I (28m) recently got out of a long term relationship that started in college, and have little dating or sexual experience outside that relationship. I’d been hoping to use this time to explore dating and sex by casually dating around for a year or two. But my experience so far (2.5 months) has been very dispiriting, and making me feel like I’ll never be good enough.
I’ve done a lot of self improvement over the past few years. I started working out regularly, I’ve updated my wardrobe, I’m getting out of the house more and trying new things, I’ve been in therapy for years, I’ve overcome social anxiety, I’ve practiced being more assertive and socially confident (still a work in progress, but I’m much better here than I was), I have good hygiene, I have a well-rounded set of hobbies, and I’m a feminist who believes in boundaries and consent and open communication. I’m not saying I don’t have flaws or that I’m everyone’s cup of tea, but I think I’m a much more attractive and likable version of myself now than I was in my early-20s.
I’m also a regular reader of your site and other dating/social skills/self improvement sources. I’ve put a lot of effort into online dating, and I think I’m doing everything right. I’ve written a profile and had it vetted by a female friend, I have a variety of pictures in different locations, I pay for premium membership on multiple online dating apps, I send messages tailored to my matches’ profiles, and I try to arrange a date after a few days if they seem responsive. I’m also open-minded about who I swipe right on; I’m not just swiping right on the most conventionally attractive women.
And what do I have to show for it? Almost nothing. I get maybe two or three matches a week, and of those maybe a quarter bother to respond at all. And of those who do respond, most of them are extremely passive and make little effort to ask me any questions or give more detailed responses to my questions that would spur further conversation. It honestly feels like they’re sitting back and waiting for me to somehow wow them with minimal help. Instead of being a collaborative interaction with another adult looking for a connection, I feel like I’m a bird of paradise dancing in front of passive potential mates and hoping to impress them, and usually failing.
I’ve only had two actual dates, and both women, while nice, spent most of the date talking about themselves and showed little interest in getting to know me. Also, both were significantly heavier than they looked in their photos. I felt no chemistry, and it didn’t really seem like they did either.
Why not meet women in person? I haven’t had much luck there either, despite putting in a lot of effort to be more social. Pretty much all the events I’ve gone to were either heavily male dominated, or most of the people, including the women, were significantly older than me (36+). This is great for my platonic social life, but so far it hasn’t led to any dating prospects.
I’ve come so far in so many ways, and yet it feels like it’s never enough. I read your site and other dating advice sites, and it seems like for everything I’ve improved on, I still need to improve even more in five or ten different areas simultaneously to even stand a chance. I need to be more charismatic, more outgoing, more fashionable, more attractive in photos, more funny, more socially calibrated, more confident, more mentally healthy, more interesting, more flirty, more able to take initiative while simultaneously intuiting her boundaries and desires, and on and on and on. It’s honestly overwhelming, and made all the more frustrating when I compare it to the relatively little effort the women I’ve matched with put into impressing me, or even just getting to know me.
To be clear, I’m not mad at any of the women I’ve matched with, I’m just feeling overwhelmed and rejected. I’ve done more than most people I know of either gender to improve myself and be more attractive, and yet I’m not seeing any results, and even my matches don’t seem interested in me.
Is there something I’m missing? Have I had bad luck? Is there something about me that’s unattractive that I just can’t see?
– Lonely and Confused
This is a great question, LaC, because it touches on a few things that comes up with regards to self-improvement, getting better at dating and meeting women.
Now, right off the bat, let’s focus on what’s important here: you have made a lot of progress, and that’s something you should be proud of. The problem is that change is gradual, a journey of inches and each small step forward becomes your new normal. As a result, it’s very easy to lose track of just how much progress you’ve made. This is especially true, because people up is that they get results focused, and that trips them up. It’s incredibly common to say that “I’ve been doing X for this long, why aren’t my results at Y level?” and miss just how much you’ve accomplished. As a result, you get demoralized and feel like maybe nothing is working. However, if you look back at where you’ve come from to where you are now, you’re going to see just how far you’ve come. That’s the important part.
