What I’ve learned about human behavior from dating

I’m recently back on the dating market and, to my chagrin, a lot of friends who are in committed relationships want to know about my dating life. They live vicariously through my dating exploits even while I envy the placid stability of their domestic lives.

I’m pretty good at dating; to win a bet I once went on 13 dates in less than 3 days! And from internet celebrities complaining to Bumble profiles asking “Can we please get off this app together?” the consensus seems to be that online dating is difficult. 

We are more digitally connected than ever. And have never been more lonely or divided.

I counted: I receive communication via several email addresses, iMessage, WhatsApp, Signal, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn – and that’s not counting dating app DMs. This is a variety of communication that my grandparents, who literally met on a dance floor, couldn’t conceive of.

I think there’s a broader solution to be had to the dating dilemma – though I’m not sure what it is.

When everybody agrees with an opinion, I’m reminded of the Mark Twain quote that, “When you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” Like Bernard D. Sadow, who first put wheels on luggage in the 1970s, there is a solution that we just haven’t thought of yet.

I’m not sure what the solution is, but here are some thoughts I’ve found helpful, whether applied to my dating life or human behavior, more broadly.

The impact of small changes

I have no conclusive evidence as to why, but my dating profile is much more popular than it was a year ago. I have made very few substantial changes – in fact the only thing that’s much different is my age. And with that small change I’m receiving 5-10x more connection requests than I was one year ago.

This is a good reminder that sometimes all it takes is one tweak – one small adjustment – to go from nothing to something. 

A single word choice can be the difference between closing a deal and a rejection. The same is true in dating. 

Habit: Nearly everything we do in life allows for iteration and improvement. Don’t settle for good enough if you want a spectacular outcome. Look for small things to improve.

Everyone is looking for something

I get a lot of dating app connection requests from a wide variety of people – all shapes, sizes, ages and genders. But the one thing that I see in common is that everyone is looking for someone. 

Whether they know clearly what they are looking for or not, each person on the dating apps – and everyone I’ve ever met – is looking. 

As I wrote last week about the importance of knowing your “why,” it helps to know what you’re looking for!

Habit: If we let go of self-judgment, what are you actually pursuing – in any domain in life? The more clear you can be on that, the more likely you are to find it.

Listen to what they say. Watch what they do.

I like to listen to people. Ask questions and see how people respond. 

More than listening, though, it is helpful to watch what they do.

When I connect with someone on a dating app or in a business transaction, I notice:

  • How frequently do they respond?
  • Are they proactive in reaching out or facilitating a conversation?
  • Do they reply with one word responses to thoughtful questions or are they willing to elaborate?

Watch what people do privately and when there’s very little on the line.  That will tell you a lot more than what they say.

Habit: In business and in your personal life, hold to your standards. Write out what you are willing to tolerate and what you’re not willing to accept.

A little bit every day

It can feel daunting to attempt something big. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done!

But dating is a lot like learning anything: it takes a little bit of practice every day. 

Take one little action every day towards your desired outcome. Action builds what BJ Fogg calls “success momentum” – the momentum that comes as a result of making progress.

Habit: Focus on the next little step. That might be learning a new skill, joining a new app, finding a new community. Even just listing out one thing – right now – can help.

There are days I agree with the dating profiles that say “Persuade me that I’m wrong about online dating.” I still get overwhelmed when I don’t break a task down into incremental steps. I still don’t love opening my mail.

But I also find that it’s helpful to remember that human behavior hasn’t changed all that much.

While we’ve seen astounding technological advances in the last few decades, as humans – with all of our brilliance and foibles –  we’re still about the same as in my grandfather’s day. 

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