Why Is Dating So Hard? And Does it Really Have to Be?

Ugh, dating, ammiright? But wait, isn’t dating supposed to be fun? I mean, why else are we doing it? And theoretically, all of its separate parts sound pretty nice: drinks, dinner, meeting new people…so why does it sometimes feel like working in the fields instead of playing the field? But if you’re feeling frustrated by the whole process, you’re not alone. Studies show that a whole lot of people are finding dating a whole lot more difficult these days. So why is that? And does it really have to be so hard, or can we find ways to relax and make dating less stressful, and more enjoyable? 

We’re Pretty Down on Datingdating stats infographic

All the dating apps out there have been promising us for a while now that we’re all just one swipe or questionnaire away from finding the perfect date, and maybe even true love. But most of us just aren’t buying it anymore. Of the estimated 15% of Americans who are single and looking to mingle, more than half of them are dissatisfied with their dating lives(and that was reported in 2019, before the Covid-19 pandemic made things even crazier).

In fact, get a load of these statistics from Pew Research on how we really feel about dating (hint: it ain’t good):

  • 47% of Americans say dating is harder now than it was 10 years ago
  • Women are much more likely than men to say dating has gotten harder (55% vs. 39%), partly because of “increased risk” to physical safety or the risk of getting scammed or lied to
  • Two-thirds of those who are single and looking for a relationship or dates say their dating life is going not too well or not at all well (67%), while only 33% say it’s going very or fairly well
  • Three-quarters of daters say it’s been difficult to find people to date in the past year, according to the pre-coronavirus survey
  • 53% of people think is difficult to find someone looking for the same type of relationship, 46% of people find it hard to approach people, and 43% can’t find someone who meets their expectations
  • 30% say they have difficulty finding people who are interested in dating them
  • 57% of women (and 35% of men) say they have experienced some kind of harassing behavior from someone they have dated or been on a date with
  • 42% of women say they have been pressured for sex
  • 65% say the increased focus on sexual harassment and assault over the last few years has made it harder for men to know how to interact with someone they’re on a date with

Wow. For something that’s supposed to bring some joy, or at least fun, into our lives, dating sure seems like a downer these days. So why is that?

Why Dating Feels So Hard Now

Dating is weird, especially modern dating, with its all technological elements. Think about it: trying to catch someone’s eye or think of the best one-liner you can to hook them so they’ll give you the chance to get to know them better – and who knows if either of you will be interested after that? Or swiping through those endless pictures of potential dates, like some bizarre video game, only the prize is a match, maybe a message, and even less likely, an actual date. All of these rituals, and all the uncertainty that goes along with them, can make even the most well-adjusted people feel a bit vulnerable and unsure. 

And that’s because, when it comes to dealing with other people’s thoughts and feelings, we’re usually left wondering if our interest is reciprocated and if there’s going to be sexual chemistry. We might also worry about our bodies, or if we’re being too vulnerable. There’s just so much! 

But it’s also more than that. There are some things that are making dating feel harder now, like:

  • The paradox of choiceIs it necessarily a good thing that we have hundreds of faces to swipe through when we’re looking for a potential date? Maybe not. The paradox of choice tells us that it actually gets harder to pick the more options you have. According to Dr. Tirrell Degannes, Psy.D, licensed clinical psychologist, “Modern dating comes down to apps. Apps mean you have the illusion of options. Options mean you’re less likely to find good because you’re in search of great, and you nonetheless weed through a lot of bad (and become bad yourself in the process).”
  • Changing societal expectations – While we can definitely argue that it’s a good thing that we’re challenging the internalized messages sent to women about dating, relationships, and the need to have a man “pick” them (instead of them looking for someone that they gel with), societal shifts can always come with a bit of confusion. In some cases, people might be feeling some tension in the dating scene as we dismantle old ideas about gender roles, with some people having different expectations than others.
  • Safety concerns – There’s always been worries, especially for women, about physical safety when meeting up with someone you don’t know very well, but now there’s a whole other set of worries that come with meeting so many people online. You might worry about being catfished, being sent explicit photos without your consent, or even having your own explicit photos shared without your consent. 
  • The rise of ghosting –  Sure, there have always been jerks that never called people back, but in our world of constant availability, ghosting (or when someone stops all forms of communication for no apparent reason) can feel really harsh. It’s essentially a rejection without a sense of closure, and it can feel hurtful and make you start to feel jaded and detached while dating.

