12 Strategies for Swiping with Relational Self-Awareness

This article is based on the Reimagining Love podcast episode “12 Strategies for Swiping with Relational Self-Awareness.” To listen to this episode, click here.

Welcome to Part 2 of our early dating series.

The last article was titled, “Why You’re Frustrated with Dating Apps.” It was a blog post designed to give you some context and information and validation about this tricky world of modern dating. Last time was about the why. This time is about the how. If you’re going to use an app, I want you to feel really empowered, like you are choosing to use this tool. So let’s talk about what that looks like. It can be helpful to think of it as a meeting app not a dating app. Something that you use as a means to an end. I am going to talk through 12 practices to protect your mental health on dating apps. These are my favorite Relational Self-Awareness informed dating app strategies. These are a blend of suggestions derived from my research and clinical work, as well as suggestions from my Instagram community in response to a sticker I posted there a while back.

1. Don’t forget IRL.

Dating apps and meeting through family and friends are the two most common pathways to partnership. Dating apps are slightly more common for LGBTQ+ people and meeting through family and friends is slightly more common for straight people. Dating apps can serve as a both/and. Use a dating app and continue to put yourself out there. So how can you continue to meet people in real life?

Friends setting you up remains a really common way to meet a potential partner. There is vulnerability in asking friends to set you up, but know that it feels good to be a helper/matchmaker. And of course you can set your friends up so they return the favor. Here are some other ways you might meet people in real life:

  • Friends of friends at group gatherings. This is an opportunity to see an acquaintance in a new light!
  • Meetups (specifically meetups for singles)
  • Sports clubs (like running, biking, soccer, triathlons, etc.)
  • Gyms and yoga studios.
  • Network events for your industry.
  • Alumni events from your college or high school.

When deciding whether or not to attend an event with the intention of meeting new people, there are a few factors to consider. Logan Ury has an event decision matrix in which she encourages you to think about how likely are you to interact with other people and how likely are you to enjoy the event. When you attend an event IRL, go alone! Really focus on self-savoring the event and tuning into your own thoughts, feelings, and reactions. Keep your phone put away, and be intentional about your presence. Bust up the gender script!! This is especially important in cisgender heterosexual relationships. If you are a single, cishet woman attending an event, don’t feel the need to “wait for him” to make the first move. If you’re interested, dive in!Flex your small talk muscles everywhere! Compliment the baristas tattoos, tell the person next you in line that you love their shoes. This isn’t even flirting or intended as a pick up. It’s just you reminding yourself that you are interesting and interested in the world around you. And it’s good for you! Research from the University of Chicago about 10 years ago asked Chicago commuters whether they’d like to sit quietly or interact. They mostly said sit silently. Randomly assigned them to sit quietly as normal or strike up a conversation with the person next to them. The people who were randomly assigned to talk with the person next to them reported a more positive experience! Small talk is a low lift, low effort, low stakes engagement keeps feeling connected to yourself and the world around you and reminds you that you are not wholly dependent on your phone for contact or to mediate your relationships.

2. Get clear on your WHY.

Why are you on the app? According to a Pew survey, 44% of dating app users say they’re on the apps to meet a long-term partner. 40% of users say they’re looking to date casually. So, no matter your intentions, you are not alone. To be honest, I have always found it a bit strange that people ask each other on the first date, “What are you looking for?” And that’s because, in part, dating is about tolerating mystery, being willing to be surprised. Maybe you thought you were just looking for something casual, but then your connection with someone feels so good that you can’t help but begin to imagine something more serious with that person. Sometimes I think people say they are looking for something casual from a place of protection. Protection perhaps from the other person, because then they keep their expectations of you low. Protection perhaps of yourself because then if you lose interest, you can fall back on the defense, “Well I told you I was just looking for something casual.” Protection of yourself perhaps also because there might be a fear that declaring that you want a serious relationship will set you up for disappointment. Having said all of that, one of the most stressful relationship dynamics is a mixed-agenda situation where one person views dating as a means to an end (commitment) and the other person views dating as a low commitment high adventure proposition. To the degree you can, be clear what you are looking for and why.

3. Have friends proof your profile.

I love the idea of crowdsourcing your profile. Let your friends boost your confidence, highlight your awesomeness. The self is relational, so I love the idea of the process of creating your profile being relational. Remember to use photos from the last year. And remember that you are not your profile. Your profile is just a little wave to get someone’s attention.

