It’s something of a truism that dating can be exhausting. A lot of times, you spend weeks, months, even years feeling like you’re beating your head into a brick wall. And to make matters worse, for a lot of people, it can feel like they’re stuck in the same routine. They want different results, but it may well feel like they can’t stop doing the same thing over and over again.
This often leads to frustration, burnout, even anger. This, in turn, creates a self-reinforcing cycle; the frustration and burnout color your attitude and your interactions with others, you don’t put as much effort in and your results continue to suck. It can be maddening.
But this is why sometimes the best thing you can do to get better at dating… is to do nothing.
Dating can be rough, especially now as more and more people are getting vaccinated and coming out of lockdown. It’s even easier to be discouraged because of the pandemic. It often feels like you need to make up for lost time — a year and change that was stolen from you that you can never get back. This ends up creating a self-imposed sense of urgency that just feeds into that cycle of frustration. It’s a Red Queen’s Race, running as fast as you can and putting in all this effort just to stay in place.
What you need is a reset; an opportunity to create a state-break that wipes the slate clean and lets you start over fresh. And now is the perfect time to break out of the cycle and reset your love life… by stepping away from dating entirely.
Here’s how you can create a break in your dating struggles and make the changes that let you reboot your entire dating outlook.
The Value of Hitting Reset
The first step in resetting your love life is often the hardest, because it goes against everything that feels intuitively obvious. After all: you just lost a year to COVID; not only did you not have a chance to grow, you may well feel like you’ve backslid while you were isolating for safety. Why in pluperfect fuckery would you want to take even more time off?
Well, as the saying goes, if it hurts when you do this, then the first step is “stop doing that”. Now, I get it; it feels like stopping is an invitation to lose progress, rather than pressing pause. Just as importantly, when you’ve put in this much time beating your head into the wall, you have psychological motivation to keep doing it. If you stop, then wouldn’t that mean that you’ve been putting all this effort in for nothing?
But this makes next to no sense, when you stop and think about it; when you’ve been doing the same things over and over and nothing has changed… why do you keep following the same patterns and routines? When X days of effort haven’t produced results, why will X+1 days change things? This is a cognitive bias known as the Sunk Cost Fallacy — you have put so much time and effort into this endeavor that you feel obligated to try to at least recoup the costs. Stopping now would mean admitting that that time and effort was wasted. That’s incredibly difficult to face.
That sense of having lost time during the pandemic is an example of the sunk-cost fallacy in effect. You didn’t choose to take time off, you had it thrust upon you. This feels like it was time stolen from you and leaving you further behind. But not only is that not true, the key to fixing your dating life is to create a definitive break between what you were doing up until now and your new approach.
You can’t do that without abandoning your old approach. But by choosing to take a break, you’re creating the opportunity for a fresh start. A break that — importantly — you’ve chosen for yourself, instead having had it thrust upon you.
So what makes this different than being forced into isolation? Well, it’s simple: you’re taking advantage of what’s known as “The Fresh Start Effect”. This is a psychological quirk where temporal landmarks motivate people to work harder to achieve their goals than arbitrary dates. This is why New Year’s Eve, birthdays and anniversaries are popular days for starting some self-improvement regimine. It turns out that the “New year/new me” meme has a basis in science; studies have found that people who start a project or chase a goal on a date with significance are more likely to achieve those goals and have better results than people who just choose a day with no meaning.
This is why choosing a date with significance — even if it’s just “the first day of the month” — as a starting point can be important; it’s like adding a buff to your chances of success and to your overall progress. Why wouldn’t you take a + 2 bonus to results if it meant starting on the first day of summer instead of June 5th?
Days like “two weeks after getting my second vaccine shot” or “the first Monday I can leave lockdown” make excellent temporal landmarks. The emotional significance of hope and relief from getting the vaccine, the sense of freedom of being able to return to some semblance of normalcy… these not only leverage the Fresh Start Effect, but have the added bonus of serving as a direct contrast to the despair and trauma of living under the shadow of COVID for more than a year.
But choosing now — when more and more people are getting vaccinated — for your break and reset means that you’re choosing to take a break when you don’t have the additional stress and anxiety of a global pandemic. Living under the existential threat of a virulent plague and the chaos of trying to adapt to new restrictions meant that everyone was working at reduced capacity. Nobody, even people who were lucky enough to be secure financially or socially, had an easy time of it. Everyone was working with restricted emotional bandwidth as most of our attention was focused on getting through as best we could.
Choosing to mark the pivot point — whether it’s getting vaccinated or leaving your house for the first time — allows for a period of growth after a traumatic experience. Rather than mourning lost time, you’re choosing to come out of this stronger. You’re taking chaos and giving it shape and meaning, turning it from disorder to purpose. Choosing now as your time to take a step back from dating encourages you to forgive yourself for any lack of growth or progress while you were under quarantine. You are giving yourself permission to let go of the past. You are taking active control after a year of helplessness and proving that this time wasn’t wasted after all.
