Your Guide to Mindful Online Dating

Created on 13/01/2020
Updated on 13/10/2022
With so many apps and therefore so many options, it’s easy to swipe on everyone (or no one), ghost on people, bench people, write people off the minute your favorite movies don’t align or they say something “basic,” or go on Tinder out of boredom rather than true desire. It’s like, Whatever. Who cares? On to the next! The issue with this is a lack of mindfulness. It may be common but, frankly, this behavior sucks. Just because someone doesn’t “seem real,” because they’re a face on a screen, doesn’t mean they aren’t real people with real-ass feelings. In other words: The fact that dating is so easy doesn’t mean we have a right to be assholes. Look, it may not seem like such a big deal, but people are out here being vulnerable, so we should treat them with respect—and, in that same vein, we should treat ourselves with the same care. Here are some things to ask yourself before you jump on the apps as well as some Ground Rules for Basic Human Decency so no one feels dissed and dismissed. We’re all trying to find love, a good hookup, or maybe just some validation. Let’s be kinder, people.

What do you desire from dating online?

Before you do any swiping, figure out what it is you actually want. There are so many different kinds of people and relationships that come out of the Wild West of Apps. “If you are intentional and mindful, you have a better chance of finding what you are looking for online,” says Kristie Overstreet, Ph.D., a psychotherapist and clinical sexologist. If you’re interested in a hookup, get clear on that. If you’re looking to date, but not too seriously, be open about it. If you’re looking for love, allow yourself to be clear about wanting love. Life is too short to be mysterious with our intentions, you know? You don’t owe anyone an explanation for what you want as long as you’re completely transparent.

Am I doing this to connect with others or to seek validation?

Making this distinction is really important before you start swiping on people and getting feelings involved. It’s smart to sit with this question and consider it carefully. “Even if we don't like the person or know them at all, we still get a tiny hit of approval when we see someone swiped right on us,” says Pam Shaffer, MFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist. “Ask yourself if you are swiping for the gamification aspect of it (which is designed to be addictive) or because you genuinely want to talk to a person on the other end of the app.”
“It's easy to make up a narrative for someone we don't know if they are just a character in our phone."
When you’re seeking validation through the sexual or romantic interest of other people, you’re not coming from a good headspace. It can lead to the objectification—however unintentional—of a person as no more than a vessel for your self-worth. This is uncool. Everyone deserves to be treated as a whole human. That’s the bare minimum.

How would I want to be shown respect?

Determining your boundaries before you start dating allows you to crystalize behaviors you will and will not tolerate. We often fly into online dating thinking it should just be “chill” and we should “see how it all plays out.” This isn’t a great way to get what you want because you aren’t being honest with your feelings. By getting clear on respect, “you’re opening yourself up to viewing any dating situation from a more compassionate place,” says Kristine D’Angelo, a certified sex coach and clinical sexologist. This helps you not only care for the other person’s feelings, but care for yours as well. Ask yourself: Do you find ghosting unforgivably rude? Do you want someone to tell you exactly what they’re looking for and to communicate their feelings with you? Are you OK with being FWBs? Do you prefer coyness when dating? “Show kindness and compassion to everybody you meet. It’s also OK to ask for what you want,” D’Angelo says. “Be upfront with the people you’re dating. Let them know you value honesty, mutual respect and healthy communication and boundaries. This will help them learn more about you and ultimately have them leaning in rather than out.”

How much time do I want to spend chatting vs. meeting IRL?

One of the unfortunate outcomes of having easy access to apps is that we have a quick and dirty outlet for our erotic energy. If we’re bored and want to flirt, we can just open up Hinge or Tinder and find someone to flirt with in five minutes flat. If you’re limiting your interactions to bite-sized conversations, rather than getting out into the real-life dating world, you’re not going to meet anyone worthwhile.
As a general rule, get out of the house and go on a date within three days of starting to chat.
What’s more, Shaffer says that if you spend too much time chatting with someone, you’ll wind up building them up in your head. This could ultimately lead to a letdown. “It's easy to make up a narrative for someone we don't know if they are just a character in our phone but an entirely different story to get out there and spend time with each other,” she says. “If you are not into actually making plans to meet someone, it could be better to text a friend you already know to get those emotional needs fulfilled.” As a general rule, get out of the house and go on a date within three days of starting to chat. Wasting time, whether it’s yours or someone else’s, doesn’t benefit anyone.

Any past online dating experiences that you want to avoid?

Sussing out the bad from the good can be an emotional rollercoaster, but the old adage of “learning from our mistakes” is tried and true when it comes to improving our online dating interactions. “Ask yourself if there are things about that you didn't like,” Overstreet says. Make a list and compare notes. This will help you create those boundaries we talked about above. Once you know what red flags to look out for, you’ll be better off. “This will keep you from repeating behaviors that didn't work last time,” Overstreet explains. That said, if you do end up falling for an old trap, be gentle with yourself. We humans have complicated emotions. We don’t always learn from the past, even if we try. Should you find bad behaviors on repeat with someone else, forgive yourself and try again.

Are you OK with making friends?

Not every online dating relationship ends in sex or a relationship. Some people you meet may wind up becoming a good friend, if you’re open to it. Before you get to swiping, noodle on this. If you’re willing to become a friend after it’s clear there’s no romantic chemistry, you could be allowing yourself more interesting interactions. “Some of the best relationships grow out of friendship,” says Moushumi Ghose, MFT, a licensed sex therapist. “Broadening your vision of what dating is truly about: making friends and connections, can significantly alter your experience.” Plus, if friendship is a possibility, you’ll be less likely to be a dick to someone. Just saying.

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