How to Set and Keep Realistic Expectations on Dating Apps

People download dating apps for all kinds of different reasons. Some may be bored and want something to do while they scroll on their phones. Others may want to have a few fun date nights with the people they meet on these apps, but not necessarily have anything lasting. And others might be looking for something long-term and permanent and are sure they’ll find it on the apps they’re downloading.

No matter what you want out of your time on the dating app, keeping your expectations realistic while being open to them getting exceeded is good. You never want to approach dating and dating apps in general with one rigid frame of mind about how you think it will go because that will affect your trajectory. But that being said, it’s good to remember that you’re just on an app, and it’s not a life-or-death situation if you don’t find your person.

Why Realistic Expectations Are So Important

While we love dating apps and have a lot of faith in them and what they can do to connect people, we also know that they’re not the end all be all for everyone, and some people might not find as much success as others do on the apps. But the problem comes when people set unrealistic expectations for what someone ought to expect from dating apps and what they should look for in a partner when they’re on the apps. The sad truth is that dating apps aren’t one size fits all, and there’s no right or wrong way to be on the apps.

So when someone tells you what to expect or look out for, they might be giving you the best advice they know how to and might be as well-intentioned as possible, but their experience is more than likely completely different than yours would or could be.

Dating apps open your pool of people up by thousands, so you’re likely to run into every kind of person you can imagine, and there’s no preparation for that.

Meredith Golden, an online dating expert, dating app ghostwriter, and dating coach at SpoonMeetSpoon, told Bustle, “Some online dater simply expect too much from someone who is basically, for all intents and purposes, a total stranger.”

Instead of hoping for a particular narrative, go for the ride and enjoy whatever happens. In the end, your experience with dating apps is whatever you make of it, so don’t put too much pressure on one person or one app, but instead, let the current of online dating take you where and to whomever it wants to.

Understand That You’ll Meet Many People Online

We’ve said it once, and we’ll say it a thousand times, dating and online dating, in particular, is a numbers game. The more you swipe on people, the more likely you’ll find someone you genuinely want to spend time with. But you must kiss a few frogs (or message a few weirdos) to get to the good people.

But if you’re going into the dating app experience assuming that the first person you match with will be your true love and you’ll be done after that, you should get a little more realistic about the numbers. You might only connect with one person, and that’s it for the rest of your life. But even though we have the utmost hope for your success on dating apps, if you look strictly at the numbers, there’s a tiny chance that you’ll only like, match with, and message one person. And there’s also an even smaller chance that that person will be your one true love or even someone you find remotely interesting.

So, if you go into dating apps assuming that you’ll find your person immediately, we respect the optimism but urge you to add a bit of reality to that and be open to being on the app for a bit longer than you might have thought initially and messaging a few more people than you might have wanted. To play the numbers game correctly and allow the dating apps to work for you, you might have to relinquish your expectations to find immediate success.

Meredith Golden agrees, “Not every contender is your soulmate, so try to enjoy the journey of meeeting new and interesting people… Getting out of your home and having a stimulating conversation is still a positive experience that is exciting and fun too.”

While some of us may not sign up for dating apps hoping to meet a ton of new people and have to learn how to invest our time and energy into each person equally, it sometimes pans out that way, and we have to learn and adjust.

Ultimately, I’d rather view some of my failed experiences, connections, and relationships on dating apps as ways I grew and learned from my past. That only added to my knowledge of dating in my present circumstances. It’s all good if you choose to see it that way. And who knows? By talking to many different people, you can open yourself up to new things and people you would have never expected to be around.

Understand that Dating Apps Aren’t Magic

Have you ever promised yourself you’ll do something, take one step, and then get confused about why it hasn’t happened? Allow me to explain.

It’s around the new year, so I’m sorry if this hits a little close to home. Suppose your resolutions have anything to do with organizing your life and getting everything organized. In that case, you’ll probably research and invest in apps like Notion or even go out and buy some organizers, new hangers, and anything else you might need to get your life together. Now you have the tools to do what you want, but you still have to do it.

Many people get stuck on dating apps because they assume that by investing in the app and downloading it, maybe even swiping or messaging a few people, they’re done, and they’ve completed all the steps to find their new partner. The problem is, while dating apps do make a lot of the initial process more accessible than ever before, you still have to get on them and stay on them to yield any success.

Girl Using Phone

Scott Doherty, LCSW-C, Executive Director at Delphi Behavioral Health, tells Bustle, “There are many advantages to online dating, but there are also pitfalls and some unintended consequences… Studies have found that online dating causes an increase in being judgemental. The ability to scroll through dozens of profiles and judge people based on a photo and description gives a false sense of opportunities and options.” He continues to say that “This can lead to feelings of despondency and disappointment. Online dating certainly has its palace, but expection[s] need to be held in check. Be certain of what you are looking for and willing to endure a marathon and not a sprint.”

