It’s rare to meet anyone who actually enjoys online dating. Most of us head in that direction as a last resort when regular life doesn’t extend us adequate dating opportunities. For a long time, I simply refused to participate. I benched myself for many reasons — not the least of which is because I had better things to do than swipe, make small talk, and try to sort out the sincere prospects from the users who treat people like commodities.
I focused my attention on my family, my career, and my life. I dove into my interests, cultivated new hobbies, watched shows that I liked, and made headway on my reading list. I spent time with friends, and I rarely ever felt lonely. Most importantly of all, I went to therapy and started working on issues related to past trauma and attachment style.
I didn’t go to therapy to improve myself to be worthy of the partner I wanted. I was already worthy. I decided to go to therapy to be healthier for myself. I had a lifetime of grief stored up that needed to come out. I needed to work through all the past pain and disappointment so that my decisions could be based on the present rather than the products of the past.
Eventually, I realized that I wanted a partner. I enjoyed having one. I was healthy, financially stable, and happy. Maybe it was time to consider going back online since my small town wasn’t exactly providing a lot of options to meet people while working from home.
Dating online when you hate online dating is both art and science. Here are 15 tips to help you survive it.
1. Rid Yourself of Negativity
Cynicism isn’t cute. Before you create a dating profile, screen it for negative statements about yourself or other people. Then, delete them. No one healthy wants to read that, and it’s a glaring red flag that you have some healing to do.
2. Remember Photos Represent People
It can help to remember that profiles, with the exception of bots, are actual living, breathing people looking for sex, connection, or love. We can laugh at ridiculous profiles all we want, but at the end of the day, everyone who signs up for a dating app is searching for something. We can’t do anything about other people’s unkindness, but we can make sure that we don’t add to it.
3. Narrow Your Choices
Part of the problem with online dating is the number of choices available. Start narrowing them down by refusing to consider profiles that have photos but no personal information. Someone who can’t be bothered to say what they’re looking for or give a clue about who they are is already showing the low effort they’re willing to extend.
4. Ask Open-Ended Questions
Open-ended questions give more room for the conversation to flow than the standard yes or no questions ever will. Dating already feels far too much like an interview. Try to start conversations rather than get answers to questions on your lengthy dating checklist.
5. Be Curious
Don’t just tell each match all about yourself. Be curious about who they are and what they’re about. Ask questions. Show interest. Curiosity can help take a boring conversation and make it more engaging.
6. Don’t Judge
I can’t count the number of times someone I don’t know has made fun of an interest. No one else has to like my favorite artist or show or hobby. Instead of poking fun at people’s interests, ask what they like about it. Shelve judgment in favor of learning. Maybe the person just isn’t a good fit, but make sure you aren’t leading with judgments before you get to know more about them.
7. Address Past Relationships
Exes will absolutely come up, but it shouldn’t be constant. Instead of criticizing your ex or all of your exes, consider communicating instead. Talk about what worked and what didn’t without blame or bitterness. Be accountable for your own relationship history. The way you address past relationships will either raise a red flag or give a green light to a healthy potential partner.
8. Avoid Your Type
If all your relationships have been unhealthy, it’s time to start avoiding “your type”, whatever type that may be. When you see signs that are reminiscent of past unhealthy partners, that’s not an indication you should see if it ends differently. It’s time to learn from those experiences and begin making different choices.
9. Set Some Boundaries
Online dating is an epic time suck — if you let it be. Instead, set some boundaries around when you check messages. Don’t spend all day checking in on the app. Be clear about when you can communicate and when you’re unavailable. It doesn’t have to become a part-time job letting every single match know how you are today.
10. No to Hanging Out, Yes to Dates
I have a new rule these days. When someone wants to “hang out”, that’s not a date. A date should have three main criteria: a date, a time, and a pre-arranged location. “Let’s hang out Wednesday night” is not a date. “Let’s grab drinks at 9 pm on Thursday at X location” is a date. Learn the difference and stop wasting time on people who want to reserve your date in case their other plans don’t work out.
11. Quit Ghosting
Except in cases of abuse or harassment, I don’t believe that ghosting is ever the right decision. If you’re not interested in someone, you can just say you don’t think you’re a good match. You don’t even have to give a reason. Simply disappearing might be understandable if all you’ve done is exchange small talk, but if you’re having regular conversations and lose interest, just say so. Cut your losses but be kind in the process.
12. Know What You Want
My friend has this theory. She said that if you write down all the qualities you want in a person, you’re more likely to find them. In her words, the Universe always answers Yes. So, if you list all the things you don’t want, the Universe hears what you’re focusing on and gives that to you. Whether or not you believe this theory, what you focus on is powerful. Stop thinking about what you don’t want. Decide what you do. Look for those qualities.
13. Know Your Dealbreakers
Dealbreakers aren’t things you don’t like but can live with like snoring or someone who chews louder than you like. Dealbreakers are the things you absolutely won’t allow in your life. They are a firm line in the sand. Decide on yours, and then screen accordingly. If you know what you want and know what your dealbreakers are, you should be able to quickly see if someone is a good fit or not.
14. Quit Comparing
No one is going to show up and be perfect — the answer to your every dream. They may not be like that one ex who got away or the idea you have in your mind of the perfect partner. Stop comparing. Instead of expecting perfection, look for genuine connection.
15. Know When to Pause or Quit
Every time I’ve gotten on a dating app, I haven’t lasted more than a week. Two, tops. I hate them. Sometimes, I just need a break. Other times, I know it’s not the right place for me to connect. You have to know when enough is enough. If it’s not fun or fulfilling, why do it? You have the right and the ability to take a break or to decide that online dating isn’t a good match for you.
It’s so easy to get tripped up by our own negativity when it comes to online dating. It’s easy to start assuming that every single person you meet has an ulterior motive or will only ever let you down. Those attitudes are projected clearly in many profiles. Until you address your own healing, you’re likely going to show the world your red flags instead of your beautiful heart.
You don’t have to love online dating. You can keep right on hating it. But if you adjust your mindset, you just might see it as exactly what it is — a place of opportunity that just may take a little time. How much time you give it — well, that’s entirely up to you.
Originally published on Medium