Falling in love seems to be something that has become easier and easier to do these days with all the online dating options out there. There’s an overabundance of options for the younger generation to meet, hook up, and get those buzz-like feelings that often get mistaken as “love.” Too many options in the online dating world is leading to more problems than people realize.
For example, now there’s Tinder, Bumble, Match, Jdate, Zooks, E-harmony, Hinge… and hundreds of more avenues for connections. Often, I see clients struggle with simply having too many options. Some report being able to go online and waste hours and hours of their day connecting to others until they start to catch feelings with one particular interaction. Sound familiar?
Looking for Love
In the past, I’ve encouraged my clients to get online when they were ready to date. Usually, with older clients the dating pool is slim, or they’ve been “out of” the dating world for a while. Getting online is a way to get them to work through the stigma around online dating. Once I could change that belief system and get them online, they started to open up to new possibilities that these platforms create. It was used as a simple reminder that there’s always an opportunity for someone better.
But lately, I have been seeing the opposite problem arise, especially for the younger audience. There are just too many choices, and it’s too easy to discard someone because of their photo or one “okay” date. With so many ways for people to connect and be available, it has actually created a wave of unavailability. Nothing seems to stick with that fast and easy solution of swiping to the next girl or guy on the list. All we have done is created a pool of endless communication, only to find ourselves more disconnected in the end.
The Stages of a Relationship
The endless possibilities from online dating haven’t just created a sense of “too much of a good thing,” they’ve impacted the normal stages of a relationship. Meaning, most people never get past the first stage. You’ve likely heard of the stages of relationships as they’re spelled out by many. To keep it brief, I’ll sum it all up in three stages.
The “Honeymoon” Phase
The first stage is known as the honeymoon phase, or what I like to commonly refer to as the “dopamine phase.” Dopamine is a type of neurotransmitter in your brain. Don’t get bogged down by the technical jargon. All you need to know is dopamine plays a major role in how we feel pleasure and is also part of our uniquely human ability to think and plan.
This chemical is released in the brain during the honeymoon phase because we are thrilled by this new “love” we are feeling. In short, this phase is when we think we are in love at first sight. But, in reality, it has a lot to do with a chemical reaction (dopamine) in the brain.
We have our rose-colored glasses on, and we actually fall in love with the idea of our partner, not the reality of them. How could we love the reality when we don’t yet know it? We are only getting glimpses of their best attributes, without any of their flaws. We also tend to do the same and present our best selves to our partner, leaving out anything we might consider less than perfect.
The “Power Struggle” Phase
The second stage is very important, and it’s called the “power struggle phase” or the “conflict phase.” It’s important because it’s when our rose-colored glasses start to slide off and our buttons start getting pushed. We actually start to encounter problems with our partners during this stage.
Most people don’t know how important this stage is. They often want to jump ship when the going gets tough, when in reality, it’s just a normal shift in development. This is where online dating comes into play.
Combine the realization that your partner isn’t this perfect person you created them to be during the honeymoon phase with the endless options we have with online dating, and you’ve created the perfect recipe for serial dating.
The “Commitment” Phase
The third stage of a relationship is more of a committed one. It’s when you’ve made it through the conflict phase and have decided to work through the hard times with your partner. This is when love sets in. However, the ability to jump ship when things get hard and the endless options online prevent people from ever really getting to this stage.
This stage is found when you’re able to accept your partner’s imperfections and work through hard times with each other. This all pays off in the form of commitment, awareness, understanding, and trust. All of these attributes you cultivate with your partner during this stage allow for deeper levels of love to develop.
The Love-Seeking Epidemic
I wish I could say I have experienced this serial dating phenomenon with just one client, but the truth is, I’ve seen it in many cases, and it’s developing into a love-seeking epidemic.
For example, take my client Lauren. She is pretty and smart and is just starting out in her career, while also longing to find Mr. Right. She complains she hasn’t been able to find the right guy, and yet comes into my office almost twice every week, claiming she has found him and has fallen in love. Once the relationship starts to hit intimacy and reality sets in, she quickly goes back online.
This is a pattern I have pointed out to her. She openly admits that she keeps searching when it doesn’t feel right. She gets back on her dating sites even before the relationship is broken off and starts the search all over again. I hold up the mirror to her and remind her that she is leaving possibilities behind because of her inability to sit in something that’s uncomfortable and work through conflict. She is actually more excited about the process of early dating than fostering a deeper, more meaningful connection. This is the love-seeking epidemic, and it’s really just serial dating.
Press the Pause Button
Lauren isn’t the only client I’ve seen this happen to. These apps, which I once thought of as tools to help people connect, have actually turned into tools to help people avoid. If you’re guilty of this behavior, there is a simple solution.
Don’t give up so early.
Ride out the wave with your new partner a little longer, and collect more information. Also, don’t jump back online right away, even if you do discover that the partner isn’t the right match. After one doesn’t work out, try sitting back and really start looking at the “why” before you go into searching mode again. Press the pause button.
Remember, the question isn’t whether or not your relationship will have issues; all relationships will have issues. The question you should ask yourself, especially when the dopamine wears off and you’re in the midst of the “power struggle phase,” is: Are these issues solvable? And if so, am I willing to do the work to solve them with my partner?
Our brain becomes hardwired by the constant swiping and the initial flirtatious messages. It can feel extremely good and release a lot of feel-good chemicals in your brain. But, beware… that is not love, and that will not lead you to love. Love is much deeper than our early interactions. Love comes after we have seen the good and the bad, and we reach a level of communication that fosters growth and change.
For all of those reading this who just love swiping left, stop. Take a breath and reevaluate what part of you is being fed by online dating. Start engaging mindfully and give someone a chance before you opt for the next photoshopped profile picture.
Jessica Baum is a licensed and experienced relationship therapist in Palm Beach County, specializing in codependency and love addiction. To learn more about love addiction or to book an appointment, please feel free to call her at 1-800-274-8106.