Marriage therapist Jennifer Chappell Marsh hasn’t been single in roughly 10 years. To put that in perspective, Tinder wouldn’t be created for another two years. The online dating app landscape was considerably different back then, with sites like OkCupid and Match.com appealing to some daters, but certainly not the masses. (The “You’re online dating? But why, you’re such a catch!” sentiment was all too common.)
Today, she knows, things are much different. In spite of being out of the game for a decade, Chappell Marsh is familiar with the struggles inherent in dating app use, thanks to her single clients. If you’re in therapy and on a dating app, your therapist goes along for the ride, too.
“The stress of online dating is a hot topic in therapy,” she said. “To help my clients, I’ve had to learn from them and do my own research to understand online dating norms and terminology. Now I’ll regularly quiz my single friends and colleagues so I’m in the know about new apps and all the terms ― sliding into DMs, ghosting.”
Below, Chappell Marsh and other therapists discuss the most common app-related annoyances they hear about from their clients.
1. Being on dating apps feels like a part-time job
To cast a wide net, many singles have profiles on multiple dating apps, with multiple conversations going on with many people at any given time. Monitoring matches, swiping on profile after profile and sharing good banter with people of interest takes a lot of mental energy. Many singles say that “running” their dating lives feels almost like a part-time job, Bay Area psychologist Kelifern Pomeranz told HuffPost.
“Similarly, clients sometimes express regret that they’ll spend an entire evening messaging someone just to pass the time with no real intention of actually meeting up IRL,” she said. “Or, they find themselves engaged in a fun and flirty message exchange and then are confused when they are subsequently ghosted.”
The solution to dating app burnout isn’t necessarily to get off them entirely (though, of course, that’s always an option): What Pomeranz advises instead is to restrict the amount of time spent on online dating apps. Maybe that means 20 minutes per day, maybe it means an hour you carve out every week.
“If it still feels overwhelming, disappointing or time-consuming, take a more significant break,” she said. “Use that time to try new activities and interests: sign up for a dance class, join a hiking club, go to a Meetup where there’s an opportunity to make connections offline.”
2. We started chatting and then there was radio silence
Back in the day, romantic rejection from strangers was mostly restricted to the bar and other places where singles congregate. Today’s singles have to deal with a one-two punch of rejection: They get rejected in person and on the apps, said Marie Land, a therapist in Washington, D.C.
“Dating apps give a tremendous amount of opportunity for people to feel rejected before they even meet someone,” she said.
Land tells her clients to stay cautiously optimistic but not too invested in the people in their DMs.
“Although there are many real people on dating apps looking for what you are, that doesn’t mean they are going to see you as a real person until you meet them face to face,” she said. “You have to remind yourself of that: If you’re not even totally real, why feel rejected?”
3. I’m matching with the wrong type of person
It can be head-scratching to go on first date after first date but never seem to establish anything beyond that. In therapy, it leads people to wonder, “Why do I keep attracting the wrong type of person? Is it me?”
Often, the problem lies in how clients are portraying themselves on dating apps, said Chappell Marsh. How you package yourself on dating apps matters: Are your responses to the questions on Hinge true to who you are? Are you coming off as someone who wants to have a good time when in actuality, you’re looking for something more serious?
Giving your profile a close read can be a game changer, Chappell Marsh said.
“In many cases, I find that the client isn’t accurately portraying themselves,” she said. “The most common example of this is a client who really wants to find love but gives off the message that they’re treating dating casually. Other times, insecurity will show through a profile picture wearing sunglasses or a sarcastic tag line that’s trying too hard.”
Being authentic, the therapist said, is “the key to matching with like-minded dates.”
4. First dates feel like interviews, and no one lives up to their profile (or my expectations)
A common complaint among singles is that the experience of online dating feels “fake” ― and when a match does make it past the preliminary, messaging phase, the meetup is often a letdown, said Liz Higgins, a therapist and the founder of Millennial Life Counseling in Dallas.
“A lot of my clients say first dates often feel like an interview,” she said. “And for clients I talk to who seem to be in a mature stage of readiness to be in a long-term relationship, there’s often feedback that they have to wade through a lot of ‘crap’ to land a person who seems worth conversing with or meeting.”
Though Higgins said she doesn’t necessarily have a solution for this issue, she sometimes wishes her clients would adopt a two or three date minimum before ruling out a promising match completely.
Many singles are looking for rom com-esque sparks right off the bat. After spending days or weeks texting, the thinking goes, why isn’t the banter or connection the same in real life?
That’s the expectation, Land said, but the reality is, “a connection must be nurtured and developed, and you probably won’t get a full scope or idea of a person’s true character ― which is what you should be looking for in a person if you’re serious about being in a committed relationship ― after one or two hours together.”
Yes, you can get a sense of someone’s personality, values and whether there’s chemistry within an hour or so. But if you’re on the fence about someone, a second date “will give you a clearer idea of them since those initial nerves are more subdued.”
5. Online dating feels too superficial
In the Bay Area, Pomeranz says gay male clients complain about the online dating world being “overly harsh, superficial, status-focused, and isolating, with a focus on quick hook-ups rather than deep connection.”
“Online dating as a gay male is particularly difficult for those men whose bodies do not look a specific way,” she said. “All of this can take a toll on an individual’s well-being and self-esteem.”
Pomeranz tells them ― or any other client who brings this issue up ― that who we are attracted to in the real world is often different from the idealized version that we seek online.
“Sometimes, it pays to get off the apps and join local LGBT-friendly groups where you can meet others in person,” she said.
6. I’m totally out of decent matches
Land says clients in Washington, D.C., often complain it seems like the dating pool is drying up. Land reminds them that in Washington ― as in most big cities ― there are always people moving in and logging onto the apps. In other words, don’t sweat it too much.
And depending on the app, you may be able to set your preferences to another location.
“If you’ve been on dating apps in a certain neighborhood for three years, why not set your radius or even primary location to be slightly outside your area?” Land said. “Try to tap into new dating pools. If you really want to meet someone, meeting halfway via Metro shouldn’t be that big of a deal.”