Hi Dr. NerdLove,
I’m a 29 year old woman who is really struggling to get into a relationship. I have tried so many things, and I just don’t know where to go from here. I have a good job, a few great relatives, and some fantastic friends. I’m not unhappy, but I would really like a partner.
I have asked multiple people if they know any single guys, only to hear they don’t. You can only ask someone so many times if they know anyone single, before it becomes desperate. If they say they don’t know anyone, there’s nothing you can do with that.
I have gone to tons of Meetup events, but those don’t seem to ever have single guys around my age, and for the past year or so, Meetup has been dead due to COVID. Heck, I’ve tried all kinds of things in the past, from a running club, to indoor rock climbing, to volleyball. I’ve also done volunteer work for a local wildlife conservation group. I’m not sure why, but men in their 20s and 30s don’t seem to join these things. Either it’s a lot of women, or it’s men in their 50s and up.
Thankfully, things have started to open back up some, and I have joined a Dungeons and Dragons group, run by a couple. The couple is pretty introverted, and they have young kids, so they don’t know a lot of people. There are two other guys in the group. One is married, the other I am not attracted to. Please know that there is nothing wrong the guy I’m not attracted to, and he’s a great person, but I want to be with someone that I also like physically.
Everyone tells me to try online dating, and in fairness, I do know multiple people that have met their partner online. I have tried multiple dating sites/apps over the years, including Tinder, Bumble, Coffee Meets Bagel, Match.com, and, most recently, OkCupid.
Match.com was probably the worst site. I was on there for a year, and didn’t even go on one second date, which has not been the case on the other sites. It was a horrible experience that really lowered my self esteem. Not only was the site filled with bots, but when I would meet someone, a lot of the people I met were really rude. I can’t tell you how many people from Match could barely say hello, or make eye contact. One person had a chart of dates they had been on, which made me feel like I was part of some survey I’d never signed up for. Another person tried to take my picture without my consent, and was just genuinely creepy.
OkCupid has been the best site, in that the people I’ve met from there have mostly been polite, and fun to talk with, but aside from a few second dates, nothing goes anywhere. I was ghosted by someone who seemed like a great person, and I have no idea why. Online dating makes me feel really bad about myself in ways no other social event does. Like I have friends, and I can get along well with others, but online dating makes me feel like a reject. I often get the impression a lot of guys just use dating apps because they are bored, not because they want to genuinely meet someone. Maybe that’s not true for older guys, but I think it is for guys in their 20s.
The best option I think I have right now is a game shop I found last month, that just opened back up to holding in person game nights. The shop holds a weekly Dungeons and Dragons game for new players, and it’s been really fun, and tends to attract a variety of people. Heck, the store itself seems to have a lot of guys around my age, so I’m hopeful it might be a way to meet someone.
I have read multiple dating advice books, along with tons of articles, listened to podcasts, and watched videos. At this point, I just don’t know what to do anymore.
Thank you for reading this. I’ll leave you with my three questions:
1. Have your other readers had bad experiences with Match.com? I really can’t stress how horrible that site was, from the clunky layout, to the bots, to the downright rude people. Like I said, no other site was that bad.
2. Is there a way to succeed at online dating? Should I try more than one app? I’ve only been using OkCupid. Should I try POF, or Hinge? Is there an app geared towards serious guys who want a relationship? I just turned 29….would someone in their 30s be more mature/relationship minded?
3. Are there any places that you think would be good to meet guys? The game shop seems good so far. Any other ideas?
Any help is appreciated. Thank you!
Looking For Groups
So, I pulled your question for a reason, LFG — becuase I wanted to demonstrate how universal dating issues can be. One of the overwhelming myths that comes up over and over again is that women have all the power and advantages when it comes to dating. A lot of guys believe that women couldn’t possibly have any problems meeting men. In their minds, women can meet guys with the same ease as hailing a cab or rideshare: raise your hand or fire up the app and suddenly you’ve got dozens waiting for you.
In realty, as you’ve discovered, that’s not the case. Not only are women not just drowning in potential dates, but the offers they are getting are… usually not worth it. Just because you’re hungry doesn’t mean that you’re going to be grateful that people keep offering you stale and moldy sandwiches that they’ve pulled out of the dumpster. Even someone who’s looking for sex that night is going to take on anyone who offers; nobody wants to go home with someone who makes it clear that they only see her as a cleverly constructed Fleshlight.