The other thing that trips people up is that there’s a belief that you hit a certain point and then boom: you go from zero to success beyond your wildest dreams. You have ascended the mountain! You’ve reached the summit! Surely all the rewards you’ve been dreaming of have arrived! Well… no. Change and improvement are gradual, and so are the results. And one of the things that comes with change and improvement is recognizing that there’s more to learn and more to accomplish. When I was younger, I started studying martial arts and I focused like a laser on getting my black belt. I assumed that once I reached that rank, then I would have ascended that particular mountain. But the day I passed my black belt test, I realized that this wasn’t the end of my journey. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t an incredible accomplishment, nor does it mean that I shouldn’t be proud of it. I absolutely was. But what it meant was that I had passed beyond the initial stages. I’d reached a new level, and now I would be facing new and different challenges.
It wasn’t even the beginning of the end. It was, if it was anything, just the end of the beginning. Learning and growing isn’t a journey with an end; the more you learn, the more you discover you don’t know.
Alternately, think of it like a video game. You’ve gone from the tutorial levels and the starting area to the end of the first act. You defeated the first boss and now you’re in a new area, with new opponents, new puzzles and new challenges. You can beat the previous enemies with ease, but these new ones are difficult. That’s not because you aren’t doing anything wrong; it’s because you’ve reached the next stage and the challenges have scaled with you.
That’s part of what you’re discovering. You have reached a new level in your growth and development. You’ve overcome the things that used to be near-impossible for you – your social anxiety, your confidence and being more outgoing and adventurous – and now you’re facing new and different challenges. The level of difficulty has scaled with you to meet your current level. Now you’re at the next stage of your development. That’s not something to feel bad about; that’s something to be proud of. You’re accomplishing things that even a year ago you would’ve thought were impossible.
I mean, you’re getting matches every week and you’ve gone on dates. If you look back to who you were even a year ago, would any of that seemed feasible or even possible?
Now, part of what comes with this new stage of your development and the accompanying new challenges is to improve and refine things, to figure out what is and isn’t working and why.
Let’s start with dating apps, and some common misconceptions. First and foremost is that dating apps aren’t a set-it-and-forget-it process. Part of being successful on dating apps means refining and polishing your profile – changing out your pictures semi-regularly, adjusting what you’ve written and so on. This is important for a few reasons. First is that it keeps your account active. Despite what folks will tell you, dating apps want you matching and meeting people. If folks burn out or get frustrated, they close their accounts; that’s bad for business. Part of how they avoid this is by prioritizing active profiles in the algorithm; if folks are messaging with profiles that are functionally inactive, then they start getting discouraged. Staying active and polishing your profile is part of how you get an algorithmic boost. Plus, changing up your profile helps you figure out what works and what doesn’t. Think of it like a sort of social A/B testing; do you get more results with THIS picture or THAT one? Do you get better results if you refer to THIS aspect of your hobbies or THAT one?
You also want to keep the algorithm in mind when you’re swiping on folks. One of the reasons why folks will complain that they get too many of the ‘wrong’ folks matching or showing up in their profiles? It’s because those are the profiles that they interact with the most. The algo sees that interaction and says “oh hey, this is who he’s interested in and who he’s compatible with” and shows you more of those profiles and shows YOUR profile to more of those people. It’s part of why it’s important to swipe selectively and to not worry too much about swiping left on matches you don’t feel strongly about. A “if it’s not fuck yes, it’s a fuck no” policy helps clear things out.
(Also: do yourself a favor: don’t pay for more than one, maybe two apps. Decide which paid memberships give you benefits that are the most worth the investment, and then stick to free memberships on the others. And don’t bother paying for boosts or Super Likes; they’re fundamentally useless.)
However, one of the things to keep in mind is that you can have the perfect profile but still get mediocre results. That’s because dating profiles aren’t magic, and dating apps don’t follow strict rules. There’re people behind the other profiles you’re messaging and that means that people’re going to have any number of idiosyncratic reactions. Some folks swipe because they’re bored, some just want ass-pats and validation and some swipe first and ask questions later. People can be lazy on apps, they can be self-absorbed or they can just expect other folks to do all the work because they’ve never felt like they had to invest in someone. That’s not a “you” problem, that’s a “them” problem, and you can’t control how other people behave.
