At any stage in your dating life, it can feel like you need an administrative assistant just to juggle all your new phone contacts and the epithets you write for them, like: "Derek Tinder," "Jenna Hinge DO NOT DRUNK TEXT," and "Tom Creepy Bumble Date." You can build quite an impressive roster in a short span of swiping and matching, and probably way more than you've ever accumulated IRL. That's part of the beauty of online dating. But besides the logistical complications, at what point do you have too many dating matches going on at once?
The short answer: Date as many people as you feel like dating — whatever makes you happy. But if you really want to dive into what's ideal, according to experts, it gets a little more complicated than that.
"I encourage singles to casually date multiple people at the same time while you’re still in the getting-to-know you stages," says Samantha Burns, LMHC, a millennial relationship expert. "But, if you can’t keep your facts straight and remember details about each person, it’s a sign you’re likely dating too many people." If you can't remember which of your matches has heard your go-to first date anecdote about growing up in a foreign country, for example, it's usually a red flag that you're juggling too many dates, she says.
For some perspective, people who online date on average go on more dates than people who don't, and 63% of online daters go on an average of one to two dates per week, according to a 2017 Tinder survey of 2,502 U.S. adults between the ages of 18 and 35. That's a lot of conversation to make, so it's understandable that you'd goof at least once. Only 5% of online and offline daters surveyed reported messaging at a "high volume," which means they were talking to between five and seven people, so you can assume the rest of daters likely fall somewhere right under that.
But, just because you have a ton of matches, that doesn't necessarily mean you have a harder time settling down. Only 9% of men and women who are dating online stated that they find it hard to maintain a committed relationship with one person because there are so many other potential matches online, according to the Tinder survey. And more than 30% of men and 18% of women who aren't dating online said that they did find it challenging to maintain a committed relationship with one person because of the wide array of potential suitors, according to the same survey.
Just because you have a ton of matches, that doesn't necessarily mean you have a harder time settling down.
There are a few different ways to interpret this: On the one hand, if you're on an app, you're actively pursuing the goal to match with someone else. Whether that means you want to have a life partner or just a casual dating setup doesn't really matter, but you can assume that the other potential suitors are being transparent about what they want, too. On the other hand, if you're not using dating apps, you might develop a romanticized perception of what the dating scene and other single people are really like, since you're not literally seeing them as much — which makes you constantly wonder what else is out there. It's sort of the opposite of the whole "paradox of choice" thing: Maybe we're so accustomed to this plethora of dating options that we're no longer crippled by the idea of making a selection.
But, then again, most research out there suggests otherwise, says Erin Sumner, PhD, a professor at Trinity University who studies online dating. "Reducing complex people to their profiles, and then seeking the perfect fit, might make it difficult to narrow things down," Dr. Sumner says. "A lot of this depends on the person, and their personality, and should not be completely blamed on the tool." Basically, you can't take statistics from one survey as gospel.
Of course, this isn't just a theoretical concern for most people; it's a practical one. "When you're dating right and actually investing your time and emotional energy into each experience, it can be draining, and it's important to not burn yourself out," Burns says. So, how do you make sure you're not dating yourself into the ground?
When you're dating right and actually investing your time and emotional energy into each experience, it can be draining, and it's important to not burn yourself out.
If you're in it for a relationship, just being on the apps might lead you on the right track. Half of people who meet someone on OkCupid (and delete the app because they settle down with their partner) will do so within 30 days, says Dale Markowitz, a data scientist for OkCupid. During that first month, these people will have 40% fewer conversations that end in giving out their contact information, but they typically are longer conversations (34 messages back and forth on average, versus 28), he says. Couples who met on Hinge on average messaged for three days and swapped 25 messages before exchanging numbers, according to the Hinge book, IRL. And according to that Tinder survey, on average, 61% of the app's daters will become exclusive within the first three months of dating. But there are obviously lots of other variables that go into whether or not your online dating match turns into a relationship besides time and the number of messages you sent (like you didn't actually click when you met, or the person realized they don't want a relationship).
If you're looking for a relationship and want to be efficient, your best bet is to aim to have at most three solid slots for potential partners at one time, Burns says. "As you rule each in or out, you can always add someone new to the mix until you get to the point where you want to date someone exclusively," she says. And sending tons of messages to random people might not work toward your advantage, Markowitz says. "We see that [OKCupid] members who send more first messages get more replies, but at a diminishing rate," he says. A person who sends 60 messages a month will get, on average, only 2.2 times more replies compared to someone who sends 10 messages a month. Less is more, in a way.
These are just suggestions, and whether or not any of this data will actually translate into your real life is to be determined. "Ultimately, you won’t know if a relationship has real potential unless you cut others out and commit to it," Burns says. If you have tons of conversations going at one time, good for you, but just make sure you have enough energy to devote to all the "Derek Tinders" in your phone — and yourself.
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