It’s a wild world out there on the internet dating scene, and IRL isn’t always all that better. But maybe we’re making this dating stuff way harder than it has to be. Maybe we can address some of the issues that we can control and find a way to relax. 

Can You Make Dating Easier – or at Least More Enjoyable?

Ok, let’s all take a deep breath. Yes, dating can be rough, but you can take a look at the way you’re approaching it and make it not seem like work, or psychological trauma. Consider the following:

  • Be honest with yourself (and others) about what you really want – We often tell ourselves – and our dates – that we’re “not looking for something serious” when deep down we actually are, or we’re “not looking for a relationship right now” but then meet someone else and decide we are. You can take a lot of the sting out of dating by being honest and upfront from the beginning.
  • Stop worrying so much about “rules” – Should you text them the next day? Or wait 3 days? Should you ask them out again or wait for them to do it? Ugh, there are so many “rules” that we worry about when dating, but worrying about all that often just leads to frustration and game playing. You’re better off being authentic and open, and following your feelings.
  • Watch your expectations – If you really are looking for someone to cryptically ask you if you “wanna chill” sometime, go for it. But if you are actually looking to “date” someone, that’s where the bar should be set. Just because dating is hard doesn’t mean you should settle for something that isn’t what you want. On the other hand, though, it’s not a good idea to go into every date with the expectation that this is going to be THE ONE. You’re just going to end up with a lot of disappointment when no one lives up to your super high expectations, and are never going to be able to enjoy the ride. So relax, and enjoy meeting someone new.
  • a man and woman sitting on a bench talkingCreate healthy boundaries – Similar to the whole sticking with your expectations thing, you should also have boundaries set for yourself, and be very clear about what you want and don’t want from others. To help you do this, ask yourself questions like: What actions or behaviors did you not like in your previous relationships? What values do you want someone you’re dating to share with you? How emotionally available can you be? 
  • Don’t date someone because they have “potential” – We’re all for seeing the good in people, but if you’re ignoring the qualities in your date that don’t jive with you, or are hoping they’ll change, you’re most likely going to end up disappointed. Always remember to ask yourself in this situation: can you give up what they’re not able to give you? If the answer is no, move on.
  • Reframe the worst parts of dating – Get ghosted? That’s not a “you” problem. If someone has ghosted you, don’t allow yourself to get jaded. Instead, think about it this way: if someone is that afraid (or is too rude) to address their feelings of discomfort, you’re probably weren’t going to have the best and most communicative relationship with them, anyway.
  • Stop comparing your dating life to that of others – We’re looking at you, social media. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: those perfect-looking lives on social media are being carefully curated, so either unfollow people who make you feel like crap or just take it all with a grain of salt and live your own best dating life.
  • Remember to check in with yourself – Dating should be something for you, that makes you feel good and enhances your life in some way, right? So please don’t forget to check in with yourself during the process and ask yourself things like: Am I happy? Is the person I’m dating treating me with respect and making me feel good? Am I taking care of my needs? Am I making good choices based on the boundaries I’ve set? Dating is a two-way street, yes, but you’ve got to take care of your side of the road!

We’ll say it again: dating can be tough, and we’ve got the receipts to back that up. So we will make one final point: if you need a break, take one. It’s ok to focus on yourself for a while, or to do the things you’ve been wanting to do with a romantic partner with yourself or good friends. Remember that it’s ok to be single! But if you are ready to brave it, think about the above tips and then go get ‘em, tiger!

Co-written by Joanna Bowling

Back in the Dating Saddle? Find Out What Older Men and Women Are Looking For!

Hey senior singles! It’s time to get back out there! Yes, we’re talking about getting back in the dating pool again. Oh come on, we hear you groaning out there, but trust us, looking for love can be fun, and there are actually a lot of benefits to dating as an older adult. For example, you can increase your social network and get more involved in social activities, which can improve your overall life satisfaction. Not only that, but if you have someone that makes you feel, well, special and important to them, you could even live longer. All that, and dinner and a movie, too! 

But you might be wondering how likely it even is to find love when you’re older, and what older men or women (whatever your preference) are even looking for in someone to date. Wonder no longer, we’ve got all the help you need!

Can You Find Love When You’re “Of a Certain Age?”figure of an older man and woman sitting on a bench with the man kissing the woman on the cheek

If you’re single, you’re in good company: more than one-third of Baby Boomers aren’t currently married. Not only has your generation had higher rates of separation and divorce than earlier generations, but you’ve also had lower rates of getting married in the first place. So more and more of you are getting divorced, and you’re also living longer, meaning there are a lot more of you out there looking for another chance at love.

