As many people reading this can tell you: dating can take its toll on you. Not on your body, but on your soul. It’s very easy to get a nasty case of dating burnout.
One of the hardest things to do in dating is to keep your emotional energy up. It’s a hard truth that dating – even for the most socially skilled of us – involves a fair amount of rejection. Even when you know that it’s not necessarily about you, personally, it’s hard not to let it get to you.
Burnout is insidious, because it feels natural. It feels like the voice of experience telling you that there’s no point. It’s the feeling that you’ve been doing as much as you can and there’s nothing left to do.
Or is there?
If you want to keep dating without losing your soul or not let your heart grow a callus, you have to learn to recognize and deal with dating burnout.
Recognizing Dating Burnout For What It Is
When you’re facing dating burnout, you start to lose your drive. What joy you may have experienced in connecting with people is gone. Dating has gone from being something you approach with a heart full of hope and a head full of dreams to something you dread. You drag yourself through the motions because you feel like you’re supposed to… but what’s the point?
You’re exhausted. You’re cynical. And as far as you’re concerned, every lonely Friday night and empty Saturday is just proof that you’re fucked. You are going to die alone and unloved and every unanswered text is just more proof of this.
Now all you can think is what’s the point of it all? “You’ve done all you can.” “You’re not doing any better.” “There’s no point”. “What’s the point of trying something new? You did things differently last time and look what happened?”
It’s hard to point to any one thing and say “clearly I’m feeling burnout” because that feeling of detachment, that cynicism tells you that you that it’s really you. Like depression, dating burnout whispers in your voice. It sounds reasonable because it’s poking at your insecurities, your worries. It’s your fears writ large, being fed back to you.
But the thing with burnout is that it’s not the truth. It’s the frustration that’s built up over time. It’s the result of having been working so diligently on your social skills, on making approaches, on trying to get back up every time you’ve had your heart broken. In a very real sense, burnout happens, not because you’re weak or a failure, but because you’re strong.
The problem is that the stress and the frustration builds up over time and grinds you down. And when that sense of futility builds past a point, your brain… gives up. You start feeling detached, like there’s no meaning. You don’t see a point to continuing because it’s worthless and you’re not good at it.
And the cruel irony is: you’re right. When dating burnout hits, your social skills suffer. You simply don’t have the energy or the focus. So it becomes a self-perpetuating cycle.
But you can break the burnout cycle and start feeling that same sense of hope and progress you did before.
Take Time Away
The first thing to do when you’re feeling ground down by life is stop throwing yourself into the grinder. Right now, all you’re doing is subjecting yourself to more of the same. More stress, more frustration, more feeling like you’re lower than a snake’s ass in a drainage ditch.
So the you need to give yourself permission to take a break. This is surprisingly, shockingly hard. We as a culture tend to see being single as a problem to be solved. There’s pressure to find A Relationship, at any cost. As a result, we end up being uncomfortable with the idea of, well… being comfortable with being single.
And so we keep throwing ourselves at the problem, and then wonder why it leaves us feeling like ten pounds of shit in a five pound sack.
Taking the step of saying “no”, saying “I’m going to stop for now” is almost radical. Opting out of dating, if only temporarily, goes against the cultural narrative. We feel like we’re giving up, giving in, admitting defeat.
But what we’re really doing is giving ourselves time to heal. A football player can’t play on a broken ankle. You can’t date on a broken heart and sprained soul.
So, you give yourself permission to be single. To not just be single but to not be looking. You are going to give yourself time to heal and recuperate. So suspend your OKCupid account, leave your “going out” outfits sit at the back of the closet and just… rest.
Now, don’t get me wrong: this doesn’t mean that you’re going to cocoon in your pad under a growing mountain of empty pizza boxes and moldy Chinese take-out. You’re still going to be social… but with a different focus.
Reconnect With Your Team
Part of what makes dating hard – and leads us to burnout – is that dating is often a solitary pursuit. We face the frustration and stress alone. In fact, part of what makes us burn out on dating is that feeling of isolation, that we’re the only person we know going through this. We are trying to shoulder the burden of this pain, of this disappointment all by ourselves. Nobody else knows our pain because nobody could fail as thoroughly as we can.
