Why It's So Easy To Get Attached Before Meeting People IRL

Illustrated by Ly Ngo.
Whether you're new to online dating or a seasoned pro at swiping, chances are you've fallen into what I like to call the "haze." The haze is when you match with a person, you get to talking, and you really hit it off. After a few messages, you've already envisioned your relationship together — the weekend trips you'll take, where you'll put your jade plant in the loft apartment you'll move into together, and what you'll name the kitten you adopt — all before you've even met the person in real life. So when they don't call you for a date, or they inevitably ghost you, you're left reeling. It almost feels as if you've been dumped, and it can be devastating.
Rachel Sussman, a relationship counselor and expert in NYC, says that this behavior is extremely common in people who online date. "I have many clients who tell me this same story over and over," she says. "And the thing is, they know their behavior is off. They'll say 'I know I'm being crazy, but I can't get [the person] out of my mind.'"
What all of these people have in common, though, is the fact that they're on online dating apps for a reason — they really want to meet someone. Those of us who fall fast like this aren't the ones who are looking for casual sex or one-night stands. "They actually want a relationship," Sussman says. "So when they hit it off with someone, they immediately become hopeful that this person will become their partner." So hopeful, that they envision themselves in a relationship with said person, and project a whole future together, before a first date's even been planned.
So when the bottom falls out, and the person on the other end of the messages ghosts, your future hypothetical relationship goes up in smoke — much in the same way it does at the end of an actual relationship. But Sussman says this bad ending has very little to do with the person you matched with. "It's letting go of the fantasy," she says. And the future-fantasizer "also lose a little hope, because they see yet another situation that didn't turn into a relationship."

"Not every positive interaction is going to lead to a relationship — but that doesn't mean those situations aren't beneficial in some way."

Rachel Sussman, relationship counselor and expert
The easiest way to avoid these feelings of hopelessness is to keep yourself from fantasizing — which can be, admittedly, very hard to do. But Sussman has a way for you to keep your emotions in check. "What I tell my clients to do when they start on the apps is to think of them like dating school," she says. "You're on them to gain some experience in dating, so you're probably not going to meet the 'right' person right away," she says. And while there are many happily coupled folks out there who'll regale you with the tale of how they were each other's first and only match, Sussman says to remember they are the exception — not the rule.
"Go on a bunch of dates and meet a lot of people so you have a better idea of what you're looking for in a partner," she says. "But keep your expectations low." She says to equate first dates to job interviews — not in the way you act in them, but the way you consider them. "When you're looking for a job, you find one that seems promising, and you send your résumé out, you don't automatically assume you're going to get that job, right?" Sussman says. "It's the same thing with a relationship. Not every positive interaction is going to lead to a relationship — but that doesn't mean those situations aren't beneficial in some way."
And the next time you find yourself fantasizing? Take a second to stop, breathe, and get to know the actual person you're messaging. Once the haze lifts, you'll probably realize that the partner you made up in your head isn't the same as the one in your inbox. "You just have to say, 'I'm going to put my energy out there and I'm going to be okay,'" Sussman says. "If it doesn't work out, you're going to find something else."

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