But that doesn’t mean that dating is going to be like shooting fish in a barrel, unfortunately. Many older adults are unsure where to even begin getting back out there, and many feel like the odds are stacked against them. And to be honest, there are studies that seem to point to the difficulties of finding love after, say, age 60. For example, a study from the University of Bath in the U.K. shows that the odds of finding love after 60 are 1 in 562! Pretty depressing.

Ah, but that study also points out that that dizzying number is only your odds if you leave everything to fate. The researchers also found that if you socialize and make an effort to connect with others, you significantly increase your odds of finding love after 60.

Ok, so there are a lot of single older adults out there, and science has basically given us the formula for increasing your odds of finding and connecting with them…so where should you start? First, start with yourself and consider that you should:

  • Know what you’re looking for – Be honest with yourself (and any potential partners) about what you’re really looking for. Is it a sexual relationship, companionship, an occasional date for the movies, or a long-term partnership? You don’t have to be 100% sure exactly where every relationship is going to end up, but having a good idea of what you would ideally want can help you find the right person for you.
  • Accept yourself as you are – This is a big one! Before you can offer someone else love, kindness, and compassion you have to offer it to yourself! Loving yourself and offering yourself compassion also means working to feel good in your own skin, and having a positive body image, which is something that older adults can struggle with. But trust us, a little work on this can go a long way!

You’ve done some introspection, so now it’s time to start looking, and you’ve got plenty of options!

Where to Look

Finding older adults to date doesn’t have to feel impossible, you just have to know how to go about meeting people, and where to look. Take a look at the following ideas, and see what feels right and comfortable to you:older couple holding hands with bookbags on

  • Expand your social network – Talk to your friends and family, and see if you can make connections with their friends, family, and acquaintances.
  • Get physical – Try joining a gym, local hiking group, or sports league – you never know who you might meet!
  • Think of the possibilities – Don’t discount meeting people at the places you go to often, like the park, grocery store, or your favorite bar.
  • Get involved – Have you been wanting to get back into painting, learn a new language, or pursue another hobby? Take a class, or join a group that will allow you to meet people with similar interests.
  • Head online – Think online dating isn’t for you? We suggest you give it a try – you don’t have to commit to anything, and can always delete your accounts if you’re really not into it. But really, there’s nowhere else where there are so many singles of all ages looking to meet people, just like you!

You have some idea of where to look, but now you might have a more difficult question: what is it that people your age are looking for out there? 

For the Ladies: What Are Older Men Looking For?

Sorry, ladies, the unfortunate fact is that you have one thing working against you: the numbers. There are just more single older women than there are single older men out there, mostly because women tend to live longer. The data tells us that for 50-year-olds the ratio is close to 1-to-1; for 70-year-olds there are only 89 males per 100 females, and in the very oldest age bracket (100-year-olds) there are only 25 men per 100 women.

But with that being said, the good news is that the men who are out there are looking for you, and it turns out that they’re looking for relationships. In fact, what they’re looking for might surprise you! Here’s a look at what older men want, according to research done by the dating site Single and Mature:

  • They want to feel needed – The consensus of men online say that they want to be a part of your life, and to feel like they’re actively contributing to your life and wellbeing. Not that they don’t appreciate independence, but they do want to feel useful!
  • They also want a woman who has her own thing – Yes, older men also want to know that their partner has things going on in her life, and love to see women being happy doing what they love to do and do best.
  • They are more interested in relationships than are younger men – We tend to think of younger men as being more interested in having fun than in building a relationship, but whatever the truth to that, it seems not to be true for older men. Older men also tend to be interested in sex that goes hand-in-hand with emotion, and don’t want to feel like they’re being used for sex. 
  • They want some romance in their lives – Turns out older men are not as grumpy and routine-oriented as we thought! Men in their 50s are actually more interested in “romance” than men in their 20s and 30s; in fact, they typically outscore women on the ‘Romantic Beliefs Scale’, a study comparing gender role-orientation and gender attitudes towards romance.
  • They value intelligence – There’s nothing better than a partner who you have good conversations with, as well as who you can rely on to be a contributing partner who knows their stuff when it comes to life, so older men wisely value wise older women!
  • They also want some fun! – It doesn’t all have to be so serious – in fact, most older men cite a sense of humor as an important factor when it comes to the characteristics they’re looking for in a woman.
  • They want someone with similar values – It’s not about having to agree on everything; instead, older men are looking for women who share the same core principles. 
  • They want someone who knows how to be herself – There’s nothing more attractive than someone of any gender who is comfortable with who they are, and who can show their true self without reservation.

