6 Dating App Mistakes You're Probably Making and How to Stop
This might hurt.
Dating has always been difficult, but now instead of going on one mediocre date per month, you have access to 33.9 million active dating app users and have the option to engage with 1,500 dating apps and websites.
Overwhelming is an understatement. Modern singles are submerged in options, which doesn’t correlate to more fulfilling dating experiences or outcomes. As Match.com's chief scientific advisor, Dr. Helen Fischer, told Wired: “The more you look and look and look for a partner the more likely it is that you’ll end up with nobody.”
You’ve probably been in the cycle of downloading dating apps, getting overwhelmed — or spammed, harassed, insulted, or just generally pissed off — and deleting them. But without any idea how to meet someone out in the real world you flounder and find yourself re-installing the apps you hate to love.
As a dating coach and the founder of Date Brazen, I help people create the strategy they need to become the boss of their dating lives. That means unpacking your dating roadblocks and self-limiting beliefs, and using that information to find the best dates of your life.
Before working with me, my client Rebecca* was so fed up with online dating that she invested a ton of money in a matchmaking service. After going on countless lackluster dates and being told too often that “opposites attract,” she started working with me to build a dating life on her own terms. Together, we found she’d been stifled by a fear that the deep love she desired wasn’t out there for her, a doubt that was leading her to accept mediocre and even terrible dates.
We unpacked these self-limiting stories and fears, and strategized exactly where, when, and how to find soul-quenching dates. Once Rebecca felt in control of her process, she began finding the best dates of her life and then met her eventual partner.
After working with hundreds of clients like Rebecca, I’ve identified six core mistakes many people make on dating apps. Here are those common pitfalls and what you can do to avoid them.
1. Using too many dating apps.
I know from swiping professionally as a former matchmaker that more dating apps doesn’t mean “higher odds.” More dating apps just mean more frustration and burnout.
Dating is vulnerable and courageous. It requires a commitment of what I like to call “Heart Time,” or the time you spend swiping, messaging potential dates, or even talking to your friends about dating. If you want a specific result (like a relationship), it’s time to stop using your heart time casually or with a negative mindset.
The fix: Focus on one or two dating apps.
To choose the right dating app for you, think about which you’ve had most success on, which design you like the most, the one on which you feel the best about yourself.
For example, Tinder is great for a quick connection. If you’re looking here, just know that because it’s the platform with the most users (8.5 million to be exact), you might have to weed through even more options before landing a connection.
Bumble is great if unsolicited messages make you nervous, and you want more control over the messaging process (since women make the first move).
If you want to go a little deeper than swiping, try Hinge, OkCupid or Match. Hinge allows for more engagement with a profile, the user experience is pretty seamless, and a large number of my clients find success there. Match and OkCupid both have a wide base of users, which means more access, but it’s a toss-up if you’ll find people actively using the app who are your type on any given day. As I’ll get into next, it’s not exactly a numbers game.
Some of the smaller dating sites, like MeetMindful, promise more thoughtful connection and match curation, which is what my clients who are ready to settle down desire. Ultimately those burgeoning sites have a smaller pool of users to draw from, which means you might pay a premium for only a handful of options who may or may not be a good fit.
There's no magic bullet when it comes to dating apps, and I’ve worked with people who have found their partner from all of the apps and sites above. Importantly, just because one app worked for your friend or coworker doesn’t mean that it will work for you, so be selective about where you choose to invest your dating energy — and, yes, your heart time.
2. Treating dating like a numbers game.
Conventional wisdom says the more dates you go on, the better your chances of finding a relationship. In my professional experience, that’s not the case.
Treating dating like a numbers game leads to the biggest problem with dating today: Cognitive overload.
As Dr. Fisher explains, “The brain is not well built to choose between hundreds or thousands of alternatives.” Ever heard of decision fatigue? By the time you choose your breakfast, your outfit, and which work task to take on first, your brain may need a break from decisions — and presenting it with 10,000 eligible bachelors is not going to end well. So basically, when you buy into the “dating is a numbers game” myth, you’re guaranteeing cognitive overload, meaning dissatisfaction and burnout.
The fix: Put your phone down as soon as you start to feel the overload creep in. This will help you reduce the swiping-induced stress.
The numbers game anxiety can be counteracted by this counterintuitive truth: You’re for the few, not for the many. Swiping with that mindset has the potential to completely change your dating game. For some of my clients, this idea can produce anxiety. But if you’re looking to attract a great date and relationship, adopting this “I’m for the few” mentality will help you identify higher quality matches for yourself, and say “thank you, next” to the rest.
3. Swiping all the time.
It’s no surprise that we have become addicted to swiping all the time: Dating apps were invented to feel like a game, and our brains reward us with a hit of dopamine every time we get a match. As shown by a study done by the F.C. Donders Center for Cognitive Neuroimaging in the Netherlands, “[Dating apps] hijack the brain’s system of reward learning to keep individuals hooked.”
If your desired outcome is a great date, or even a relationship, it’s time to quit playing games with dating apps and start swiping with intention.