In fact, guys, gals and non-binary pals across the gender and sexuality spectrum often have incredibly similar dating issues — so similar, in fact, that I could change half the pronouns and genders in your letter and it would apply just as equally as it does now.
Needless to say: having a sense of empathy and understanding to what other folks are going through helps immensely when it comes to finding your dream match, rather than reacting to the scenario you invented in your head.
And with that in mind, let’s get to your particular dilemma, LFG.
I don’t blame you for feeling overwhelmed, LFG. When you’re struggling with an issue — especially one that strikes as close to home as dating — it’s natural to want to do your research and get advice. The problem is that it’s really, really easy to overdo it and end up with a form of executive dysfunction, where you end up with so much information that your brain starts to vapor-lock. You absorb so many different options and opinions, many of which conflict with one another, that you don’t know how to process any of it or turn it into something actionable.
It can feel a little perverse, but having too many options can actually work against you. This is what’s know as the Paradox of Choice; when you have a large number of options, it gets much harder to decide on any one thing. Our brains only have so much bandwidth, and if you overload your capacity, you end up not being able to make a choice or actually do anything. In those cases, it’s best to start to narrow things down and simplify your choices. This is why it’s time to quit checking the blogs and books for suggestions and start in the boots-on-the-ground action instead.
The easiest way to start is to focus on the advice and activities that speak the most to you and who you are as a person. One of the things I highly recommend people do if they want to meet new friends and potential partners is to focus on their passions. What are the things that are most important to you? What activities or hobbies make you eager to get up and attack the day so you can spend time on them? What sorts of things feed your soul and make you glad to be alive? Picking two or three of those as your starting point makes it much easier to winnow out the groups, meetups and clubs that would be best for you.
Case in point: you’ve been getting into D&D and tabletop RPGs. This can be an excellent place to start, especially now that things are opening up where you are. The gaming store you mentioned that holds weekly games for newbies is a perfect place to meet up with likeminded folks who share your interests — giving you instant ice breakers and commonalities to help kickstart your friendship. If some of the other groups speak to you in a similar way, then I would recommend sticking with them. Otherwise, it can be useful to look for the intersection of your interests and groups with a larger proportion of men. A lot of guys, for example, tend to cluster to dance classes, especially Latin dancing… so many, in fact, that a lot of Latin dance classes and groups have a distinct gender imbalance weighted towards men. If you enjoy salsa or merengue, that would be a good place to invest your time in.
(Interestingly enough, hip-hop dance classes are often weighted the other direction…)
Now one thing that’s worth remembering is that when you go to these meetups or groups, the goal isn’t to meet your dream man. A lot of folks, especially guys, tend to attend events like these and get discouraged when they don’t see their perfect match as soon as they arrive. But the point isn’t to treat these events like a date ATM, it’s to broaden your social circle and build a network of folks you know. You may not meet the man of your dreams at the game store or the dance class… but you’ll make friends, build your network and increase the number of folks who you know. The more people you know and get close with, the more opportunities you have to meet their friends too… including people who potentially are your perfect match.
It’s worth noting that those guys who’re coupled up can be a valuable resource too; after all, we tend to have friends who are similar to us in look as well as in interests. If you’re meeting guys who would be awesome for you except for that pesky “already has a partner” thing, then it may be worth your time to befriend them anyway and see if they have friends who are worth getting to know. You don’t necessarily have to ask to get set-up, but encouraging them to invite friends to events you’re attending or that you might host can help you broaden your prospective dating pool.
Dating apps are also a useful tool for meeting people. However, my philosophy is that the apps should be used as a supplement to meeting people, not your primary method. When you put all of your focus on the apps, it’s all too easy to over invest in your success or lack-thereof. If you see OKCupid as your last, best chance for love, it’s really hard not to take every near miss or poor match personally. However, as I’m always saying: dating is a numbers game, especially when it comes to the dating apps. We’re wired for in-person communication, and there’re so many factors that dictate who we do or don’t find attractive that we can only perceive in person. As a result, you can meet folks on an app who seem perfect for you on paper but when you meet in person, they’re “enh” at best.