For the Men: What Are Older Women Looking For?

It feels like we hear a lot more about what men are looking for in a woman than what women are looking for in a man, especially when it comes to older adults (probably because there are fewer men than women out there!), but we want to change that. So men, sit up and pay attention – here’s what all those awesome older women out there are looking for – and this, too, might be surprising, especially if you’re a little, shall we say, old-fashioned in your views of what women are interested in.

In addition to wanting those positive qualities laid out above, like intelligence, sense of humor, a strong sense of self, etc, older women are actually more likely to want to date as a way to enhance the lives they already have, not to dominate their lives. A lot of older women have spent a lifetime building strong friendships and have a lot of companionship in their lives already. That means they often are looking for someone to give them what they don’t already have in their lives, namely:older couple hugging

  • A romantic and sexual partner, and someone to cuddle with
  • Someone to participate in more couples-oriented activities that they might not want to do with women friends
  • Someone who sees them as a woman, and not just as a grandmother or a widow
  • Someone who respects her independence, and is willing to take thoughts of things like marriage and living together very slowly
  • Someone who is truly looking for companionship, and not simply looking for someone to take care of them as they grow old

Older women are also more likely to look for multiple partners that can each fulfill a different need, like a movie-night partner and a traveling or hiking companion. And they are DEFINITELY not looking for any drama in their lives!

So we’ve armed you with the knowledge: the who, what, where, why, and how of dating in your later years. Do with it what you will: we hope you will use it to get out there and have fun! Just remember to relax, be yourself, and know that you are whole all by yourself – it’s just nice sometimes to add a second person into the mix to make things a little more enjoyable. 

The Truth on the Science of Mating and Dating

This time of year can get pretty mushy. The shops are filled with hearts, cupids, and cards with fancy lettering and love poems…but if you’re just not feeling the whole flowers and chocolates thing this year, maybe you’d be interested in hearing some cold, hard facts that science has helpfully dug up for us about the way people really function when it comes to sex and dating. So if you’re a hopeless romantic, brace yourself for what’s about to come. But if you’re a cynic, get ready for some “I told you so’s,” because we’re about to put aside the mush and drop some harsh truths on the science of mating and dating.

So You Say You Hate It When They Play Hard to Get…

person with their hand on their head and the other hand leaning on a red question mark
Studies show that people are more attracted to people who play hard to get.

You know how some people seem to have perfected the art of blowing hot and cold, and making you wonder how they really feel about you? And you know how you say that you hate that feeling of being on edge as your crush plays hard to get? Well, it turns out that you might not hate it as much as you say you do. According to a study published in the journal Psychological Science:

“Participants in [an] uncertain condition were most attracted to the men [who they were told liked them either a lot or an average amount] – even more attracted than were participants who were told that the men liked them a lot. Uncertain participants reported thinking about the men the most, and this increased their attraction toward the men.”

At least you know you’re not the only one who can’t stop thinking about the date who just won’t text you first.

Nice Guys Finish…Last?

We’re a little bit skeptical about this one, and we certainly don’t want anyone to kick their kindness to the curb, but brace yourself: there are actual studies that show that women, well, kind of like jerks. For example, according to the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, nice guys just aren’t getting the same action as said jerks:

“In one survey of men, Trapnell and Meston (1996) found that nice guys who were modest, agreeable, and unselfish were disadvantaged in sexual relationships. Men who were manipulative, arrogant, calculating, and sly were more sexually active and had a greater variety of sexual experiences and a greater number of sex partners.”

And how about this from the journal Sex Roles? Sounds like nice guys aren’t getting any and they’re just going to have to wait:

“In the end, young women may continue to claim that they find certain qualities in a ‘good guy’ nice guy as highly desirable and that they want to be in a committed relationship with one man as their ultimate goal, but, at the same time, they seem content to spend ‘the meantime and in-between-time’ going out with fun/sexy guys who may or may not turn into ‘jerks.”’

Think that being a happy jerk will make a difference? Think again. According to the journal Emotion, “…happiness was the most attractive female emotion expression, and one of the least attractive in males.” Whaaaa? Guess it’s time to adopt that strong, silent, brooding persona…

Is Cuddling Ever Just Cuddling?