Even though we’d love to tell you that everyone on the dating apps should want to match with you and all you have to do is download the app, swipe on a few people, and then find your match for life, that’s not at all reality, and it might require a little more effort to find the person you’re looking for.

Meredith Golden says that your expectations will only get worse and more unhealthy: “If your life revolves around your apps and it’s your only means of meeting new people, [or] if you’ve never swiped right on anyone or come across someone you’ve found interesting.” It takes two to tango, but if you’re putting an unhealthy amount of power in the dating app’s hands, you will get highly disappointed in little to no time. Golden continues by saying, “Dating apps are made up of all types of people from academics to athletes, [so] there’s someone out there who warrants a meet.”

Even if you’re not thrilled about spending all of your time on dating apps, and we’re not suggesting that at all, utilizing boundaries while you’re on dating apps is extremely important; even the experts agree that the time you spend on the apps will be worth it in the long run.

Set Boundaries with Your App Usage

If you’re noticing yourself putting too much stock into the power of dating apps (and they are powerful, we’re not denying that), start setting some realistic boundaries for your dating app usage. Many experts suggest only being on the app for 15-20 minutes a day so you won’t get addicted to the dopamine release that happens when you log on and get 1,000 messages every time.

In opposition to the last point, if you’re assuming that by spending the most amount of time on a dating app and swiping on everyone you remotely think is attractive or you could have a potential relationship with, you’ll get burnt out, tired, and annoyed with dating apps faster than anything.

You’ll want to avoid this unrealistic expectation when trying out dating apps. Instead, set up time and messaging limits, and learn your boundaries before you get burnt out and annoyed.

Reflect and Learn What You Want from the Dating Apps

At the beginning of the article, we said that everyone goes on a dating app looking for something different. There isn’t a right or wrong thing to look for on a dating app, but there is an incorrect way to look. That way is unfocused, willy-nilly, and ever-changing. If you notice that you’re not really sure what you’re looking for, or if what you were initially looking for has changed, that is more than okay and natural, but you might want to take a step back and reassess what you want to get out of your time on the apps.

When spending time on dating apps, give yourself the space to grow and learn what you want from the online dating experience. You might have signed onto the app assuming and proclaiming you want one thing, but after you spent time on it and around the people on it, you realized that you don’t actually like what you initially thought you did.

Thankfully, dating apps provide a relatively safe space to learn and grow as you reflect on your true desires. And then, once you know what you want, whether it’s a quick night out or a full-blown romance, or even to get off of the dating app completely, go for it with clarity and confidence.

Meredith Golden advises anyone who might not know what they’re looking for, “One question dictates the [expectation-setting] process, Do you want a relationship, or are you looking for a casual fling? It’s the same whether you meet someone the old-fashioned way or on a dating app.” If you’re unsure about what you want from your matches, you might be wasting your time and all of your matches’ time, which is not fair to anyone.

The one thing to remember is that there is no wrong thing to look for out of dating apps (as long as it’s legal and ethical), and no one can tell you what you want except for yourself, so start listening to what you want and start to chase after that.

Some Final Words of Advice

Dating apps and dating, in general, are often polarizing subjects. Either people have tons of success when they try online dating, and they never can go back to dating the ‘old-fashioned’ way, or they can’t stand the apps and never will download any online dating app or subscribe to a website again. If you’ve noticed that you relate to any of these unrealistic expectations, don’t worry; it happens to everyone.

It’s very rare that someone has little to no reaction to their time spent on dating apps, and because of that, there is very little to no conversation that isn’t realistic surrounding online dating.

The good news is that dating apps aren’t new, and it’s not like you’re the guinea pig for a new project that might or might not work. Dating apps have been proven to help people meet new potential mates, get out of their comfort zones, and even find their true loves.

Looking at dating apps as a whole, you’ll realize that they can be good for you and your love life. There’s just no guarantee, so don’t bet everything on you finding success.

The biggest piece of advice we have for dating apps is to see them for what they are: a way to create something lasting. Dating apps are beneficial when you want to find something or someone, but that’s all they are, a help. Whether you like it or not, you still have to put in the work to create a lasting relationship, just like in real life. You can’t just swipe on a few people, say you’ve tried dating apps, then call it a day.

In the end, know what you want and try your best. Unfortunately, there is no secret formula we can give you that will provide all the answers and get you a match in five seconds or less. But that’s also good because it allows you to learn and grow from your time spent online dating, and it can only add to your knowledge and comfortability surrounding dating.