I was 28 years old and just about burned out on this whole dating thing. The idea of mustering up the courage and energy for likely another disappointing date was getting more emotionally taxing as time went by with little to no success.
While the revolution of dating apps opened up the floodgates of dating pools around the world, it also made the already obscure lines of dating dos and don’ts all the more complicated.
Not only have millennials changed the way we meet our partners, but we’ve also muddled and mangled courtship—or what we call “texting” or “talking.”
From what I’ve been told about dating before the internet invaded, it used to be fairly simple. Guy asked girl on date and girl said yes. If date went well, guy called girl within three days and asked her out again. Then they “go steady” or break up the proper way.
Now, heterosexual dating is everything but simple. Guy and girl meet on dating app. Guy suggests a “Netflix and chill” type meet-up. Girl doesn’t really want that but goes along. They hook up. She waits for him to text. He doesn’t, but he watches her Instagram story (kind of) religiously, which she sees as a sign that he’s still interested. He’s not. In the meantime, each of them is texting several other of their “bench warmers” whom they also met on dating apps (for those of you who don’t know, benching is a new terrible trend in dating where we put someone on the back burner for reasons I can’t explain). When the benchwarmers don’t work out, guy texts girl three weeks later without recognizing why he didn’t bother to reach out before. And the cynical cycle of confusion continues.
All of this becomes exhausting after a while. And the more effort you put in, the higher you raise your standards to protect yourself from being benched or ghosted or whatever the new terrible and passive trend in dating is. But then it’s inevitable: dating starts to occupy more emotional space in your brain, and it becomes harder and harder to stay optimistic and avoid burnout.
Millennials became the burnout generation for a lot of cultural, economic and sociological reasons. A good portion of us entered the workforce during the recession and have spent our entire adult lives with mounting pressure that we must be working (by email, Slack, social media, etc.) nearly all the time. With all the invasive technology, it became harder and harder to compartmentalize between work, love, and play.
Why did I feel so burned out when it came to dating? Because like everything else in my life, it became almost a chore—something I felt I had to spend time on if I wanted to find my partner and eventually have the life I desired. And because it was on an app, it tricked me into thinking it really wasn’t weighing on me (just like I’ve been groomed to think answering work emails isn’t all that invasive either).
This feeling of burnout almost made me miss out on meeting the man I’d waited for my whole life. Looking back on all that time I spent swiping, I think there is a better, healthier way to approach millennial dating that I wish I would have known six years ago.
Know the purpose
A recent study by LendEDU said 44 percent of millennials on Tinder were using the app primarily as an ego booster—specifically “confidence boosting procrastination”—rather than to find a love interest. And really, looking back now, that was probably the reason I was using it too, for several years at least. Like so many others in my generation, I was very mobile in my 20s and moved to three different states by myself while chasing my career. In those cities where I didn’t know anyone, I found it so hard to meet people organically (another struggle common with millennials).
In the first few weeks and months living in a new city, it could get really lonely. And dating apps were somewhat of a coping mechanism to fill that aching emptiness I got from spending too much time alone. And sure, they were good for a vain confidence booster too.
But I don’t think I was totally honest with myself about this at the time. I think I was telling myself I wanted a relationship, when really I wanted companionship of any kind after moving to new places. If I had realized the true reason why I was on dating apps, I could have saved a lot of emotional energy spent feeling like I was failing.
Remember it’s practice
I probably went on a few dozen first dates in my 20s with a good majority of those being from the dating app Tinder. Tinder taught me a whole lot about life and love and how to sit across the table from a complete stranger, tell your story, and find something to connect the two of you.
All those dates taught me about what questions to ask, what stories made people laugh, and what subjects to not bring up. As a generation that tends to avoid actual social contact, practicing dating is very good for us.
I met David (aka love of my life) on Facebook, of all places. He virtually waved at me, and I said something witty back (thank God for all my practice in digital flirting), and we entered a conversation that hasn’t ended. The next day, he asked me out by actually calling me (something I had not experienced in years).
Remember, this was when I was at a point in my life where I started to feel something I never felt before (hopeless) and was considering taking a healthy break from it all. But after contemplation, I said yes to the date and summoned the strength to once again give it my best shot.
Much to my surprise, sparks flew, and the date felt nearly effortless. Maybe practice really does make perfect.
Don’t play games
Our second date was the next day, on New Year’s Eve, and I didn’t have to Google “When is it too early to go out with someone on New Year’s Eve?” Everything with David was so different from the beginning and made me realize how much I was complicating things with guys that just weren’t right. We didn’t play this game millennials apparently love to hate.
Unlike pretty much every other guy I ever liked, there were no moments at the beginning where I would stare at my phone, wondering if he was going to text me or if he was ghosting me. Never once did I think of checking my Instagram story for a tiny, desperate clue that he saw it and he maybe did like me. Never once did I hold back my thoughts or feelings, afraid of being “too much” or “too clingy.”
Turns out, modern dating didn’t have to be the guessing game I was making it out to be. Courtship could be simple and clear—and that didn’t take the fun out of it. Perhaps that should be the next trend in dating. It sure would save us a lot of time and energy.