
Get a hobby
Make it something you’ve always wanted to do; for bonus social interaction, choose a communal activity. Sarah, 28, from San Diego did just that. “I found my mom’s old film camera and brought it in to get cleaned. The person working at the camera shop told me about a group in the city that gets together every Sunday morning and walks around San Diego taking film pictures,” she says. “I went and immediately met many nice people – one was a cute guy who took a portrait of me. He DMed me the pictures, and we kept talking. It’s been a few months now and we’re dating.”
Talk to strangers more
If you live in a big city, this may feel like an obscene suggestion. But spontaneous conversations can be brief and effective. They can make you feel happier. Maybe you’ll make a new friend; maybe you’ll make a date.
Having a friendly exchange with someone who orders an interesting dish at a restaurant, has a fabulous coat or also saw that bird steal a french fry from your meal can expand your social circle. And if nothing else, you’re dusting up on your social skills for those dates you’ll eventually go on with strangers – who may or may not be from an app.