That outlook is vital, because it’s part of what will fuel your progress. Taking a deliberate step back from dating is what allows you to create the state break and return your settings to zero.
Rather than focusing your energy on meeting women or making up for lost time, you’re going to focus your time and energy cultivating your most important relationship… the one with yourself.
And the first step to that? Well…
Recharge Your Social Batteries
As many people have been discovering as they venture back into the world: you need to ease back into being social. While getting your vaccines may well make you feel like a child waiting for the bell to ring the start of summer vacation, just about all of us weathered the pandemic in some form of isolation.
Whether you had a quarantine pod or you became a full-fledged hermit, that takes time to recover from. In fact, many people are having a hard time readjusting to being free to go out among people again… and an even harder time being social. Even extroverts — who started to behave like border collies without a job one month into the lockdown — are finding that being out and about is draining.
Part of this is the result of a year of trauma. When even the most basic participation in society was a literal matter of life and death, it’s understandable that it takes time to unlearn the flinch response of being around people again. Another part is the simple matter of relearning how to people. Even folks holed up with their families went a little feral, while those who were on their own had to find their own way of coping.
However, another side-effect of isolation and enforced distancing from other people is that our social batteries have been reduced. When you don’t use a battery, it loses charge and capacity; it quits being able to hold as much of a charge as it did before and expends its power faster under normal use. You need to drain and and perform a reset to clear the “memory” in order to allow it to get a full charge.
This (awkward) metaphor applies to being social, regardless of whether you’re an introvert or extrovert. Restricting your social interactions as to the bare minimum lowers your social battery capacity over time. An enforced extended separation from friends and loved ones will likewise reduce your social capacity… at first. You’ve gotten used to being alone and avoiding people, and changing those patterns takes effort.
But whether you’re ready to give your love life a reset in the immediate wake of the pandemic or later down the line, you want to recharge your social battery and rebuild your network. The best way to do this is to turn your focus away from dating and put it towards reconnecting with others. You want to reestablish your connections with friends and loved ones. All of our social ties were strained by the lockdown, and even Zoom happy hours and group chats weren’t a complete replacement for face-to-face interactions. Before worrying about dating, it’s important to strengthen those ties that were weakened by necessity.
Even under the best of circumstances, having a strong social network is important. Men in particular are prone to emotional isolation and chronic loneliness; we have a tendency to rely on romantic partners for our emotional needs. By taking time away from dating and focusing on friendships, you’re building a support network that can carry you through the hardest times. Building stronger and more intimate platonic friendships makes you emotionally resilient and less reliant on validation from strangers. It helps you feel connected and wanted, rather than isolated and shunned. Reconnecting with friends helps you recharge your soul and reminds you of how good life can be if you let it.
Just as importantly, by reconnecting with friends, you’re able to take smaller steps towards socializing and reacclimating to being around people again. You’re able to be out and about and interacting with folks, but with far lower stakes. It’s easier to relax and enjoy yourself when you don’t feel the pressure to “perform” or an attachment to the outcome. You’re able to have fun and let the stress of the past year fall away, while also feeling like you’re making progress towards cultivating your social skills.
By spending time with friends and family, you let yourself feel loved and supported. You create a soft space after all that trauma, one that gives you space to grow and change. Not only does it help you get ready to get back out there, but it also helps you feel like you have more going on in your life than long walks between the living room and the kitchen.
But while we’re readjusting to rejoining society again…
Feed Your Soul
Speaking of recharging your batteries, one of the best things you can do for yourself when you want to reboot your love life is to reengage with the things that give your life meaning. It’s important to have things in your life that speak to your soul and make you glad to be alive. These often fell by the wayside as the pandemic went on. Sure, everyone started the pandemic brimming with shiny optimism, enthusiasm and a can-do spirit. People were baking bread, sewing masks, organizing bear “safaris” for neighborhood children and virtual get-togethers for everyone else. For a brief moment, it felt like the world was coming together to embrace the spirit of community and the sense that We Are All In This Together.
That… fell apart within six months. Between the stress of the election, masking and COVID precautions being turned into the latest salvo in the culture wars, trying to manage child care and education while also working from home… we all devolved into semi-feral goblins by September. We were all in conditions that made it virtually impossible to thrive. Most of our energy was spent focused on survival, with keeping our sanity a distant second.
No matter how strong willed you are or resilient you may be, everyone went through trauma in 2020; many are still going through it. Getting over that trauma takes time and effort. One of the most important things you can do for yourself is to be a little selfish and take the time to rest and rejuvenate yourself and remember why life is worth living. You need to take some “me” time and do things just because you enjoy them and missed doing them during the lockdown… without the self-imposed requirement that these make you more dateable or some form of self-improvement.
