Interpersonal relationships are important to mental health, but a lot of men struggle to get these going. They’re shy or have trouble initiating and keeping conversation going. Or they’re too busy to spend a lot of time meeting people, but sure would like a date this weekend. Others have lost spouses to divorce or illness and aren’t certain about how to put a toe in the water of dating.
So I’ve been known to prescribe Tinder. Or any of the other dating apps. These days, there are many different ways to date, and there’s more interest in less-traditional relationships, from hookups to polyamory. There’s an online platform that caters to nearly every preference and like-minded group. There’s even a dating app for farmers. With so many of them being free, you have a low-investment immersion in online dating at your fingertips.
Using the apps is a great way for my patients to do what I call “exposure therapy,” meaning putting themselves outside of their comfort zones repetitively, ideally reducing their fear and distress over time. It’s also a great way to practice their conversation skills, by asking engaging open-ended questions, demonstrating active listening skills, or just keeping their phone in their pocket.
When I’m with a patient, it’s important for me to understand what it is they’re looking for at this stage in their life before I recommend online dating sites. When I do, I also offer these tips. Dating can be tough, but high expectations make it tougher. Here’s what I recommend to make the experience less challenging and more rewarding:
1. Remember ignorance
All the assumptions you are making based on their profile or few words you’ve exchanged… that’s all they are, assumptions. It takes time to get to know someone and it’s easy to present one version of ourselves online (hello, social media). People are layered and complex. Think of a date as an opportunity to get to know someone rather than a first step in a relationship. I meet with people for an hour a week and I feel it takes me months to know them.
2. Consider rejection to be progress
Men who can handle rejection have a superpower for dating. These guys practice the art of not taking everything personally and the lost skill of feeling internally secure. This means that, as much as possible, your self-esteem is generated from within. If you learn from every no, then that gets you to yes in my experience. A clear “not interested” saves you time. Don’t get caught up wondering too much. Trust your gut about what happened and move on.
3. Find the gold
My job is finding the gold in people and most everyone has some gold in them. We’re all unique, and dating is an opportunity to have conversations with people you may have never crossed paths with otherwise. Think of each date as an opportunity to learn some new nugget, and find the gold in your date.
4. Be more than a single guy
We’re all the best versions of ourselves when we are doing things we love. Don’t let dating take over your life. Be active and engaged with your other interests—it’s where you are most likely to meet folks offline, and when you do meet folks from online platforms, you’ll have more to discuss than, uh, work.
5. Know what you want
Are you looking for your soulmate? Friends with benefits? A girlfriend? One nighter? Know what you want so you can make the most of your matches. It will save you both a lot of time. It’s easy for people to feel shame around our desires. Instead, focus your shame on being a poor communicator of your needs.
6. Be efficient
People waste a lot of time messaging, wondering, and hoping. Be nice. Be clear. Set up a time to meet briefly in person—it’s the only way to know if those algorithms have delivered on their promises and you have made a match!
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