Why Is Dating So Hard?

asian woman using a dating app

D3sign / Getty Images

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Unless you met your partner in high school, you’ve likely done some dating in your life—so you’ve probably exclaimed “why is dating so hard??” to friends at least once or twice. In fact, you might even have found this article searching for that, out of exasperation.

You’re not alone if you’re feeling this way. Data shows that nearly half of Americans think dating is harder now than it was 10 years ago. Some reasons include more physical and emotional risk, technology, it being harder to meet people, and shifting societal expectations. 

Dating opens even the most well-adjusted to uncertainty and vulnerability. You’re wondering if your interest in the other person is reciprocated, worried about if you’re being too vulnerable, potentially worrying about your body, if there’s sexual chemistry—there’s a lot you’re putting out there. 

Why Is Dating So Hard?

There are myriad reasons why dating is so hard, though one psychologist we talked to says that it should be hard to a degree. And while technology has made some facets of dating easier, it has also complicated others.

The Paradox of Choice

The paradox of choice is that it’s actually harder to pick the more options you have. With the advent of dating apps and social media connecting us to more than just the people we know in our areas or might serendipitously meet somewhere, if you’re thinking dating now is harder than it was in your parents’ generation or even ten or fifteen years ago, you’re not wrong.

"Dating should be hard on a certain level. It’s a careful decision and you want to be open but not too open, and it’s hard to find that sweet spot," says therapist Chloe Carmichael, PhD.

Personal Expectations

Many people go into a date thinking or hoping that this may be their last date—or this is the person they’re going to marry. Think about it in terms of friendship—you wouldn’t go into a party thinking you’re going to meet your best friend that night, right? Why is dating different? 

Societal Expectations

Though this seems to be changing, albeit slowly, many of us were raised seeing the typical family unit depicted in culture as a heternormative married couple of a man and a woman with two kids and a house in the suburbs. The animated movies and fairy tales many of us absorbed as children were heavy on a damsel in distress being rescued by the prince and living happily ever after.

Thus, many women were socialized to believe that they “needed” a man to take care of them, and perhaps they also learned that messaging at home if their parents were very traditional.

Even the smartest women, if they know intellectually they don’t need to be “saved” by a man, may have internalized this messaging and feel like they need to be “picked” by a man, rather than that it is seeing if they mesh with the other person. 

Because this is changing, it also creates a tension in dating as the traditional norms are being examined and dismantled by some and accepted by others—partners may have much more different views on what gender roles should be—or if they should exist at all within relationships. 

Dating Apps

If you’re currently out in the dating world, odds are high you’re using a dating app. These days, nearly 40% of people report meeting their significant other online. We know—dating apps can feel really difficult to navigate.

“Apps, on one level, make it harder to sort through,” says Carmichael. “However, it makes it easier to locate a broader swath of people you might not ordinarily be exposed to—and establish right off the bat that you’re single and ready to date.” 

Safety

People, particularly women, are perhaps more worried about their safety than they’ve ever been before. The rise of online dating and technology in general add new concerns, such as being catfished, receiving unwanted explicit photos, or someone sharing your explicit photos without your consent.

Social Media

Additionally, social media gives us the illusion of a visibility into others’ relationships in ways we’ve never had access to before. Illusion, because most people aren’t posting about that big fight they had last night or the difficult parts of navigating a relationship through adversity. 

It’s easy—if you don’t catch yourself—to believe that everyone is in this beautiful, magical relationship and you’re the only one alone. In a survey,one-third of the single people who responded said that seeing these kinds of posts made them feel worse about themselves. 

What to Do About Dating Being So Hard

Yes, dating can be hard—but don't despair. There's ways to get through it and even enjoy it while you're looking for your mate.

Keep a Log

Dating is so hard for many because of a loss of a sense of control. It can feel like a massive mind game, and you even may start to wonder if your mind is playing tricks on you. Was that date really as great as you’re remembering it right now or are you just longing for connection?

Carmichael has some tips on how withstand this emotional rollercoaster. One thing she suggests is keeping a dating log (think of it as similar to a thought log used for anxiety). “Every time you go on a date with someone,” she says, “just write one or two lines. Each person gets one page where you write what you did, if there was any physical contact, if the next date was planned, who initiated it.”

She says that this practice can help people stay grounded in the “facts” rather than how things are feeling right now. For example, maybe you’re freaking out because you haven’t seen your date in a few days, but you look back at your log and see that it’s actually normal for you to see them about once a week. 

Hedge Your Bets

Many people are so uncomfortable with uncertainty and liminality that they rush into relationships. If you are looking for a monogamous relationship, Carmichael recommends to “not become exclusive by default—only become exclusive once you’ve had a conversation [with your partner] on why you both want to become exclusive.” 

A Word From Verywell

Dating is hard, but we hope this article makes you feel a little less alone. Taking breaks can help if you feel burnt out, or you might want to consider talking to a mental health professional if you can’t stop thinking about this or you feel like you are having an especially hard time with dating. 

5 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. Barroso A. Key takeaways on Americans’ views of and experiences with dating and relationships. Pew Research Center. Published August 20, 2020.

  2. Schwartz B, Joseph, Stephen. In: The Paradox of Choice. ; 2015:121-138. doi:10.1002/9781118996874.ch8

  3. Goldberg WA, Kelly E, Matthews NL, Kang H, Li W, Sumaroka M. The more things change, the more they stay the same: gender, culture, and college students’ views about work and family: gender, culture, and work-family views of students. Journal of Social Issues. 2012;68(4):814-837. doi:10.1111/j.1540-4560.2012.01777.x

  4. Rodriguez M. Recreating gender roles: an examination of dating practices among feminist college women. 2014.

  5. Rosenfeld MJ, Thomas RJ, Hausen S. Disintermediating your friends: How online dating in the United States displaces other ways of meetingPNAS. 2019;116(36):17753-17758. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1908630116

By Theodora Blanchfield, AMFT
Theodora Blanchfield is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist and mental health writer.