Option Paralysis in Online Dating

Woman looking at online dating profile.

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What Is Option Paralysis?

Option paralysis is a real phenomenon in the online dating world. Option paralysis is the feeling of being overwhelmed by too many choices. So, it occurs when someone has too many options to choose from and ends up not choosing any of them.

It's easy to fall into the trap of option paralysis when you're online dating. There are so many potential matches out there, and it can be overwhelming trying to figure out who is right for you.

Where Did the Term 'Option Paralysis' Come From?

Option paralysis is a phenomenon discussed by psychologist Barry Schwartz in his 2004 book, "The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less."

In the book, Schwartz argues that the more choices we have, the harder it is to make a decision, and often we end up feeling unsatisfied with our choice regardless. 

Dating Apps Provide Too Many Choices

With so many dating apps and sites to choose from, it's easy to get caught up in an endless cycle of swiping and scrolling without ever making a real connection. And even when you do match with someone, there's no guarantee that things will go anywhere, given the number of potential options that are just a message away. 

People who are presented with too many choices are more likely to experience negative feelings, such as being overwhelmed.So, if you feel down about your dating prospects, it could be due to an overload of choices.

The good news is once you become aware of this phenomenon, it's relatively easy to break out of the cycle by narrowing your focus and committing to a specific person or app. 

Why Too Many Dating Choices Can Be an Issue

With the advent of online dating, people now have more dating options than ever before. In theory, this should be a good thing, as it gives people more opportunities to find a partner with whom they are compatible.

You Might End Up Never Making a Decision

However, research suggests that too much choice might actually be a bad thing when it comes to online dating. One of the reasons why online dating can be so difficult is that there are just too many options to choose from. A 2011 study published in Biology Letters found that people who were presented with many potential partners were less likely to make any decisions at all.

In fact, the participants in the study became so overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices that they found it difficult even to narrow down their options.

Examples of Option Paralysis in Online Dating

Option paralysis can be frustrating and overwhelming, but it's important to remember that it's normal to feel this way when presented with too many choices.

Option paralysis can manifest itself in several ways in the online dating world. Here are some examples:

  1. You spend hours scrolling through dating apps without ever connecting with anyone.
  2. You match with someone on a dating app but don't message them because you're not sure they are the right person for you.
  3. You go on first dates with multiple people but never follow up with any of them because you can't decide who you want to pursue.
  4. You keep your dating options open and never commit to one person because you're afraid of missing out on someone better.

If any of these sound familiar, you may suffer from option paralysis in your dating life.

How to Overcome Option Paralysis in Online Dating

If you find yourself experiencing choice paralysis in your online dating life, there are some things you can do to overcome it.

Marisa Cohen, PhD, relationship expert and licensed marriage and family therapist notes, "it’s important to practice mindfulness and be fully engaged and present with the person you are with. In fact, you may not be a match, but if you aren’t able to fully invest in the person you are spending time with, you aren’t giving them a fair shot."

Below are some other ways to manage option paralysis when online dating:

  • First, try to be more selective in who you message and respond to. Don't feel like you have to message everyone who catches your eye. Instead, focus on a few people who you really want to get to know better.
  • Second, give yourself a time limit for online dating. Set aside a specific amount of time each day to scroll through profiles and message people. Once your time is up, log off and take a break. This will help you avoid getting lost in the online dating world and will make it easier to focus on your interactions with potential matches.
  • Finally, remember that online dating is just one way to meet people. There are plenty of other ways to find someone special in your life. Don't put all your energy into dating apps, and be open to meeting people in person as well as online.

A Word From Verywell

If you find that you're struggling with option paralysis in your online dating life, remember that you're not alone. It's a common problem that can be overcome with a little effort and mindfulness. Try to be more selective in who you talk to, set aside a specific amount of time for online dating each day, and don't forget that there are other ways to meet people as well. With a little effort, you can break out of the cycle of option paralysis and succeed in online dating.

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Iyengar SS, Lepper MR. When choice is demotivating: can one desire too much of a good thing?J Pers Soc Psychol. 2000;79(6):995-1006. doi:10.1037//0022-3514.79.6.995

  2. Lenton AP, Francesconi M. Too much of a good thing? Variety is confusing in mate choice. Biol Lett. 2011 Aug 23;7(4):528-31. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2011.0098. Epub 2011 Mar 2. PMID: 21367779; PMCID: PMC3130243.

By Arlin Cuncic
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety."