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