If you wonder if maybe it’s you, then you have options. Show a friend whose judgement you can trust, and who’ll be bluntly honest with you and see what they think. Or hey, book a coaching session with me and we can go through them together.
It’s also important to realize that dating is a numbers game and dating apps especially so. Dating apps have an average of 62% – 70% male user base, so there’s a relatively limited pool of available women on those apps. Which is one more reason why I tell folks that dating apps should be a supplement to meeting people, not a substitute. Dating apps should be a thing use for a few minutes during your down-time; swipe on a couple accounts, fire off some conversation starters to matches and then close the app and do other things.
But what about when you’re not necessarily meeting people in person? Well, this is in area where folks also tend to make common mistakes. One of the most frequent mistake is to focus too much on who’s in your immediate vicinity. The fact that the people at a particular class, event or MeetUp aren’t the sexy somebodies doesn’t mean that the event was a bust. You’re looking just at who’s there, but not considering who they know too. The fact that you’re meeting people who may not be the people you want to date doesn’t mean that you’re failing. You’re meeting the people who increase your social network and – importantly – are giving you access to theirs. By making friends, you’re putting yourself in position to meet their friends… which may well include folks you do want to date. You may not be meeting the woman of your dreams at that particular cooking class, but you may be meeting the people who will introduce you to her. And since we tend to make friends with people who are most like us, if you’re meeting folks who’re cool, fun and attractive… their friends are going to be very similar to them.
Similarly, you need to be careful not to get tunnel vision about what events you go to or what MeetUps you’re attending, especially if your passions and interests tend to be male dominated. Sometimes the key means expanding your horizons and trying things that are a few steps out from your immediate interests, but still related. Or you may need to look into things that seem interesting, but you’ve never really tried before. After all, if you want different results, then you need to do things differently. If there aren’t as many women or potential friends in your local Warhammer community, then it may be time to look into a Pilates class or take some conversational language courses. Part of what helps is to make sure that you’re going to the places where the people you want to date are likely to hang out and become a part of that scene.
And finally: write things down. Despite how it may feel, we are not objective observers of our own life. We all have blind spots and presuppositions, we miss critical patterns and information and sometimes we fall into ruts that we don’t realize. Journaling and writing things out help us find those blind spots and recurring patterns, in part because writing things out longhand accesses different parts of our brains than typing. And having that information written down, especially in chronological order makes it easier to see recurring issues. In the moment, it can be difficult to read the circumstances correctly because we’re just too close to it and it’s far too immediate. However, if you read through your journal and notice that you’re always feeling down after a night at a particular event, but feeling energetic and charged at a different one, then you’ve got information you might not see under other circumstances.
But again, I want to stress that what you’re experiencing isn’t failure, it’s that you’ve leveled up. You have new and different challenges now, ones that are commensurate with your new skill set. It may be frustrating in the moment, but these are good problems to have. As you grow, change and improve, you’ll overcome these challenges too. There’s a reason why I have the 63rd Hexagram – After Completion – from the I-Ching tattooed on my forearm – because it’s the mark of the Arashikage ninja clan.
No, wait, that’s not it. It’s because it’s a reminder that there’s always more to learn and more to do, and those changes require maintenance. “Happily Ever After” only exists in stories; life continues onward. After you start getting dates, then you work at being better at dating and progressing to a relationship. You learn to be better at relationships and moving those relationships to the next level. You learn to become a spouse, a parent, a grandparent. There won’t be a point where you say “that’s it, I’m done, I have learned and achieved everything there is to achieve”; there will always be new things to learn, new things to accomplish.
And that’s a good thing.
You’re doing far better than you realize, LaC. You’ve reached the next level, and now you’re being challenged to rise to the moment. You’ve got this.
All will be well.
This post was previously published on Doctornerdlove.com.
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