How I Got Back Into The Dating Game After A Long Hiatus

I deleted all of my dating apps for the first time ever around this time last year. I was completely burnt out on dating, since I’d been treating my love life as a sprint to the finish line (a.k.a. marriage). At first, spending all that time by myself was harder than I’d expected. But I eventually grew comfortable being alone on a Friday night, or showing up solo to a party where I might have brought a date before.

That first hiatus lasted about three months, and since then I’ve had an on/off relationship with dating. But the number one thing I’ve realized is that, as hard as it is to remove myself from the dating scene, it can sometimes be even harder to get myself back in. I’m not the only one who thinks this way, either: I have half a dozen emails in my inbox from readers asking for tips on how to get back into dating after a breakup or a long self-imposed break.

That’s because it can be daunting as hell, especially if you’ve been out of the game for a particularly long time. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, and it’s hard to allow yourself to be as vulnerable as the situation (unfortunately) requires you to be. So I’ve put together a little list of tips and tricks I lived by when I reentered the dating game this year.

I’m not an expert, of course. And because of that, I’m here to say that these “tips” are merely what worked for me, and they might not be right for everybody. But I encourage you to come up with your own ideas about what works best for you in these situations, because this shit can be hard. And if you have any fantastic advice you’d like to share, please post it below. Let’s face it — we can all use help sometimes.

After being raised on a steady diet of Disney movies, I expected to meet someone and fall passionately in love — but wound up collapsing under the pressures of modern dating. Luckily, I eventually realized that there's no "right" way to date, and that I need to find happiness within myself, no partner needed. It’s Not You is where I write to calm the voices in my head — and hear from all of you. Follow me on Twitter, on Instagram, or email me at maria.delrusso@refinery29.com.

I started slowly.

You know how it’s generally not a good idea to dive into water without dipping a toe in first to check the temperature? That’s how I handled coming back to dating apps. My first time back, I redownloaded all five apps I’d been on. That was, of course, insanely overwhelming. I didn’t consider the reason why I’d taken myself off all of them in the first place — because the amount of time I’d been spending on my apps was getting out of control. Once I remembered this, I deleted all but one and focused on that one for a while before adding more to the mix.

Having all those apps on my phone made me feel like I was casting a wider net. But I soon realized that most of the guys I was meeting on Bumble were also on Tinder, Hinge, OkCupid, and all the others. So I wasn’t really doing myself a disservice by deleting the rest. On the contrary, I was helping to keep myself from burning out again. Plus, limiting the amount of apps I was on allowed me to continue to focus on the things I enjoyed during my hiatus — like Sunday nights on my couch watching old episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm.
I had rock-bottom expectations.

When I first came back to the dating game, it was as if I’d hit the restart button on all the experiences I’d had on apps. I was 21 again, excited over the prospect of every single first date. I thought that every guy I went out with was going to be the last person I’d ever date.

This, of course, wasn’t true, and I was finally able to realize that first dates don’t mean all that much. I stopped building up expectations with the men I went out with — or even expecting that they’d call, text, or slide into my DMs — which really helped me to just enjoy the process of dating someone again. And it also opened me up to an idea that I hadn’t adopted before I took my hiatus: I could reach out to prospective dates first. It’s amazing how little I worried about unnecessary gender roles when I lowered my expectations and just followed my gut.
I dated mindfully.

Part of the reason I burned out as epically as I did before I deleted my apps was that I was a swiping fiend. I’d swipe waiting in line for coffee, before going to bed, in the bathroom — I even swiped in church during my cousin’s wedding. (Hey, you never know.) No matter how many matches I’d accumulate, I’d still continue to see what else was out there. That lead to me juggling messages, missing texts, and letting guys who I was really interested in fall through the cracks, all because I kept thinking something else was out there.

When I came back to dating, I made the decision to swipe, message, and date mindfully. Now, I message a guy as soon as we match, and once I’ve matched with four, I stop swiping for the day. I allow all those messages to run their course before I pick up swiping again. And when setting dates, I try to limit myself to only one a week. This allows me to really dedicate time to the people I’m choosing to date, and ensures that I’m really reading their profiles and trying to get to know them. Since doing this, I’ve found that my dates are more fun, because I’ve already built up a rapport with these guys, which allows the whole experience to feel more relaxed.
I knew when to take a break again.

I haven’t taken three months off since my last long hiatus. But I have given myself weeks, weekends, or even just days when I’ll keep my profile up, but delete the app off my phone. Not only do I keep myself from burning out, I also allow myself to keep my eyes up and meet people in real life, too. When I’m not constantly swiping around, I’m able to really enjoy what’s happening around me, which reminds me that finding a partner isn’t the most important thing in the world. By giving myself permission to check out whenever I need to, the whole process becomes a lot less stressful.
I had fun with it.

People used to always tell me to stop taking dating so seriously. But coming back from my hiatus has allowed me to reframe that idea. I’m always going to take dating seriously — I do want a relationship, after all. But reentering the dating scene has shown me that I can actually have fun here. And that may seem like the same thing as “not taking dating so seriously,” but it really isn’t.

Here’s why: I can still be serious about dating and enjoy myself. I’m serious about my job, but that doesn’t mean my coworkers and I don’t have a good time while we’re here. It’s the same with dating. I can recognize that I’m serious about finding love, but that doesn’t mean I can’t find enjoyment with the men I meet and the dates I go on. That realization has truly made this whole process more enjoyable. So even if I don’t find love in the immediate, I can enjoy the journey of getting there. And I’m not sure I’d have gotten to this place without saying “fuck it” and deleting all my apps.
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