You know you’ve been out of the dating loop for a while when you hear your friends say “swipe right” or “swipe left,” and you assume they’re talking about their credit card transactions.
No, it turns out they’re not splurging on expensive new shoes or a stress-relieving massage. This time, they’re talking about navigating the newest dating apps, where you can show interest in a potential match (swipe right) or respond hell, no (swipe left).
MODERN DATING IS DIFFICULT
DO I SWIPE RIGHT
DO I SWIPE LEFT
OR DO I JUST RETURN TO THE WOODS WHERE LIFE HAS ALWAYS MADE SENSE
— NOT A WOLF (@SICKOFWOLVES) June 16, 2016
I have friends who are in wildly different stages of the relationship game – some are just now getting serious about seeking a life partner; some are still looking for sensual, sexy fun; and some have re-entered the dating world after recovering from a messy divorce.
As for me, I belong to a smaller, special category that no one ever hopes to join: a group for the gloomy and grief-stricken, of women who have just lost their partner to devastating disease or tragedy. Last month, I helped plan the funeral for my boyfriend who had succumbed to his brutal cancer, and the pain is too raw for me to even begin to think about dating again.
But my current lack of interest in the dating game puts me in the unique position of being a sounding board, a shoulder for my friends to vent to about their swipes gone wrong. From an observer’s perspective, modern dating seems exhausting and even downright demoralizing; with an abundance of apps out there for every type, turn-on, and fetish, the opportunities for rejection are equally vast.
As the self-help gurus will tell you time and time again, we should reframe this repeated rejection as the chance for redirection. The problem arises when, instead, we let rejection spiral into negative thoughts and self-loathing.
Sound familiar? If so, you’re not the rare cynic; you’re actually in good company. According to an oft-cited statistic by the National Science Foundation, the average person has 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day, and 80 percent of those thoughts are negative. As human beings, we’re also very prone to the negativity bias, which means we pay greater attention to – and dwell on more deeply – our negative experiences compared to our positive ones.
Negativity Bias is a powerful force holding people back from sharing their light with the world.
I might get 99 positive responses to this thread, but the 1 negative response is all I’ll think about.
My advice: focus on the base rates and share your light.
— Sahil Bloom (@SahilBloom) March 6, 2022
The dating world, it turns out, is a breeding ground for maladaptive thoughts and self-limiting beliefs. You probably recognize some of these: I’m not attractive enough. I’m not accomplished enough. I’m such a failure. What if I never find love? These are all conclusions I’ve heard my friends draw after one bad date or even a sour text exchange on Tinder.
How To Reframe Negative Thoughts
So how can we reframe these negative thoughts and navigate the dating world, without totally destroying our fragile self-esteem? While engaging in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with a licensed therapist is probably the most effective solution, many of us struggle to fit another weekly meeting into our already hectic schedules – especially when dating feels like a full-time job in itself.
The good news, though, is that we can incorporate CBT strategies into our busy lifestyles by practicing reframing exercises on our own. While shifting our entire self-perspective may seem like a daunting task at first, committing to a few techniques on a regular basis can help us approach dating and new relationships feeling happier, healthier, and whole.
If the negative spiral during the dating game resonates with you, don’t worry; we’ve got your back. Here, we compiled the most helpful tips from a panel of mental health professionals to spin potential rejection into positive redirection:
1. First, Heal Thyself
“I always tell my clients, before you start dating again, it’s important that you self-reflect, and ask yourself what lessons need to be learned from the previous situation,” explains Keressee Thompson, L.C.S.W., a licensed clinical social worker and host of the Diary Of An Empath Podcast. “When you can self-reflect, look at the situation objectively, and take the time to heal, it is much easier to get very clear on what it is that you want moving forward and in a partner.”
“It’s very important that you heal the parts of you that need to be healed before you date,” Thompson reiterates. “It’s equally important to trust your intuition and not ignore red flags. If you enter the dating world and you have not done the work or self-reflection or healing, it’s quite hard to not take unhealed wounds with you.”
