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3 Ways to Navigate Dating Despair

The quickest path to dating despair is to generalize.

Key points

  • In a recent Pew Research Center study, 7 in 10 Americans said their dating lives were not going well.
  • Potential reasons for today's dating struggles include COVID trauma, the gamification of dating apps, and the lack of mental health support.
  • A common source of dating despair is overgeneralizing one's experience.
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash.
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash.

Dating isn’t easy, and COVID has made it even harder. A 2022 Pew Research Center study found that 7 in 10 Americans said their dating lives were not going well, up from 2 out of 3 who said the same in 2019. On the popular dating podcast U-Up, single co-host Jared Freid discusses his his dating difficulties. "Sometimes I hear back from people: 'It’s so nice to hear you talk about this struggle in dating.' The point of me on this show is to commiserate with people and tell stories they’ll relate to.” Co-host Jordana Abraham used the word “hopeless” to describe how some single people in her orbit feel.

In my therapy practice, clients often describe their dating struggles, which can make them feel frustrated and sometimes despondent. There are many potential reasons for today's dating struggles, ranging from the lingering effects of the COVID pandemic to the gamification of dating via apps, to the continuing lack of mental health support for people with attachment issues,. And more.

There’s also no easy solution. But I offer three suggestions to help people navigate the dating landscape and feel more grounded and empowered throughout their dating experiences.

Avoid generalizing. The quickest path to despair is to generalize. When I hear people use phrases like “everyone on these apps” or “men/women think they can x, y, z,” that’s a clear sign that they're feeling upset and reactive. Of course, these are very normal responses and may feel quite valid based on one person's experiences.

However, I always remind clients that they’re not looking to date all men/women/people–they’re looking for one partner (or several) who is respectful, decent, and kind. Shifting to this perspective can help people see past dating experiences as frustrating but not indicative of every person to be met in the future.

Figure out and stick to your boundaries. I’ve heard clients voice various frustrations over feeling that there are things they "must do" while dating that they don’t want to do: texting back and forth with someone for weeks before meeting, attempting to reschedule for the third time when someone keeps cancelling, sharing personal details about sexual proclivities before meeting, or even becoming physical after a specific number of dates.

Every person gets to decide what dating should look and feel like for themself, regardless of what they think everyone else is doing. (Check out my post on intuitive dating for more on this.) If you you don’t like to text for days on end with someone you don’t know, you can gently share this boundary: Hey, I’d love to talk to you about all this in person, as I’m not a huge texter with people I haven’t met yet. How’s Thursday night?

You have the right to ask for whatever you want, and others have the right to say yes or no in response. Someone may counteroffer, which you can then choose to accept, or not. But if someone gets upset or rude in response, that’s a good sign that the person is not a good potential partner.

Have a (theoretical) Plan B. For those looking for long-term, healthy, joy-filled relationships, it may take some time to meet that person. You just don’t know. The trick is to figure out how to make one's life full and meaningful, regardless of whether that partner has shown up yet or not.

Sometimes I ask clients: If you knew you’d meet your partner one year from now, what would you do in the meantime? The question can help people figure out how to cultivate their existing lives and ease anxiety about not having a relationship.

Sometimes it’s also helpful to sit with the scarier question: If I knew I’d remain single, at least for large swaths of my life, what would I want my life to be like? How could I still have pleasure, community, excitement? Sometimes looking directly at one's greatest fear can lessen its power. Of course, this doesn’t mean you won’t find a partner—the majority of people who want to find relationships do. But it can help you switch your focus to the things that you can control in your life and help you feel more empowered and boost your mood.

What are your thoughts? Do you have any further tips? Feel free to reach out to me at .

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