4. Put apps under stimulus control.

Set boundaries for yourself around app usage (how long you scroll, how often you check, how many profiles you look at per day).

5. Move from URL to IRL ASAP to avoid SMIAB.

I love this phrase. Essentially, move from online to in person as soon as possible to avoid SMIAB, or what Dan Jones of the New York Times Modern Love calls Soulmate in a box phenomenon. When we meet someone online, we are at risk of creating this perfect image in our heads of what we think they might be. The longer we don’t have real life information to fill in the gaps in our mind, the more we are likely to fantasize about what they might be. So we fill in those gaps ourselves. So, try to meet in person ASAP after connecting (don’t message/text forever, schedule a call before the first date, the point of the app is to get off the app).  Message → Text → Phone Call → Date

6. Limited pre-google.

My friend, Bela Ghandi who runs the Smart Dating Academy, recommends to her clients that they look at page 1 of the Google results only. That way you see if there’s anything glaring, but you limit your chances of letting your anxiety win via ruminating and obsessing. The point of meeting someone is to get to know them, so leave some room for mystery. I had a grad student once who did a deep dive on her upcoming date and after a glass of wine she asked him a question about some detail of his life that she had learned online but which he hadn’t shared with her. End of the world? No. But it was an awkward moment and she felt a bit self-conscious.

7. Practice safety guidelines.

Especially if you are a woman, make sure someone knows where you are, meet your date there, meet in public, don’t give your date your address, take your drink from the bar, limit alcohol and drugs. If you are a man who dates women, take responsibility for helping her feel safe. You may know darned well that she is safe with you, but it’s incumbent upon you to have empathy for the fact that she doesn’t have any reason to know or trust that she is safe with you. Don’t ask her for her address, meet her in public, make sure she sees that you’ve gotten her drink from the bar or let her get it herself.

8. Remember that a successful first date is one in which you are feeling open to a second date.

Success is not butterflies or fireworks. Success is not “I want to marry them” as much as we might love stories of love at first sight. Success is openness. I don’t want you forcing yourself to persist past an absence of attraction or connection, but I want you to trust that curiosity is enough and attraction may take time to build. Consider a low bar for a second date. You cannot be known in the short amount of time a first date might take, nor can they. More on first dates in next week’s episode!

9. Look for signs of dating burnout.

Think of a bell shaped curve. Flatness on one end. Frantic on the other end. The middle is present and energized. If you find yourself moving toward flatness, like you’re dreading your first dates, you may be getting burned out. This is a marathon not a sprint. It’s probably time for a break. Take the apps of your phone. Focus on friends and family and work and rest and hobbies. You are not on the clock! You have time. It’s far better to press pause than push through. Cynicism and exhaustion are going to block your capacity to feel desirable and desirous.

10. Communicate clearly with people.

Clarity is not cruelty. Don’t waste your own time, or other people’s time. For women who date men, subvert the gender script and get in the driver’s seat. It’s why Bumble is so popular. You’ll feel more empowered and I suspect men will feel relieved that you are taking some of the pressure off of them.

11. Pause the app when you meet someone so that you can really pursue how you feel.

It requires a great deal of mental bandwidth to pursue lots of potential leads at the same time and it might set you up for burnout. I like the idea of pausing the app when you feel a potential connection. This is less about any obligation you have to them per se and more about preserving your energy and doing your part to invest in a potential connection.

12. Know your deal breakers but stay open-minded. 

You get to have deal breakers, of course you do. But check in with yourself about why that particular trait or habit or characteristic is a deal breaker for you. Ideally a deal breaker is something that would prevent you from holding that person in warm regard and high esteem. Something that would keep you from opening yourself to them. Rather than something that you judge but not for any particularly good reason or something that your friends and family would make fun of or diminish. Not that those aren’t real concerns, but those seem like unfortunate reasons to miss out on someone who might be really wonderful. I like the idea of you staying open-minded. Avoiding the idea that you have to have a type. Let love surprise you!


There you have it. Part 2 of our early dating series: 12 strategies for swiping with Relational Self-Awareness. I’m eager for your feedback- which of these felt new? Which of these felt like approaches you’ve been using? I’m especially eager if you try something new after listening to this episode, how did it go? What felt different for you. Share your experiences so we can continue to learn and grow together. Join me back at the blog for the final part of our early dating series, How to Bring Relational Self-Awareness to a First Date. Until next time take good care of you!

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