2. Be Your Own Hype Girl
“One thing to do before reentering the dating scene is to hype yourself up,” advises Samantha Newton, L.C.S.W., a licensed clinical social worker from North Carolina. “Confidence is attractive and it will help decrease our anxiety about putting yourself out there again.”
“Use positive self-talk,” Newton says. “If you find it difficult to do that, then think about what you would tell a friend and apply that to yourself. We’re almost always nicer to our friends than to ourselves.”
3. Evaluate The Evidence
“One great way to challenge negative thoughts and self-talk is to act like the thought is on trial,” recommends Newton. “Is there evidence this thought is accurate? If the negative thought you’re having were to be presented in a court of law, would it be something the jury buys into or is it not factually based?”
“Anxious thoughts are often irrational, even if they cause emotional and physical reactions, and you have to force your brain to look at the facts in order to challenge those negative thoughts,” Newton explains. “If there is truth in the feelings and/or fears you’re having, then you can focus on how to move forward.”
4. Look At The Smaller Picture
“Another tip is to focus on the short-term goal versus the long-term goal,” says Newton. “People can put so much effort into what each date will lead to: Will I find the one? Can I have a relationship again? Am I wasting my time?”
“It’s best to go into the dating scene with an open mind and focusing on each date as a singular thing,” Newton recommends. “Maybe the practice you get from tonight’s date will help you build your confidence and conversational skills for future dates. Each person you interact with helps you learn more about yourself, even if the clarity you gain is what you do not want in a partner. If you focus on any negatives of the date, you will psych yourself out before it’s even happened.”
5. View Pain As Information
“With dating usually comes some hurt and disappointment. While painful, these experiences have a silver lining: They give you highly useful information about yourself and your desires, that will ultimately get you closer to what you want,” notes Talia Litman, M.F.T., a marriage and family therapist from New York.
“For example, if you are devastated after someone wants to stop dating you, examine what was so appealing about that person and the dynamic. This information helps clarify what you do and don’t want in a partner, to inform future discernment and decision making,” Litman explains. “For example, you might identify that it’s important to find someone else you can similarly be yourself around, and next time you want to find someone who also wants a family like you do.”
6. Change The Narrative
“Creating a new narrative that reflects the way you’d like to show up in the dating space is very important,” stressed Shauna Pollard, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist from Maryland. “Get clear on what you want for yourself and work on writing out thoughts that reflect a healthy dating life.”
“It takes time – and practice – to change negative thoughts, but a good rule of thumb for newbies is to come up with thoughts that are five percent more positive than your old one,” Dr. Pollard explains. “Find the negative kernel of truth and balance it out with something a little more positive. If you need help, reach out to a friend or therapist who can help you pay attention to your good qualities and strengths.”
7. Practice Grace And Gratitude
“Dating can be an exhilarating, exhausting, painful, and magical experience,” notes Jennifer Chain, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist from Seattle. “Take some time each day to send grace and gratitude to yourself.”
“At the end of each day, make it a practice to identify one thing that you did well and one thing that you will forgive yourself for,” Dr. Chain advises. “Tell yourself that you are proud of yourself for the efforts you are making to create the future that you want. Tell yourself that you do hard things. Send gratitude for your own courage and resilience.”
8. Celebrate Your Wins
“Sometimes you can be so focused on the outcome of finding a partner that you do not acknowledge the little wins you make along the journey,” points out Dr. Chain. “Take time to recognize and celebrate each small step you are taking towards your goal to keep your momentum going.”
For instance, “make it a big deal that you created a dating profile, sent a message to someone you are interested in, went on a fun date, and connected with another human being,” she recommends.
The Bottom Line
Whatever stage of life you’re in, the dating game can be rough and ruthless – and there’s no guarantee that swiping right will lead to romantic love. But when you finally take time to swipe right on yourself, you’re committing to the relationship that’s most crucial to your health and happiness.
Are you currently navigating the dating game? What strategies have helped you keep a positive mindset? Let us know in the comments!
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