Online Dating Rules: Don’t bite off more than you can chew

Why did you sign up for a dating app? To find someone to date, of course. And if you’re anything like the average person, then that means that one out of every four or five people you end up chatting with is going to pique your interest enough to want to meet IRL (in real life).

But what happens when it’s two or three times more than that? What happens when you feel obliged to chat with everyone who messages you, going on multiple dates a week and going full throttle into an online courtship while “I’m still looking,” sometimes without any intention of ever developing a relationship beyond casual meet-ups?

Well, instead of getting involved in a meaningful connection with a single partner, you could find yourself involved in multiple flings that you’re never going to see again.

It sounds counterintuitive since it’s 2017, but online dating can still take a lot of time and energy out of your schedule—more time than most people are willing to give up if the end result isn’t clear. And sometimes, no matter how many dates you go on, there won’t be any one person who will make you feel like it was all worthwhile.

You start this process with no idea how much work is actually involved and before long you’ve got 20 first dates under your belt and five phone numbers without having ever gotten past first base with anyone. When Milrad says she gets asked by friends for advice on how to navigate the choppy waters of online dating, this is what she means.

She says it’s important to keep your expectations clear and realistic. If you expect to find someone at the end of all of your efforts, then this may be unfulfilling if that doesn’t happen, so she encourages people to set goals for themselves instead of goals for finding love.

“Have a goal—a number in mind—of how many dates you want to go on each week,” Milrad suggests. “If things start getting serious with someone then cut back on the other dates.” It may seem old-fashioned, but it can help prevent you from burning out or investing time into someone who isn’t actually interested in meeting up regularly if they don’t feel like taking it past a hookup.

Everyone’s time is valuable, and yours is no different. It may be a lot of fun to swipe away, but if you’re going on five first dates a week it means that you aren’t getting to know any one person well enough to make an informed decision about whether or not they might be worth seeing again IRL (in real life).

“You shouldn’t be dating more than three people at once,” Milrad says firmly. “It takes hours for each date—time that could be spent doing other things like working out, catching up with friends or settling into bed early.”

This isn’t just about protecting your schedule; it’s also important to let the people who are pursuing you get the hint if they’re not catching your eye.

“If you don’t feel a connection with someone, say so,” Milrad advises. She suggests being warm but firm when turning down dates—something most people have trouble doing in the moment. “Be polite but direct about why you don’t want to see them again.”

Tell them that you enjoyed spending time together or that it’s been fun getting to know them better, but give specific reasons if possible. If someone seems interested, then by all means go out with them again! But it can be exhausting trying to make plans every single day with different people who aren’t really interested in anything more than casual meet-ups. It’s also disrespectful of their time if they are expecting something more from you.

When you’re dating in this manner, it really starts to feel like the movies where someone is running through the streets, trying to catch a bus or hail down a cab because they are already half an hour late for their date with someone else. It’s not fun—especially when you’ve got more than one person expecting your undivided attention on any given night.

“Each time I went on a first date I would wait until the last possible minute to let them know if something had come up,” Milrad says, wryly recalling her own misadventures in online dating before she became widely known as “The Connector.” She thinks that today people are much better about keeping each other posted about their schedule changes but that this is still a problem.

Another issue she sees often is that people don’t practice good dating etiquette while courting online. Part of the allure of these platforms, after all, is that they assure you there isn’t such a thing as rejection—you can just unmatch or ignore someone if things aren’t going your way.

Unfortunately, this spells bad news for everyone involved when it continues into real life interactions. “If you’re not interested in someone then why are you wasting their time?” Milrad asks rhetorically. “Be up-front and never ghost (stop responding to texts without saying goodbye).” People should be learning about how to conduct themselves in an online space before trying to transition offline romance; otherwise, all that practice feeling entitled to behave however you please will just come across as rude or inconsiderate when they meet IRL.

“People who are too casual online tend to have the same frame of mind offline,” Milrad warns. “They complain about being tired from dating so much and don’t value their time.” She thinks that people who get too wrapped up in online dating often get into a negative feedback loop, where they start losing self-confidence because they feel like dating is turning into an endless stream of first dates without any real relationships developing.

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