By removing the pressure to show off how much you thrived during lockdown (you didn’t; nobody did) or the performative “look at all I achieved” bullshit, you’re giving yourself space to just be, in a way that nobody could during the lockdown. It’s an opportunity to let out that breath you’ve been holding all this time, to let your muscles unclench and allow the fear, anxiety and tension to just drain away. You’re giving yourself permission to take a moment for yourself, without the self-imposed pressure to “make up for lost time.”
This is vital for resetting your life. By taking that time for yourself after the nightmare of life under COVID, you’re not being lazy or self-indulgent. You’re practicing some much needed self-care. You are healing. You’re recharging. You’re creating the space that you need that will give you the will and the capacity to start dating again… eventually. But not just yet.
This is the time to reconnect with neglected passions. It’s the time to do the things you couldn’t do while under lockdown, whether that’s a visit to a museum, traveling to see your family, or just sitting in a cafe with a coffee and watching the world go by. It’s time to savor doing nothing by choice, if that’s what you want, or going out and venting a little pent-up frustration. This is your opportunity to do indulge in things you never thought of as luxuries before — hair cuts, lunch that wasn’t delivered, even just going to the grocery store without having to plan it like a military exercise.
You are giving yourself permission to take a break. It’s a chance to pause and recoup. You aren’t just recharging your batteries, you’re reminding yourself what it’s like to feel joy and comfort and satisfaction. You’re savoring the quiet of an anxiety finally fading. And most importantly, you’re giving yourself the chance to change how you interact with the world and your own goals. By deliberately taking this pause, you are choosing to break with the sense that you’re on a deadline or that you’ve lost time that you will never get back. Because the truth is that there is no deadline. There is no point of no return where it’s just too late for you. There’s no window of opportunity that, once closed, is closed forever. There is only your time… and you’ll lose more by burning yourself out than if you ease off the throttle for a while.
Figure Out What’s Really Important In Your Life
If there is any silver lining to the dark clouds of traumatic events or cataclysmic changes, it’s that they bring your life into sharp focus. It’s often only in the aftermath of significant or profound events in our lives that we realize that what we thought was important… really wasn’t. In fact, it’s kind of amazing how often our choices and routines are born out of habit or familiarity, rather than genuine interest.
The benefit of taking a break from dating is that it gives you time to actually evaluate your life and question whether your priorities are actually serving your needs. All too often, what we want isn’t what we need, or even what we want. More often than not, they’re just what we’re used to. They’re things that we’ve accepted because we’ve stumbled into them or they’re just what we’ve known up until now.
It almost feels like a cliche to decide to make drastic changes after some major event, but the fact of the matter is that it’s difficult to get the space and perspective you need while you’re in the middle of it all. A state-break — like the ones that come after, say, surviving a global pandemic — give us an opportunity to step back, take stock and really interrogate just what it is we want out of life. How much of your life has been a matter of choosing the path of least resistance versus what you actually want? How many opportunities have you passed up on because you didn’t think they were right for you, even though you wanted to take that chance? This is the time to see how your choices have led you to where you are now and give you the opportunity to do things differently.
By taking a step back from dating, you’re giving yourself the distance and perspective to take a close look at your life. This is your chance to look at your goals, your routines, even your hobbies and habits and determine which ones serve your needs and which ones don’t. By giving yourself space to breathe, you’re able to see how much of your life has been lived on autopilot. It’s important to be rigorously honest with yourself; are you chasing these goals or running these patterns because they help you and make your life better? Or are you sticking with them simply because they’re what you know?
Notice very carefully that I said rigorously honest, not brutally so. Brutality and judgement doesn’t serve you here; there’s no profit in shaming yourself or belittling yourself for your choices. You can’t shame yourself into a better life. This process is about acceptance and understanding, not judgement. You made the best choices you could under the circumstances with the information that you’ve had. There is no profit to beating yourself up about them, nor is there a point. They’ve all brought you to this point, where you’re ready and able to make different choices. Instead of focusing on the past, you’re focusing on your future.
The benefit of examining your priorities and taking stock is that you’re putting yourself in the position of being able to take an active role in your life, to shape it consciously instead of reacting to the actions and choices of others. It may also bring you clarity on aspects of your life and help you realize how many ruts you’ve been stuck in without realizing it. It’s even a chance to resolve issues you may never have been aware of before now — issues that may bring more of your life into sharper focus.
You may realize that your job isn’t leading you to your goals or that your current career isn’t worth the drawbacks. Maybe you’ll realize how, before the lockdown, you just went to the same five places over and over again or did the same things every week. You might discover that the relationships you pursue are more about convenience or self-limiting beliefs than about what you actually want. Or you may learn that your needs have changed, but you haven’t changed to accomodate and meet them.
