Why is everyone I know finding dating impossible right now?

Illustration of two people at a table talking

This week, our resident sexpert Olivia Petter addresses the question on everyone’s lips: is it really all doom and gloom on the dating scene?

Friday 31 March 2023   By Olivia Petter   Illustration by Darren Shaddick

Ask a single person how their love life is going and you’ll get one of three responses. The first is something I like to call pathological optimism. ‘It’s going great, thank you,’ they’ll say. ‘I just had an amazing date with someone I met on Hinge and I think it could really lead somewhere.’ Cute. 

The second is whimsical self-delusion. ‘Really good, you know,’ they’ll reply, breezily. ‘I’ve been sort of seeing someone, but they’re really busy at the moment so we’re just taking a little breather for now until they’re free again.’ Sure. 

The third, however, is my favourite. ‘Everyone is too screwed up to date, but it’s fine because I’d rather be alone than with someone who doesn’t deserve me. It’s fine. I am fine. What do you think about this cat?’

Call it a Miss Havisham complex or an emotional apocalypse – maybe you’ll just call it ‘the last text message I sent to my mum’. My point is that single people are, generally speaking, having a bit of a tough time at the moment.

Your stories and those of your single friends aside, though, there is ample evidence to support this. One US study from 2022 found that four in five adults had ‘experienced some degree of emotional fatigue’ from online dating, while data from Hinge showed that 61% of its users found dating ‘overwhelming’. 

Meanwhile, there have been countless viral TikToks in recent months from people sharing their woeful dating stories – think sudden ghosting after several dates and so on – and various articles with headlines like ‘why is it so hard to date right now’ and ‘how the dating app destroyed us all’.

All this has led to the advent of the phrase ‘dating burnout’. And to be completely honest, dear reader, like you, I am also suffering from this particular affliction. It’s something I’ve written about before, too, because having been in a relationship for four years, I noticed a stark difference between being single back then and being single now. Not just for the obvious reasons that come by dint of being older. But the way people behave, particularly on dating apps, feels wildly different.

Back then, I didn’t find it that hard to strike up a conversation with someone I matched with. I’d see someone I was attracted to, exchange a few messages, then we’d arranged to meet for a drink. It was all quite straightforward. Now, though, it feels harder to sustain anyone’s attention. And I include myself in that, too. 

Conversations can be killed by a single bad joke, generic answer, or strange anecdote. Meanwhile, date invitations feel like death traps and I find myself second-guessing everyone’s motivations and making up excuses to postpone said dates, or cancel them altogether.

As for why this is the case, well, I wrote an entire book about that. But the short version, I think, is that dating apps have reduced romance to a game that we’re pre-destined to lose. It’s addictive, superficial, and totally de-humanising. Combine this with the psychological consequences of the pandemic, our newfound obsession with pathologising people’s behaviour, and the rise of therapy-speak online, and it’s no wonder so many of us have become so obsessive, paranoid and defensive when it comes to dating. Of course, many people will – and do – find love online. But they’ve done so in a system that’s against them from the offset; if it wasn’t, dating apps would be out of business.

My advice is to be patient and take some time away from dating if you feel it’s not serving you right now. Also, there’s always comfort in solidarity. For example, I recently sat on a panel that was ostensibly about my career trajectory and, following a Q and A, somehow descended into a forum of jaded single women sharing their dating horror stories. 

It’s reassuring to know that a lot of us are in the same boat here. So try not to lose hope. More importantly, though, remember that you’re not alone.

Got a question for Olivia? Please email dearolivia@sohohouse.com. All submissions will remain anonymous. 
Olivia Petter is the relationships writer at The Independent and author of Millennial Love, which is out now in paperback with 4th Estate