It’s also worth noting that the social dynamics of dating don’t end where Tinder begins. Part of what makes online dating so frustrating is how men and women use the apps differently. Because men are socialized to be the aggressors in dating, women often find themselves deluged in attention — especially on swipe-based apps, where it’s easy to make a split-second decision. This incentivizes women to be much more selective on who they match with. As a result, guys will often try to maximize their number of matches by swiping on as many people as possible, deciding who they’re actually interested in after they match. Women, on the other hand, are matching with guys they actually are interested… only to discover that their match was never into them in the first place.
As a result, women are matching in good faith with guys who only saw them as a number to boost their ego and get even more choosy and selective… or quit the apps entirely in frustration. The men, on the other hand, end up with fewer and fewer matches and try even harder to game the system to get into a diminishing pool of people who are getting sick of the whole thing. Wash, rinse, repeat and you’ve got a prime recipe for a system that annoys everyone and makes the entire things an exercise in wasted time.
It also doesn’t help when apps like Match will artificially boost their numbers with zombie or dead profiles that appear to still be active.
Now, as you’ve discovered, it’s also easy to get overwhelmed by choices when it comes to dating apps. What I tell folks is that you want to stick to a small number of dating apps, rather than using all of them. Every dating app has it’s own culture and target audience, so part of what helps is to choose the apps that are most closely aligned with what you are looking for. Tinder has never fully escaped its hook-up origins, and tends to be a little more superficial and oriented towards folks who’re prioritizing sex over dating. Hinge and Bumble, on the other hand, are more aimed at folks who are looking for a more traditional relationship — usually something long-ish term with an eye towards getting serious. Meanwhile, OKCupid is the 500 lb gorilla of the dating app scene, with a little something for everybody and all relationship types.
If you’re looking for something committed, then I would recommend either Hinge or Bumble in addition to OKC. Those would go much farther towards connecting you with the people looking for similar kinds of relationships as you. What I wouldn’t suggest is paying for more than one or two of them. Check the paid features for the apps you choose and decide if those seem like they’re worth the money, while staying on the free options for the others.
You should also treat online dating as something that you do when you’ve got some downtime, not something to put hours upon hours into it. After you’ve set up your profile, you want to treat this as a fire-and-forget exercise, not something to take incredibly seriously. If you’ve got some time while you’re waiting for your coffee at Starbucks or you’re on hold on a call, that’s a good time to do some quick swiping on Hinge and seeing what’s out there. If you match, send a quick question that encourages your match to reply and get a conversation started and then… let it go. Don’t sit there waiting for their reply like Gatsby watching the green lights across the bay. Your matches are gonna be on their own schedule. Let the app notify you when they’ve responded instead of checking obsessively.
As I said: you’re going to get false positives and guys you don’t vibe with or who don’t vibe with you. That, unfortunately, is just part of the experience. This is why it’s worth having what I call a pre-date date, where you meet briefly (20 minutes or so) to see if you actually click in person like you do online. This way, if you’re not a match in person, then you’re only out 20 minutes and the price of a cup of coffee or frozen yogurt. If, on the other hand, you two do get on, then you’re in a great position to either expand the date into something longer, or set up a proper date later on.
And of course, never forget that the whole point of being on the dating apps is to get off the apps as quickly as possible. The longer you spend messaging on the app, the greater the odds that you and they aren’t going to meet up. If you’re feeling safe meeting up with them, that’s a perfect time to suggest the pre-date date with that 20 minute time constraint.
It’s also worth remembering that it, unfortunately, you’re gonna get false positives and dudes messaging you who are demonstrably not looking for the same things you are. There’s really no way to craft your profile that’s going to ward off the fuckboys and time-wasters, so you’re going to have to factor this into how you use the apps. If they’re not looking for the same things as you, block and mute your way to happiness.
But more than anything else: you want to not take meeting people seriously until it’s time to get serious. If you treat every time you go out as a referendum on your attractiveness or how much people like you, you’re going to shred your soul and self-esteem. But if you go out with an eye towards having a good time, meeting cool people and maybe meeting someone you’d be into, you end up having a much better time. If you have fun when you go out, you’ll have better success over all… no matter how any one evening or afternoon goes.