How to Declutter Your Dating Life
If you are on the dating scene in 2024, you have likely accumulated a certain amount of clutter. Maybe it’s an outdated online profile that you can’t bring yourself to overhaul, or a match you keep messaging despite not seeing a future together. Perhaps you’re still haunted by someone who ghosted you.
These forms of romantic hoarding are symptomatic of an app-driven dating culture in which people are conditioned to constantly swipe and seek new prospects, even though “that’s not necessarily the best thing for your mental health,” said Nick Fager, a licensed mental health counselor who sees clients in New York and California.
“Every one of these people that you’re matching with, that you’re starting conversations with, is taking up a bit of psychic space,” he said. “You can only take on so many new relationships before starting to feel some burnout.”
Mr. Fager and other mental health and dating experts shared strategies that can help declutter your dating life and bring a renewed sense of clarity and calm.
Consider what you really want.
If your love life feels messy and confused, spend some time identifying your goals, said Samantha Burns, a licensed mental health counselor and dating coach in Boston. Are you on the rebound and just looking to have fun? Are you seeking a long-term partner?
“A cluttered dating life feels chaotic,” she said. “It feels like you don’t have a real framework for your dating decisions.”
Lamont White, a professional matchmaker and dating coach in Atlanta, said it can help to look back at past relationships and prior dates, and jot down what you liked or what you felt was missing. He takes a hard line on dating if you cannot clearly articulate what you want. “People who are not dating with intention should stay out of the dating pool,” Mr. White said.
Therapy can also be a useful resource “for people in the dating scene to get really, really, really self-aware,” said Lisa Blum, a clinical psychologist in Pasadena, Calif. That might mean unpacking childhood experiences and previous relationships with a professional. “You have to ‘fix your picker’ so you’re not inviting in relationships that really don’t serve you,” she said.
Set boundaries on the apps.
Dating clutter, like all electronic detritus, can easily creep onto your phone. There are no hard and fast rules, the experts said, but Mr. White advises using no more than two dating apps at a time to avoid being overwhelmed.
Ms. Burns recommends communicating with no more than three to five people at once — and making a mental commitment to message anyone whom you “swipe right” on. That helps ensure swiping isn’t a “mindless process,” or about a temporary “ego boost,” she said. It can also help to set a time limit for swiping and communicating with matches, like 20 minutes a day, she said — and to delete contacts or conversations that have fizzled.
If you feel any sort of connection with a match, try to move your interactions offline as quickly as possible, Mr. Fager said. He acknowledged how daunting and time-consuming it can be to go on a date or even call someone, but texting endlessly also takes a lot of time and mental effort.
“I think it’s better to save up your energy for that one meeting,” Mr. Fager said. That way, he added, you’re not projecting your romantic hopes onto “30 different” unsuitable matches.
Beware of ghosting.
Mr. Fager knows there are times when ghosting may be necessary, given that matches can sometimes be dishonest or even dangerous. But closing the circle, when you are able to, can be restorative for both of you, he said.
“I completely understand the impulse to ghost. I have done it,” Mr. Fager admitted. “But I think people don’t realize how much it leads to things like burnout.”
The lack of closure can be emotionally exhausting on all sides.
Keep it simple, he said. Rather than dragging out an online conversation, or hanging on to a “situationship” that’s not going anywhere, you might say something like “this doesn’t feel like a match,” Mr. Fager said, or even just “goodbye.”
Listen to your gut.
There are often moments, in the early stages of getting to know someone, that can offer a glimpse at how they will treat you down the line, Dr. Blum said. Paying attention to those can help offer clarity, she said.
Dr. Blum gave the example of a friend who struck up a promising conversation with a man she met in a restaurant. But on their first date, he insisted on taking her to a seafood restaurant, even though she told him she was a vegetarian. He proceeded to order a giant seafood tower, while she picked at the only salad on the menu.
“We tend to make excuses and try to explain away the behavior,” Dr. Blum observed. Don’t invest your hopes in a match that starts off on the wrong foot, she said: “That’s part of decluttering from the very start.”