A huge issue for all of my clients is dating apps creeping into every moment of their day. I see constant swiping on the elevator during work, at dinner, in bed, or even on a date. These dating app dopamine hits are like fast food — gratifying in the moment and fleeting. They’ll also leave you craving more.
To give yourself a chance at real connection, you need to limit the amount of time you spend on dating apps and messaging.
The fix: Use a dating app only 10-20 minutes a day when you feel good about yourself, when you’re cozy and awake. This is because when you feel alert, safe and strong, you will make more empowered dating decisions than if you were swiping mindlessly, and too tired or distracted to stay focused on your goals.
To decide when you feel “cozy,” think: 20 minutes after work, curled up on your couch. Or, with your coffee in the morning after a quick meditation.
I also recommend that clients turn off dating app notifications, because instant conversations with potential dates (who are basically strangers) aren’t worth the stress it takes to be constantly dating-app vigilant.Swiping and messaging in a set period of time per day will lead to lower stress, higher quality matches, and a greater sense of agency over your dating life. Keeping someone waiting for a response for a few hours may work to your benefit, too.
With this method, you’ll have fewer matches in your inbox, but those matches will be much more exciting and your type than those you find with aimless swiping.
4. Entertaining “Nowhere” conversations.
Ever had a pointless conversation on dating apps with questions like “How’s your day going?” or “Cute dog! What’s his name?” that never go anywhere beyond that kind of small talk? I call these “nowhere” conversations, and they suck.
It’s discouraging — and boring — to chat with surface-level or non-committal people. And cutting them off will help you get where you’re trying to go.
The fix: Try using an opening message with a question you really want to know the answer to.
If you want a soulful, deep, intellectual, conversation-loving person, for example, ask a question that gauges if that’s who they are. For example...
What’s bringing you the most joy right now?
Who in your family makes you laugh the hardest?
Your juicy opening message is designed to get you in conversations that you want to be in, with people you’re actually interested in.
With an opening message like this, you might not get a lot of responses, but those who do respond will be a better fit for what you desire. The non-committal people who can’t be bothered to put thought into their reply are a gift — because they’re eliminating themselves from your dating pool, which is too big for your brain to handle anyway.
5. Messaging too much.
One of the biggest mistakes I see is people getting in never-ending conversations on dating apps. The annoying truth is that many people on these platforms don’t want a date. They want a pen-pal.
When you message with a match for weeks on end, and you desire a relationship, your actions aren’t matching what you ultimately want. Because if someone is willing to message you for weeks without planning a date, they aren’t serious about going on a date. If you’re operating under the same pen-pal mentality and messaging nonstop, you need to examine why.
When I see my clients messaging back and forth for a long time, it signals their fear of making a move, their fear of being rejected, or fear of losing hope in their dating life altogether with another bad date.
The problem here is a scarcity mindset: the idea that there are not enough fish in the sea, that what you want isn’t ultimately possible. So, how do you stop this scarcity, pen-pal madness and get to a first date already?
The fix: Get in control of your messaging process with a cutoff point where you either ask someone out or “bless and release” the match.
“Bless and release” means exiting the conversation gracefully. If you haven’t been messaging for long, you can simply leave the conversation. But if you’ve been talking for a while and you don’t want to ghost, you can say something like, “Thanks for chatting, I’m going to go now. Wishing you the best!” As Dr. Brene Brown says, “Clear is kind, unclear is unkind.”
If you are comfortable making the first move, amazing! Feel empowered to ask someone out as soon as you like, though you probably want to be asking the right questions first (see #4). If you’re not as comfortable making the first move, time to figure out what your cutoff point is.
To determine what it should be, consider this: How many messages back and forth before you become annoyed with the lack of action? When you feel that twinge of messaging annoyance, whether that’s after five messages or one week of messaging, listen. That is your cutoff point.
In my opinion, anything after a week of messaging signals that this person just wants to chitchat, which is a waste of your time. If you’re on a dating app to find someone who’s serious about meeting new people, this method will attract the right matches and send the others packing.
6. Believing a dating app is the answer.
Around 40% of American couples now meet their partners on a dating app, but that doesn’t mean that should be your only tool. Being single and dating can be emotionally taxing. So, most seek validation that what they want is possible through dating apps. As a result, millennials have become dating app dependent.
Unfortunately, using dating apps like they are the only solution to your singleness will only lead to frustration and disappointment.
The fix: Treat your dating-app life as an opportunity to sharpen your focus on what you desire in a partner and build the confidence you need to take advantage of opportunities both online and in-person.
When you create a directed strategy with boundaries, you will decrease your dependency on dating apps, increase your in-person confidence, and you’ll be more able to identify and approach the right people for you in real life.
I can tell you that these strategies work. Sara* started working with me after using all the dating apps, getting burnt out and deleting them. We narrowed down her dating apps to just one, defined her cut off point, set a time limit on her swiping, and that work built her dating confidence. She ended up meeting her current partner in-person as a result of her newfound clarity.
The key to a fulfilling dating life isn’t downloading another app. It’s developing an intentional swiping strategy so you’re in the driver’s seat of your dating life, both online and off.