You pick up your phone and, without thinking, your fingers instinctively navigate to your online dating app to check for any alerts, new potential mates, and responses from the string of people you've been half-heartedly chatting with over the last month or so. You thumb through your inbox, roll your eyes at a few messages, screenshot a few to send to your BFF, respond inquisitively to some, and then robotically swipe for a good 10 to 15 before closing out and tending to more pressing, real-world obligations.
You've been playing the online dating app game for months, maybe even years. Still, your greatest success was probably the two-month stint that yielded lots of great sex, but hardly a lasting connection. You ponder whether all of this is even worth the effort of a haphazard swipe.
Here's the thing. Despite the frustrations it can bring, online dating does work, and it works pretty consistently. More than that, it's undeniably empowering for both sexes, and arguably more so for women.
“In terms of women, they don't have to get all dressed up and dolled up, and go stand at the bar and spend a lot of money. They can use online dating apps at home in their pajamas and with their girlfriends around," said Dr. Helen Fisher, a biologist-anthropologist, relationship expert, and the chief scientific advisor for Match.com.
She added that online dating is also safer for women — permitting you follow the basic rules — that it's cost-effective, and that it can yield real, meaningful relationships.
“Women are marrying a lot later now, and they're not marrying the boy that they hung around with in high school or guys that they dated in college or even in their early twenties," noted Dr. Fisher. “For thousands of years, when we were living on the farm and women weren't very educated and were without access to their own money, the only way they could find stability was to marry well. These days, they can get their own career, educate themselves, and marry much later, and online dating is helping to do that."
In that sense, online dating has relieved some of the pressures associated with women feeling like they must get married very early in life. It gives them an opportunity to expand their dating pool beyond their current social circle, a circle which becomes increasingly stagnant as you get older. And yes, while there was always that option to step outside of that circle, online dating makes doing so much easier, and thereby enables us to more easily find a partner at any time in our lives. It also puts a real screening process into place, which can help narrow your focus and prevent time-wasting dating tangents.
How to Make Online Dating Work For You
All that said, the online dating hustle can be downright exhausting. The key is to approach these dating apps strategically with a full understanding of what you want, and what the potential pitfalls are.
Think of Reasons to Say Yes“You know so little about a human being at the beginning, and you [can over-emphasize] the things that you don't like about them. The brain is built to say no; it's called positive delusion," explained Dr. Fisher. “You've got to overlook the things you don't like and focus on what you do like and get to know the person better. Unless there's something completely and obviously off, think of reasons to say yes to people who are semi in the ball park and get to know them better."
“Saying yes" begins the second you begin filling out your profile, too.
“Apps allow us to filter for everything right down to hair color, but let's be honest — when was the last time a relationship failed or succeeded due to the shade on your noggin?" asked Whitney Linscott, who founded the online dating app, Bracket. “Setting the age too tight? Mr. Right might have just had his birthday and aged out of your range. I assure you there are great guys outside the tight parameters you have set.
Prevent Cognitive Overload
Having options is one of the best things about online dating, but it can also be your downfall.
“So many women get caught up in swiping and searching they rarely make it on an actual date, convinced that their future husband is just one more swipe away," said Linscott.
Dr. Fisher agreed, and explained that there's a sweet spot in the brain between five and nine choices.
“One thing I say to women is, after you've communicated with nine people online, stop and go out with at least one and get to know this person better," she said. "We can introduce you to all kinds of people who are the right size, shape, background, and education — and that's great — but you've got to go out and check out these people yourself. The only real algorithm is your own brain."
If you're dating online with the goal of meeting someone, falling in love, and settling down, get to the important questions. Do you want to get married? What does this timeline look like? Do you want kids? How many? What's your family like? What kinds of relationships do you have with your friends, family, and co-workers? Where do you want to live? What are your career goals?
Another topic to discuss, said Dr. Fisher, is credit score.
“A good credit score indicates if you're responsible, reliable, trustworthy, and smart," Dr. Fisher explained. “It actually ups your mate value because it's an honest signal of how you handle money. You can be driving a fancy car, but it really doesn't say what you were like 10 years ago, and it doesn't say anything about what you're going to be like 10 years from now. That car is a courtship signal for right now, whereas a good credit score is a genuine one. It's been earned."
Match.com just conducted a study on this very topic, and found that financial responsibility ranked higher than a sense of humor, attractiveness, ambition, courage, and modesty in terms of traits people look for in a mate. Also, 69% of those surveyed said that a credit score was an important measure of responsibility or an extremely important quality they look for, and over 50% admitted that finances put a major strain on a previous relationship, with 20% saying this strain ultimately lead to a breakup.
Stop Wasting Time With The Wrong Person
Another topic to discuss, said Dr. Fisher, is credit score.
