Dating in a digital world

November 15, 2023

Dating has undergone a radical transformation in recent years, with many relationships now beginning with a swipe instead of a more traditional face-to-face introduction. However, technology and shifting values have left many feeling overwhelmed and anxious at the thought of finding a partner. Navigating the ever-evolving world of digital dating culture requires awareness, adaptability, and a strong understanding of your own needs.  

Keeping perspective

Before you get swiping, it is important to understand how dating apps work. Similar to social media platforms, dating apps use algorithms to determine who you see, using your data to predict compatibility and curate your experience. They are designed to keep you coming back, by giving you a dopamine high when you have a positive interaction.  

“Your brain is affected the same way when playing a slot machine; it feels good to ‘win,’ and the more you win, the more you want to play,” explains Kaitlin Klein, a relational and family therapist with Manitoba Blue Cross’s Employee Assistance Program. “However, ‘winning’ when it comes to dating apps is much more personal, because whether you ‘win’ or ‘lose’ is often based on a few photos, and the determining time is less than a few seconds.”

Keeping perspective and reminding yourself that dating apps feature carefully selected snapshots of a person’s life is key.  

“People are so much more than what’s shown in a photo. You can’t tell someone’s values from a photograph or watch how they interact with the world around them,” Klein says. “Seeing someone on a phone screen as opposed to in person instantly depersonalizes them, which makes it easy to decide yes or no based solely on their appearance.”

Despite the visual-first format of dating apps, they remain an excellent way to broaden your dating pool and offer plenty of opportunities to connect with someone on a deeper level, especially when you use them mindfully.  

Managing expectations

While knowing what you are looking for in a partner is important, it is helpful to understand what you can offer a partner in return.

“Dating isn’t about just finding the right partner (or partners), it’s also about being that to someone else,” Klein says. “Someone who is invested in dating should have a clear concept of what they can offer to a partner and to a relationship.”

Entering the dating world armed with a list of “must-haves” and “non-negotiables” is rarely effective and ultimately leads to disappointment.  

“Dating disappointment early in relationships can be due to unrealistic expectations of a partner, or having an inflexible perspective on something,” explains Klein. “People who are generally successful in dating aren’t overly critical of themselves or others. They try to maintain an open mind and give others the benefit of the doubt.”

Finding a right match requires patience and perseverance, along with a healthy dose of self-awareness.

“Having a way to check in with yourself to manage expectations while dating is important,” Klein says. “Are you dating for the ‘right’ reasons? Are you talking to too many people at once? Are you experiencing dating fatigue and need a break for a bit? Are you putting too much time into dating and letting important parts of everyday life fall by the wayside? Having an honest check in with yourself every so often can help keep expectations in check.”  

Navigating common behaviours

Behaviours such as ghosting and breadcrumbing have become very common in modern dating culture. Ghosting occurs when communication is cut off entirely without any explanation or warning. Breadcrumbing is essentially leading someone on – it happens when occasional flirtatious and vague messages are sent to hold interest without any commitment to meet or explore a relationship.  

“While the concepts of ghosting and breadcrumbing aren’t new, thanks to online dating we now have terms to describe these behaviours; and yes, they can be hurtful,” Klein says.  

Typically, these behaviours can indicate a variety of issues such as an avoidant attachment style, conflict avoidance, a lack of self-awareness and emotional immaturity.  

“Ghosting and breadcrumbing can say a lot about the person doing these behaviours. Simply put, this is often about them and not about you and what you have to offer.

“It is very easy to blame yourself and become critical, especially if you’re in a pattern of being ghosted or breadcrumbed. Taking time to grieve this relationship is important. Whether it was a short relationship, or you’ve never met face to face, the emotions that you feel are real and need to be acknowledged.”  

It is rare for a relationship to end in a “tidy” way, and even though moving on can seem difficult, it’s helpful to get comfortable with the idea that you may never get closure or a specific reason why things ended.  

“Reaching out to a ‘ghoster’ is rarely effective. It might make you feel better in the moment, but seldom gives you what you need to move on,” Klein says.

So, what can you do when you are feeling discouraged with dating? Klein suggests keeping up with your self-care routines and coping strategies: “Coffee with a close friend, hitting the gym or going for a walk when feeling rejected is a lot more effective and better in the long run than going on an alcohol binge, reckless spending, or other potential self-destructive behaviours.”

Klein also suggests focusing on things and people that give you a sense of fulfillment and connection. Connecting with people you trust and engaging in familiar hobbies and activities will help to make you feel grounded, at ease, and confident.  

“Trust that you will know when you’re ready to get out of your comfort zone and try new things and meet new people,” Klein says.

Finding meaningful connections

With an open mind, self-awareness, and effective communication skills, finding meaningful connections is possible. Klein importantly reminds us, “Dating can be a very exciting and fulfilling part of life. As much as it can be daunting, exhausting, and a little stressful, it is a beautiful opportunity for self-reflection and connection with others. So, get out there! You never know what you’ll find out about yourself or who you might meet!”

Getting help

If you are struggling with dating or your mental health, reach out for help.

Manitoba Blue Cross members with Employee Assistance Program or Individual Assistance Program coverage can get counselling support. Begin the process here.

Unsure of your coverage? Confirm your eligibility in your mybluecross® account.

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