‘Every man I meet seems to be a let-down – will I ever find love?’

‘Apps provide the very opposite of scarcity - they promote the illusion of abundance’  (Getty Images)
‘Apps provide the very opposite of scarcity - they promote the illusion of abundance’ (Getty Images)

Dear Vix,

I really want to meet someone long-term to hopefully build a family with one day, and I am feeling really positive and good about myself at the moment. However, everyone I meet through dating apps seems to be a let-down – what is wrong with men? Some guys seem interesting, interested and charismatic and we message for maybe two weeks, hinting at some sort of future, and then disappear when I try to meet up. To combat this, I decided to play a numbers game, so I met up with three people in three days as soon as I matched with them – rather than becoming penpals. This didn’t work either: one asked me just one question about myself in two hours, another was horribly handsy on arrival, and one was so bland I can’t really remember any detail.

I am getting sick of sending messages saying, “I didn’t feel a spark”. For some reason, the men I meet don’t pick up on the vibe that I am not interested – even when I leave after an hour (I try to keep it short and sweet). The people I do Iike on apps seem to disappear or dillydally when I suggest meeting, or we meet once, have an electrifying time and then their interest wanes. The ones I am really attracted to are the worst of all of them! Vix, how can I find the man of my dreams? I’ve worked hard to keep the flame of hope alive – how can I keep it alight when men can be so lukewarm?

Lovesick, 34, Whitby Bay

Dear Lovesick,

If I had an easy answer to your question, I’d be a famed woodland witch living in a gothic castle in luxurious surrounds, receiving visitors for whom I would gaze into the black smoke wafting from my cauldron and offer them love elixirs in return for jewels, wine or books. But I am only half-witch, and sadly do not live in a castle – just Omicron-infused London, where the experience of dating can be similarly lukewarm (verging on stone cold).

From your email, it sounds to me like you’ve encountered some classic dating stereotypes – from the “f**kboy” (or the slightly milder version, the “softboi”, as described by a colleague here) to the outright sleaze. Let’s take a closer look in a bid to figure it all out.

First, you mention the phenomenon of the man who seems keen on getting to know you for two weeks and then disappears: men and women do this (show enthusiasm followed by a period of ghosting) and I think many are closet avoidants. They may hold fast to a philosophy of, “the grass is greener”, or, “I don’t want to commit”, but I often wonder if they’re scared of intimacy and suspicious of the opposite sex who they believe may try forcing something on them they’re not ready for (they may also have been scorned or rejected in the past).

In your case, you’ve met men who promise the world – and they may even genuinely mean it, in the instant that they say it – but then a case of cold feet sets in. And so these men (or women) allow themselves to get bored or distracted by friends or someone else they don’t quite have to get to know. They disappear because in truth they can’t handle the messy reality of living up to a world of promises, risks and actually having to make an effort.

People who do this repeatedly, I think, may suffer from one (or both) of these issues: emotional immaturity (which leads to avoidance of intimate situations outside of sex) and the concept of “false abundance”. They convince themselves there will always be hotter, better options out there, which there will – after all, the world is vast, varied and vibrant – but it’s really because sticking with one option long enough to fall in love feels too dangerous. It threatens their carefully constructed sense of self.

Some people are so frightened of being intimate or vulnerable with someone, or of getting “trapped” in a relationship in which they fear they will become suffocated and bored, that they intentionally avoid spending time with someone who might become special. And the trouble with online dating is that a lot of people don’t actually have any intention of meeting someone in person, or in finding something “real”: they don’t know how. They just like the potential of romance and the comforting boost to their ego.

I think the concept of apps themselves are often to blame: when you see something as scarce, or rare, you attach more value to it. But dating apps provide the opposite of scarcity – they promote the illusion of abundance. If there were fewer options on display, we’d probably all be more careful to consider those options. But when you can simply “unmatch” or swipe left and still have a plethora of decent alternatives, you forget what was so good about the original. It’s a bit like the way our scattered brains flit from Netflix to our phones, or from films to box sets. We have so much choice that we forget to notice people’s value.

In the first two weeks you describe, the “chase” intrigue is high, but as soon as you show interest in return, the “competition” element fades for certain daters. While many would pursue initial chemistry in the hope of deepening a connection, commitment-shy men (or women) won’t do this (Annie Lord, writing in Vogue, explores this notion particularly well in her column, here).

The thing is: there’s nothing you can do because everyone has to decide on their own terms when they’re ready for intimacy. So, by all means, have fun (the irony is that people like this are great for fun) but guard your heart and recognise it’ll likely only ever be casual.

As for the other types, I recognise the guy who asked you one question in two hours too – and I’m betting so do many readers. I’ve been on far too many dates where it’s been left to me to ask questions and carry the conversation; one guy even invited me to meet him in a graveyard in lockdown 1.0 (don’t ask, it’s the witch thing) and spent the entire two hours talking solidly about the death metal scene in Milan. He left knowing only my first name. I left anonymously, like Zorro.

Of course, people can be forgiven if they’re nervous: we all tend to talk fast or babble if we’re anxious, and there’s not much more anxiety-inducing than a first date. But if they don’t follow up with any questions for you at all or don’t realise they are dominating the conversation (but tell you they want to find out more about you on date two) then they’re really not worth your attention.

A note of caution: it might be worth looking at how well you communicate yourself, analysing whether you tend to people-please in a one-on-one situation. If all your dates leave thinking you’re madly in love with them when you actually couldn’t wait to get away, you may have to look at how clearly you’re expressing yourself, and whether you could (and should) be more forthright. Communication is key. Never be afraid of stating what you are looking for – even from the outset.

As for how you find the “man of your dreams”, it’s not easy, but it is simple: keep faith. Hold your head high, show willing (I’m proud of you for ring-fencing your dates by keeping them to an hour – more people should do this) but crucially: don’t accept crumbs. Know your worth, and refuse to settle for anything less than someone who proves they deserve your time. Keep busy in the interim, pursue your own dreams, be selective and do as much dating as serves you. If it starts bringing you down, put it on pause for a while until you feel ready to try again.

Romantic connection should add joy to your life – not take it away. You’re doing everything right and you’re in a positive, healthy place. You’ve done the groundwork; the rest is just a matter of time, timing and a dollop of good luck. I’ll whisper an extra spell into my cauldron for you.

Victoria Richards is The Independent’s advice columnist. Having problems with work, love, family or friends? Contact DearVix@independent.co.uk