Got swiping fatigue? 'Slow dating' is for busy people who want real connections

Dating app fatigue is causing more people to pump the brakes and aim for quality over quantity.
by Nicole Spector /
Image: Man checking messages while having dinner in a restaurant
Slow dating typically entails limiting how many potential love interests you’re engaging with. This can be beneficial when you’re feeling the effects of “swipe thumb” or “dating app fatigue.”Westend61 / Getty Images
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I met my husband, Patrick, on OkCupid a little over five years ago, shortly before Tinder launched and the “yea or nay” swiping aspect became so popular. I imagine that if I were single now, I may not exactly prosper with this model of dating that fosters both feelings of instant gratification and instant rejection.

I’d likely incorporate a slow-dating approach, a trend that has been picking up steam. When I first heard the term, embraced by dating apps like Once and Hinge, I thought it meant to date, well, slowly, perhaps even taking the old-fashioned approach of delaying a first kiss; but it’s actually about dating mindfully and meaningfully — and not necessarily by sacrificing momentum.

Slow dating isn’t necessarily slow, but it is thoughtful

“I define it as a more thoughtful approach to dating,” Hinge founder and CEO Justin McLeod says. “We’ve noticed a trend towards helping people find more meaningful connections for some time now. We do this by designing profiles that show off what makes you, you. And we encourage you to put yourself out there, just a little, by liking a specific part of someone’s profile. It’s not only a natural way to start a conversation, but it helps cut through the small talk so you can get out on a date faster. It’s clear singles are craving [this] more thoughtful approach. In the last year, Hinge’s active member base has increased 400 percent.”

Sara Konrath, PhD, a social psychologist and consultant for OkCupid, likens slow dating to other mindfulness approaches we’ve implemented in our daily lives.

['Slow dating'] is based on a desire for people to slow things down, get to know one another without so much pressure and focus on high quality connection and closeness.

“Just like the slow food movement is a reaction to cheap and unhealthy fast food, the slow dating movement is a reaction to quick and meaningless hookups that can be made easy by dating apps,” she says. “It’s based on a desire for people to slow things down, get to know one another without so much pressure and focus on high quality connection and closeness. Slow dating also often means that the sexual intimacy stage of the relationship comes later, after getting to know one another.”

Great sex or great politics? More OKC users prefer the latter

Melissa Hobley, CMO of OkCupid tells NBC News BETTER that users are increasingly showing interest in learning what a person values versus what a person looks like, particularly in our politically divided climate.

People are saying, ‘I don't want to know if you have a six-pack, I want to know if you care about climate change.’

“[Our question] ‘Do you prefer same politics or great sex?’ used to always [elicit the response] ‘great sex’, but it's changed now, and we’ve seen a jump in political terms skyrocket,” says Hobley, noting that the trend has been strongest among millennials. “People are saying, ‘I don't want to know if you have a six-pack, I want to know if you care about climate change.’ Young women particularly are saying do not message or swipe right if you don't [share my politics]. One of our questions we ask users is about voting and most younger people do not want to be shown someone who didn’t vote in the last election or who is not registered for midterm elections.”

Quality over quantity combats dating burnout

Slow dating typically entails limiting how many potential love interests you’re engaging with. This can be beneficial when you’re feeling the effects of “swipe thumb,” “dating app fatigue” or even “burnout”, notes Christie Tcharkhoutian M.A., MFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist.

“These are all terms that have developed out of a response to the backlash that dating apps have created by providing an overwhelming number of potential choices,” she says. “Our brain on dating apps has created a binary process of choosing the right person, where you have a few seconds to decide (based on a first impression of a few photos) whether you will swipe right or left. This is more of a reflex rather than a process that utilizes cognitive decision-making to see if a three-dimensional person is someone you can interact with over coffee or drinks, and if there is a connection. Dating apps, if not approached thoughtfully, can create a situation where people are overwhelmed by the number of choices, and as science tells us, when stuck in the ‘paradox of choice’ we often have a hard time choosing anybody.”

Some people do prefer and thrive with this ‘reflexive dating’, but many prosper when they have “fewer matches and an opportunity to humanize and be more reflective about the process,” says Tcharkhoutian. “Slow dating is a way to be more engaged in the process of dating rather than becoming a consumer in a buffet of people where you can pick and choose how much you like people than believe that a relationship is a co-created process between two imperfect people, in which you will change and improve with your partner. When trying to find your match, quality over quantity can sometimes be the name of the game, and what you’ll hopefully discover with the fewer quantity of people, is that every single person has value and is ‘quality’ and it’s just a matter of discovering what’s underneath the surface to see if they are someone whose internal qualities are compatible with yours.”

Slow dating is ideal for the busy person who knows what they want

Sa'iyda Shabazz, a 32-year-old writer and single mother of a five-year-old, didn’t date for years because she was simply too busy to deal with it. She decided to start dating again recently, and found that a slow dating approach quelled her anxiety around diving into the world of dating apps.

“I haven't been in the dating game for nine years, so I was super nervous and taking it slow really helped me feel less overwhelmed,” says Shabazz, who intentionally swiped on very few people, took breaks between doing so, and went out with just three people, one of whom she is now happily dating.

Slowness is part of every piece of mental health. It’s about not rushing through life to avoid difficult feelings.

Dr. Elizabeth Cohen, a clinical psychologist, would likely praise Shabazz on her selectiveness and taking the time to get to know someone before sacrificing time on dates. It’s a confident attitude that every dater can learn from, and honestly, one I wish I’d embraced in my dating years. Before meeting my now husband on OkCupid, I went through dates with virtual strangers like a mad woman, desperate to show to myself and the world that I was dating, I was trying, I was “normal”.

I wound up wasting a lot of my and others’ time just to fill my dance card and mask my insecurities about being alone.

“When someone is obsessed with dating, with meeting someone, I can tell they're clinging to it as something that will make everything better,” says Dr. Cohen. “Take a one-month vacation and go on dates with yourself. If you're afraid of being alone, find out where that comes from. Know yourself as well as you can.”

Slow dating means “having space and room to think about what is going on,” Cohen adds — a luxury you aren’t guaranteed when going on a ton of dates with a ton of different people. “Slowness is part of every piece of mental health. It’s about not rushing through life to avoid difficult feelings.”

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