Ah, snuggling and smooching – they’re their own rewards, right? Maybe for some people, but maybe not for everyone. Science is going to drop another bomb on us, and tell us that men like sex, and a lot of what they do is kind of trying to steer things in that direction. Studies show that often the main reason men kiss is to progress toward sex, while women are using their lips to size those guys up and see if they actually want to do the deed with them. According to evolutionary psychologist Gordon Gallup of the University of Albany, “Males tend to kiss as a means of gaining sexual favors, or as a means of affecting reconciliation. Females kiss more as a mate-assessment device.”

And the main reason men cuddle after sex is… to get more sex. According to the Journal of Sex Research, “…females were more likely to engage in post-coital behaviors related to bonding with both short- and long-term partners, whereas males were more likely to engage in ones that were extrinsically rewarding or increased the likelihood of further coital acts.” Hey, whatever – a cuddle is a cuddle, right? a man and a woman cuddling with each other on a beach

Oh, and even if you’re not into the idea of canoodling up with someone in a lovey-dovey way, and are sure you’ve mastered what’s known as “casual sex,” be careful. According to Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist, the chief scientific adviser to the dating site Match.com, and the author of several books:

“It’s not casual because when you have sex with somebody, and it’s pleasurable, it drives up the dopamine system in the brain. That can push you over the threshold into falling in love. And when you orgasm, there’s a flood of oxytocin and vasopressin. Those neurochemicals are linked with the attachment system in the brain. So there are all these potential chemical triggers that can get activated when you have sex with someone, whether it’s ‘casual’ or not. Something like one-third of people who’ve had a ‘friends with benefits’ relationship have fallen madly in love with that person.”

Watch out!

It’s All Chemistry

When it comes to what love actually is (yes, science has an answer to all the songs pondering this age-old question – sort of), it really is a series of complex processes in the brain that involve a lot of different chemicals and areas of the brain. There are different chemicals/hormones released that, according to scientists, stimulate “lust” (testosterone),  “attraction” (dopamine),  and “attachment” (oxytocin and vasopressin) – in fact, we could write a whole article just on that subject. 

So, funnily enough, if you ask that oh-so-romantic group of people – scientists – whether love exists, they would give you an emphatic “yes” – except they would say it originates in the head, not the heart. They’d also give you some interesting facts about what happens to your brain on love. Some of it is pretty darn nice, but some of it? Well, it’s a little iffy. Again according to Helen Fisher:

“You can think of love as an intense obsession, but it’s really an addiction. You think about them all the time; you become sexually possessive; you get butterflies in the stomach; you can read their emails and texts over and over again.

But I say it’s an addiction because we found that, in addition to the dopamine system being activated in the brains of people in love, we also found activity in another part of the brain called the nucleus accumbens.

This part of the brain is activated in all forms of behavioral addiction — whether it’s drugs or gambling or food or kleptomania. So this part of the brain fires up in people who have recently fallen in love, and it really does function like an addiction.”

And not only might you become literally addicted to love, you’re probably going to be just a little bit more embarrassing and, uh, dumb than you used to be. According to Katherine Wu, writing for Harvard University, “Sexual arousal (but not necessarily attachment) appears to turn off regions in our brain that regulate critical thinking, self-awareness, and rational behavior, including parts of the prefrontal cortex. In short, love makes us dumb.”

Little White Liestruth with a magnifying glass over the word revealing it's full of lies

Ever try to stretch the truth juuuuust a little to impress a potential partner? Science sees you. According to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, participants who had been primed “to think about things in a sexual way” were:

  • More likely to give in and agree with someone’s argument about a fictitious dilemma than the participants who they had not “sexually primed” beforehand.
  • More likely to alter their dating preferences to make them fall more closely in line with those of someone they were chatting with online.
  • More likely to report lower numbers of previous sexual partners, which the researchers interpreted as a subconscious attempt to be more appealing to their attractive conversation partners.

The researchers’ conclusion? According to Professor Gurit Birnbaum, “When your sexual system is activated, you are motivated to present yourself in the best light possible. That means you’ll tell a stranger things that make you look better than you really are.” But we wouldn’t know anything about that.

Ok, ok, so this time of year is for lovers, and maybe we should just let all that testosterone, dopamine, and oxytocin work their magic and not question it. But what kind of friends would we be if we didn’t tell you the truth? Looks like we’d be the kind that had fallen in love. What are your thoughts on the science of love and sex? Does it explain all or are there some mysteries that science just can’t solve?