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.
Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.
When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.
2016: What rules?
Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.
Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.
And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.
And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?
Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.
Digital policies for 2020 and beyond
While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.
Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy
Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:
- If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
- While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
- If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
- Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
- Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?
Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.
Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply
The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:
- Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
- Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
- Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
- Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
- Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
- Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
- Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
- Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.
Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles
Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.