How To Set Healthier Expectations For Your Online Dating Life

by Laken Howard

When I first made a profile on OkCupid in the spring of 2012 (before Tinder was around!), I had no idea what to expect when online dating. As eager as I was to make romantic connections, I couldn't have predicted that that same over-enthusiasm would end up biting me in the butt, hard. Because I was so keen to find love, my expectations of online dating were way too high, and I found myself on an endless roller coaster of emotional highs and lows — because every rejection, bad date, or failed relationship felt extremely personal.

“Some online daters simply expect too much from someone who is basically, for all intents and purposes, a total stranger,” Meredith Golden, online dating expert, dating app ghostwriter, and dating coach at SpoonMeetSpoon, tells Bustle. “Not every contender is your soulmate, so try to enjoy the journey of meeting new and interesting people... Getting out of your home and having a stimulating conversation is still a positive experience that is exciting and fun too.”

When I was a dating app newbie, I was definitely not "enjoying the journey" to find love: instead, I was putting way too much emotional energy into every potential date, which left me feeling drained and pessimistic. It took me a long time to develop a healthy relationship with my dating apps — and the first step was realizing that my expectations of online dating were super unhealthy.

The Problem With Expecting Too Much From Dating Apps

First thing's first: I'm by no means knocking dating apps as a whole, especially because they eventually allowed me to swipe right on my current partner. Dating apps are a wonderful tool to meet people you might otherwise never come across, but it's crucial to remember that they're just that: a tool to meet people, not a method of magicking your ideal partner out of thin air.

“There are many advantages to online dating, but there are also pitfalls and some unintended consequences,” Scott Dehorty, LCSW-C, Executive Director at Maryland House Detox, Delphi Behavioral Health, tells Bustle. “Studies have found that online dating causes an increase in being judgmental. The ability to scroll through dozens of profiles and judge people based on a photo and description gives a false sense of opportunities and options... This can lead to feelings of despondency and disappointment. Online dating certainly has its place, but expectation[s] need to be held in check. Be certain of what you are looking for and willing to endure a marathon and not a sprint.”

If you feel like you're not having any success on dating apps, it's easy to get down on yourself and be crushed by feelings of "rejection." But there are two extremely important things to keep in mind when online dating. First, it requires a ton of patience: finding a real, lasting relationship online means enduring many, many meh or downright bad dates. Even more important than patience? Being able to recognize if your expectations of online dating are unhealthy, and then learning to re-frame those expectations in a healthier way.

“[Your expectations might be unhealthy] if your life revolves around your apps and it’s your only means of meeting new people, [or] if you’ve never swiped right on anyone or come across someone you’ve found interesting,” Golden says. “Dating apps are made up of all types of people from academics to athletes, [so] there’s someone out there who warrants a meet.”

What Do Healthy Expectations Look Like?

As a young woman who desperately craved companionship, it was really difficult for me to take a step back and really think about what I wanted from online dating and in a partner. I had this naive notion that any person I met could be a long-term partner for me, if only I tried hard enough to make it work — but that couldn't have been further from the truth. In reality, not every person you match with will even turn into a conversation or IRL date... and that's OK.

“A healthy expectation is that for every 20 matches, half will probably end up having an exchange,” Golden says. “And of those, maybe one or two will actually end up meeting. This shouldn’t be a hit to one’s self esteem, it’s just how this process works. Being ghosted on an app doesn’t mean you did something wrong. Expect that you will ghost as well as be ghosted.”

There's no need to freak out and flush your phone down a toilet if a potential match doesn't pan out like you'd hoped. As long as you feel confident and comfortable in who you are and what you're looking for in a date or relationship, a micro-rejection online will feel like NBD — after all, there are plenty more fish in the sea.

How To Set Healthy Expectations For Your Online Dating Life

So what can you do to make sure that you don't let your experiences with dating apps get you down? The first step is to take some time to self-reflect, and honestly ask yourself what it is that you're looking for. It doesn't matter if you're looking for love or just want someone to keep you company between the sheets: if you're aware of what you want, and go after it unapologetically, you won't fall into the trap of feeling defeated by your dating apps.

“One question dictates the [expectation-setting] process,” Golden says. “Do you want a relationship or are you looking for a casual fling? It’s the same whether you meet someone the old-fashioned way or on a dating app. Check in with [your] other single friends periodically for an ‘expectation calibration.' Comparing notes with other singles can bring a quick reality check.”

Ultimately, no one except for you can tell you what it is you want from online dating. If you want to get out of your comfort zone in dating, do it. If you want to have more casual sex, do it. If you want to find a real, long-term love, do it. There's no denying that modern dating can be frustrating, and that all the bad behavior on dating apps — like ghosting, breadcrumbing, and submarining — can be a real drag. But as long as you know what you want, and don't expect dating apps to be a magic solution to your dating woes, it's only a matter of time before one of those right swipes is finally the right one.