Now to be clear: this isn’t always an easy process. More often than not, you’re having to confront how much you’ve contorted yourself to avoid discomfort or to make yourself smaller for somebody else’s convenience. You’ll come face to face with the times you’ve internalized other people’s vision of who you are for so long that you barely remember who you were before. You may even realize how much potential you have and how much you’ve cut yourself off from it.
But the fact that it can be difficult is part of why this is important. After all, until you’ve reckoned with your choices, you can’t make different ones. If you don’t see how your needs have changed, you aren’t able to fulfill them. And if you’re stuck in patterns that don’t work for you or — worse — actively hold you back, you can’t break them until you can recognize them in the first place.
It’s through taking stock that you’re able to wipe the slate clean. It’s by reconnecting with your authentic self that you’re able to hit reset and take that next step.
And speaking of…
Embrace The Fresh Start
Realizing that your priorities have changed is really only the start. Once you see what you need to change, you need to do something about it… and soon. State breaks may give you a chance for a reset, but you have to actively shape and direct how things move forward. Otherwise you run the risk of falling back into the same status quo that wasn’t serving you in the first place. Worse, you may end up falling into a different unhelpful routine without realizing it. Convenience and complacency are your enemy here. It’s the call to take the easy, less challenging path… even when that path does nothing to fix or improve your life.
This break is your chance to put your hands back on the steering wheel of your life. This is your time to allow yourself to do things differently — only this time with the benefit of hindsight and self-awareness. Before this moment, your life has been reactive; taking this break has given you the opportunity to be proactive. And that opportunity comes with obligations and responsibilities.
The first — and biggest — obligation is to give yourself permission to act out of character. This is your time to start doing the things that “you” would never do. It’s the chance to step outside of the narrow definition of self that you’ve been constrained by. You have the duty to try the things that have always interested you but you could never dare to attempt. Hell, this is the time to indulge your curiosity and try things simply because they’re different.
It may be a cliche, but it’s true: if you want different results, you need to do different things. Continuing to follow your old patterns will just get you the same life you’ve been living before. You know, the one you were already dissatisfied by. Now you have more knowledge and more information, so what will you do with it? What do you want to change, and how will you go about making those changes? How will you schedule and structure your time in order to make these changes happen? Don’t forget that you will need to account for the opportunity cost. You only have so many hours in the day; you’ll need to give up time for old interests or habits in order to make room for the new ones.
Just as importantly: how will you maintain and reinforce those changes? This isn’t an idle question; part of the reason why New Year’s resolutions fail is because people don’t make sure to maintain their progress. They go full-tilt boogie at first, but as they lose steam, they start to let things slip. Resetting your dating life means building new habits through repetition, until they go from being the thing you consciously do to the mental equivalent of muscle memory. Practicing mindfulness can be key. Consciously choosing the new behavior — and owning that it’s a conscious choice — is a start. Similarly, being aware of why you may be losing interest or getting frustrated gives you the chance to actually address those problems and maintain your new life. You need to commit to living deliberately, instead of coasting through on autopilot and letting chance determine your new patterns.
It’s vital that you take concrete steps if you want to change, and incorporate those changes into your life as soon as you realize you want them. Waiting and “researching” are forms of stasis. They’re false progress; they let you feel like you’re moving forward without actually doing anything. The longer you wait to incorporate those new changes into your life, the less likely they are to stick… or for you to even start them in the first place. If you don’t act decisively and quickly on these changes, you run the risk of falling into patterns you never intended and had no conscious hand in shaping. That behavior is precisely what led to being dissatisfied in the first place. It does you no good to embrace a fresh start and try to reboot your dating life if you don’t actually take advantage of the opportunity you’re giving yourself.
But here’s the most important thing: taking this fresh start is your permission to forgive yourself for your past choices and mistakes. That was your pre-pandemic, pre-reboot self, not who you are now. You’ve learned from who you used to be, you’ve grown past it, and now you’re a different person. This is your chance to forgive yourself for who you were before and — critically — leave them in the past. They’re there for you to learn from, not to serve as a hammer to hit yourself in the nuts.
These don’t need to be massive steps right off the bat. Small steps can be less intimidating and easier to maintain, and they lead to larger changes over time. But you need to be taking these steps and looking to the future, rather than dwelling on the past.
Taking a break, especially coming out of the pandemic, gives you the chance to rest, recoup and re-prioritize in ways that actually benefit you. Initiating a reboot of your life is your chance to let go of old goals, old anxieties and to release yourself from self-imposed pressures and demands… like, say, “lost time.” You aren’t missing opportunities, nor is some mythical window closing. You are making your own opportunities and prioritizing yourself in a way you hadn’t before.
Because when you are ready to get back out there, you’ll be coming to the dating world with more confidence, a clearer vision of the future and the benefit of all that you’ve learned about yourself.
And you’ll be ready to tackle your love life on your terms.