And this is exactly why you need to be more social.
Yes, I know I told you to take a break from being social. Stick with me for a moment.
The mistake that people make – guys especially – is that they don’t reach out to their friends when they start feeling burnout. In fact, more often than not, people feeling burnt out are more likely to isolate themselves. They close in on themselves, when what they need to do is open up, instead.
So you are going to want to reconnect with your friends, your family, your Team You. You want to surround yourself with the people who have your back, who are going to prop you up and make you realize that you have value and meaning and people care.
Your friendships are going to be a major component of how you release that stress and recover. If you don’t have close ties, then it’s time to forge new ones. Find causes that are important to you and volunteer your time. The more social you get, with people who will listen and not judge you, the happier you’ll be. The more meaningful connections you have with others, the more your stress will melt away.
And while you’re at it:
Feed Your Body and Soul
Undoing the damage that dating frustrations can do to your heart and soul takes more than just rest and beers with the guys. You need to take an active part in your healing by indulging in some effective self-care. But self care doesn’t mean self-indulgence. Self care means taking care of yourself.
So to start with, it’s time to watch your diet and get back on the exercise track. When we’re stressed, our diet tends to fall to the wayside. Either we go for food that’s easy and convenient – which means highly processed – or that brings us comfort. And while the occasional indulgence isn’t bad, when the stress doesn’t change, those food choices tend to go from “indulgence” to “habit”. Consciously choosing to eat more vegetables, more complex grains and lean proteins cuts out foods that will tank your mood and sap your energy.
Similarly, upping your exercise will improve your outlook. Exercise is a natural antidepressant. Our bodies are built to move; moving more and getting our cardiovascular system involved makes us feel better. Increased oxygen intake and blood flow makes us feel more energized and reduces stress. Exercise is in many ways a moving meditation; getting lost in the sensations of your own body means that you aren’t devoting bandwidth to the idea of what a failure you are.
Just as importantly, however, is taking care of your soul. You want to find the things that speak to you, that fill you with joy and a sense of awe with the universe. This might mean religion and feeling connected to a higher power. It may mean going to museums and embracing the miracle of art and expression. You may choose to lose yourself in music; let it surround you and purify your mind.
It could be that you’ll find meaning in service, volunteering with an animal shelter or giving your time to a soup kitchen. You might give your time to a grassroots political organization and phonebanking for a cause.
By finding the things that speak to your soul, you’ll connect with the parts of you that have been suffering the most from your burnout. You’ll be reminding yourself that you have meaning. You have purpose and value that exists outside of whether you’re single or dating. You’ll feel good because you’re doing good and finding the things that remind you that the world is an amazing, beautiful place.
That’s going to be important because the next part is often the hardest… but the most necessary.
Change Your Story
Part of what makes dating burnout so insidious is that it preys on your own beliefs. It’s easy to see yourself as being a loser, or that you’re powerless to do anything to fix things.
Breaking through burnout means that you have to change the story you tell yourself. And that’s not easy to do. When you’ve been feeling powerless for long enough, it’s very fucking difficult to remind yourself that you do have power. But taking little steps – even something as small as smiling at a stranger and getting a smile in return – can put a crack in that wall of helplessness.
Regaining that sense of control means focusing on the things you can control, instead of throwing your hands up in the air and declaring it all a wash. Part of that control – and changing your story – means finding direction. Start to make plans; what are you going to do, what concrete steps are you going to take that will get you closer to your goal?
And while you do this… you need to learn to look on the bright side. Of everything.
It’s almost a cliche, but it’s true: your attitude affects your life. An optimist has emotional resilience and strength a pessimist doesn’t. Because optimists believe in their own ability to change and make progress, they’re better able to bounce back from failure in ways pessimists can’t. To an optimist, life may suck at times, that suckiness is temporary; things will get better, even if you have to drag it back into the light, kicking and screaming. You may have not succeeded with one person, but there are millions of others out there who are just as amazing and who will be right for you.
Cultivating that new, more optimistic outlook will help strengthen your heart and soul against the grind. Times may still be hard… but you’ll know that you can make it through them. You’ll have the tools to push through that frustration, to break out of the grind.
You’ll recover from your dating burnout and come back stronger and happier than before.