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5 Things to Ask Yourself Before You Start Dating Online

Being intentional about dating can pay off.

Key points

  • People often start dating online out of boredom, loneliness, fear, or as a way to manage difficult feelings.
  • Commencing online dating without an articulated sense of goals and the qualities one is seeking can lead to disappointment.
  • There are at least 5 key issues to consider before starting online dating.
Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash
Source: Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

How many of us have jumped online to date or swipe through dating apps without much thought? Here are some reasons for starting to date online that people have shared with me:

  • “I was bored.”
  • “I was lonely.”
  • “I wanted sex.”
  • “My friends set up a profile for me — I figured that I may as well.”

I often see people use online dating apps in a highly similar way to online shopping, cracking open a bottle of wine, or gambling — as an immediate way to access some gratification, manage a difficult feeling, seek a serotonin or dopamine hit, or find some distraction. Unfortunately, by using it in this manner, we are unable to be more intentional about it, to stop and really consider what it is that we want to find, or to think about the people at the other end of the screen and the needs, hopes and dreams that they might bring to the process. It can be helpful to stop and ask yourself a series of questions before you start online dating, to ensure that you are truly ready to connect with someone and open your life up to someone else.

Do I want to?

This seems like a basic question, but it is not. Often people realise that they feel a compulsion to be on dating apps, or that they are trying to find a partner out of a fear of being alone or social pressure. I always recommend that clients set approach goals instead of avoid goals (i.e., moving toward something instead of away from something), as approach goals are inherently more values-driven and more meaningful and rewarding. With online dating (or any dating, really), it is helpful to stop to consider whether you want to date at this point in time, or if you are being driven by loneliness, fear, or inadequacy. None of the latter are good points from which to set off on a journey.

Have I adequately processed past relationships?

This is a very important question to ask yourself. If your last relationship was very serious, long-term, involved marriage/children, or was traumatic in any way then it is very important to ensure that you have spent some time processing the end of the relationship, the patterns within it, and your feelings about it, and that you allow any residual hurt/sadness and anger to pass. This takes time — the process can’t be rushed. People often jump into dating online as soon as a long-term relationship ends and this opens up a world of pain for themselves and other people as unnoticed patterns play out and anger or hurt get projected onto new partners.

What am I seeking?

An excellent question to ask yourself. At the very basic level, are you seeking marriage? Something long-term? Something short-term? Only sex? Company on Friday nights? All of these are valid answers, it is just important to be clear with yourself and other people (and to tailor the app/website you use accordingly) based on what you might be seeking.

Do I have the time for this?

Dating takes time and requires consistency and reliability. Online dating can take up even more time, with the need to look at profiles, swipe, match, and chat — before you even meet. Is this something you have time for? What are your other commitments like? Are you able to bring some consistency and reliability in your availability? I see a lot of people who say “I am very busy” on their profiles and this is often shorthand for “will only be able to see you once every few weeks." If this is where you are at, it might not be the right time to try to find a long-term relationship.

What can I bring to someone else?

We often exhaustively list qualities and values we might be seeking from partners, but tend to forget to consider what we are bringing. If we seek an intense connection with honesty ,  can we bring vulnerability, the capacity to pay sustained and intense attention, and honesty? If we are seeking someone adventurous, do we have adventure built into our lives that we can share with someone else? We are unlikely to be capable of forming positive and healthy connections if we are looking for someone else to bring all the answers and do not have a well-articulated sense of our own qualities and a solid and well-formed life.