December is a particularly difficult month to be single.
It is a season of sensual, sensory overload: matching pajama sets, clinking mugs at the Christkindl Market, Starbucks peppermint mocha, and familial inquiries, “anyone special in your life this year?”
If you are noticing within yourself a desire for physical touch, connection, and/or companionship, you are not alone. Dating Sunday, the busiest online dating day of the year, is nearly upon us.
There’s a particular communal shame attached to online dating that is both verbalized and internalized, typically an abashed response of, “I’m not meeting people at the bar, work, through mutual friends, so I downloaded Tinder.”
It’s almost like the old-fashioned dating rules seeped in purity culture, the patriarchy, and white supremacy are limiting and shame-inducing! When we reconceptualize the opportunities dating apps provide to meet the basic needs of connection and intimacy, we can normalize our desires, and maybe even take a breath or two.
I have created a list of “cope-ahead” skills to stay true to our sense of self as we seek out partner(s).
1. Take a temperature check.
Assess your current emotional capacity. If you end up going on a date, do you have the tools necessary to cope with the reality that your potential match could ghost you? Chat with your social supports about whether or not you have protective factors in place to manage rejection and upset.
2. Be strategic about your choice of dating app.
It is no secret that each app has a particular reputation. Gathering data, from past experience, your social circle, or a Google search or two, may provide you with the information you need to navigate which platform is best for what you are seeking (a one-time hookup, a casual relationship, exclusivity, etc).
3. Know your attachment style.
Attachment styles (secure, anxious-ambivalent, avoidant, disorganized) are not fixed, but they vary according to context and relationship. You are not doomed if your attachment style is not secure. If anything, you are likely in good company! Attachment styles typically speak to how you navigate emotional connections with others. In the context of dating, it is helpful to know, based on past lived experiences, how you respond when you feel safe and supported in a relationship, and how you respond when you don’t. Your attachment style can inform the initial conversations you have with a partner(s) as you establish boundaries.
If any of this tickles your fancy, here is a quiz for further exploration: Compatibility Quiz | Attached the Book
4. Ask yourself what you are looking for.
“I am looking for something casual” is a phrase thrown around often on dating apps. You are allowed to ask follow-up questions, and I encourage you to do so! Is the other person(s) willing to take the relationship to the next step if the relationship starts moving that way? Cope-ahead planning centers your expectations; you know yourself best. If you can predict that you will need a greater emotional connection than a casual relationship can provide, keep swiping.
5. Have fun, be patient, and trust yourself.
As always, consent is constant and enthusiastic, and developing a connection that feels safe and fulfilling is a process. Practice self-compassion by recognizing the risk you are taking in putting yourself out there. I see you. Dating is hard.
Lastly, externalization is your friend. If you have an unsatisfactory date, practice separating the interaction from your view of yourself. Be nice to yourself! People ghost for all sorts of reasons, like being too busy with work. Cope ahead, stay safe, be free from unhelpful cognitions (even temporarily), and allow yourself to experience something new.