It's anyone's prerogative to date around, but if you're looking to settle down, don't waste your time on someone who's clearly not the person you want to spend the foreseeable future with. The “grass is greener" syndrome is real in online dating because a new mate is literally within a fingertip's reach. As someone who's extensively studied brain circuitry of those in love and therefore has a profound understanding of the way humans act when they're deeply committed, Dr. Fisher was straightforward about this one.
“Once you fall in love, all those others have no meaning for you at all, so if you're dating someone for a month and you're still thinking, 'Maybe there's something better,' you have not fallen in love yet."
Falling in love doesn't always happen quickly, but if you're looking for greener grass months into the relationship, either this person's not the right one for you, or you're not ready for a relationship. And if you're the one who's all in with little to no commitment from the other person, it's time to have a serious talk.
Ultimately, online dating is empowering for both sexes and, when approached with authenticity and an open mind, can absolutely work.
I have often heard the saying, "You were probably too young to remember this, but . . ." I can honestly say that I can recall quite a bit from my childhood even though I can't seem to recall what I had for breakfast yesterday. I remember a lot, including some things that I wish were fuzzy.
I know this sounds strange, but I remember my dad leaving. I was barely two years old, so obviously I was at an age when I could not fully comprehend what I was experiencing at the time, but I already knew I missed my dad and I wanted him to come home. Divorce is a topic I am very familiar with, both personally and professionally. There are countless people who seek counseling in various areas of their life and to me; that is just another day at the office. However, my story hits a different type of nerve for me. It is a story that I had processed in my own therapy, but this is the first time I am sharing it with the public, so (deep breath) . . . here we go.
As I mentioned before, my dad left when I was about eighteen months old. Just as I was trying to adapt to these changes as best as a toddler could, I met my dad's new "friend" and her kids. I remember she took my hand and walked me around where she worked. I am sure a lot was going on behind the scenes between my parents, but again I was too young to put things together at the time. Fast forward to age four or five, I was introduced to a new friend: anger! Oh, and nightmares. Plenty of them. One recurring nightmare was my dad leaving me. I would wake up screaming and crying, filled with a mixture of sadness, anger, shame, and guilt. My mom would come running into my room to comfort me as I sobbed against her shoulder.
Looking back now, I realized that the word that truly defined what I was feeling was powerless. My mom decided that she needed to do everything in her power to help me. So, she went to the bookstore and found several books that were supposed to help kids deal with their parents' divorce. She would read them to me, but they often told stories of children that I could not relate to, or they were often telling me how I should feel, rather than allowing me the space to access my own feelings. It was frustrating and overwhelming.
It is fascinating how quickly we can adapt. I started to get used to going back and forth between my two homes. However, it was only for a short period of time that I felt "okay." Fast forward again to around age ten. Just as I was starting to accept all the changes including separate homes, blended families, and different sets of rules, I had to endure a long and terrifying custody battle. I felt like my parents were playing tug of war with me in the middle! The anger that I thought had disappeared came back in full force and even brought additional feelings, including shame, grief, sadness, low self-esteem, people-pleasing tendencies, just to name a few. That voice I was working so hard on developing was silenced as I decided to just say or do what I thought would please my parents as well as others. I not only lost my voice, but I lost myself.
That's when my mom introduced me to a journal. What started out as doodling tiny drawings in a lined notebook became pages and pages filled with my innermost thoughts and feelings as I got older.
I also learned some interesting techniques from my mom. She created "games" for us to play including what we called "give me the bad stuff," which is where I would think of all the different things that were bothering me, shout, "I don't like this," while bundling them up into an invisible ball, and then handing them to my mom who would then pretend to throw them out the door or window.
My mom would tell me that I am just a kid, so I did not need to hold on to all this "yucky stuff" inside. It was the first time in a while that I felt like I had a voice. It was wonderful! I would also scream into or hit my pillow as if it were a punching bag. Pretty creative stuff, right? As my mom always says, "It takes a village," and boy was she right! I lucked out by having such an amazing support system at my elementary school.
My guidance counselor established a support group for children of divorced or divorcing parents, and it truly helped to normalize what I was feeling. I was able to speak to peers my own age going through the same things, which was helpful as many of my close friends could not relate to what I was experiencing. I was given safe, nonjudgmental outlets to express myself, and little by little I felt better.
So why am I sharing my story? Well, today as a therapist, I listen to other children's stories. Divorce is definitely not pretty, but it does not have to be so ugly! Whether the parents decide to "stay together for the children" or go their separate ways, children are getting pulled into the chaos. Sometimes, children will pretend they don't know what is going on or act as if they don't care, but trust me when I say it all leaves an impact.
My book, My Parents Are Getting a Divorce . . . I Wonder What Will Happen to Me, is an interactive workbook that was created by my mother and me during the terrifying custody battle that took place between my parents. I felt it was imperative that I assist as many children as possible to help them explore and uncover their innermost thoughts and feelings regarding their parents' divorce. Within the pages of the book, children are encouraged to write and draw as well as ask questions to get in touch with what is inside that needs to be healed.