Confessions of a Former Serial Dater

The first time I was called a serial dater was by my roommate, after I admitted to her that I had two dates set up with two different guys on the same day. I remember being nervous that the first one wouldn’t end in time for the next. The second time was when my friend Nikki failed to invite me to her movie night because she assumed I already made plans to meet up with someone from a dating app.

After ending my engagement to my fiancé in June 2018, and then later officially splitting up, I went through a period of exploration, as most singles do after ending long-term relationships. (And, keep in mind, this was long before all things coronavirus.) I downloaded several dating apps and even started to interact with some of the men I found attractive on my subway commute. This resulted in several dates.

I was clear about my intentions from the start. Getting into a serious relationship right after my broken engagement just wasn’t something I was ready for. But dating was good for my self-esteem. It helped me know that I was still lovable and interesting at a time when it was easy to doubt my self-worth. Many dating therapists, in fact, recommend dating around after a breakup.

In the beginning, the exchanges felt freeing. But the more first dates I went on, the more obsessed I became with meeting new people and the less I enjoyed dating the same people over and over again. Little did I know, my dating habits were quickly turning into more of a selfish hobby than my original intentions.

Paulette Sherman, a New York psychologist and author of “Dating From the Inside Out” says serial daters “often love the chase but don’t commit.”

“They’re basically addicted to the romance of early dating, but they get bored easily and move on,” said Dr. Sherman, who specializes in relationships. (In fact, Netflix announced last week that a new dating show, “Too Hot to Handle,” begins streaming April 17. The contestants, according to the trailer, are well-known serial daters, serial dating app swipers, and non-committers.)

There are distinctive reasons, Dr. Sherman says, for falling into the habit. Enter the traits of serial daters: those who consciously look to have fun and don’t want anything serious; who love the thrill of the chase and the power of romancing many partners; who fear commitment but also fear loneliness; who have attachment issues; who actually enjoy the glamour of the single lifestyle; who date to get narcissistic needs fulfilled; and who are confused and don’t really know what they want.

They’re typically easy to spot. “They can be charming and smooth, but they are only into things as long as they stay fun,” Dr. Sherman said. “They have a history of shorter relationships and are usually the one to break things off.”

Not surprisingly, serial daters often remain active on dating apps, she added, in order to keep their options open, as they continue to see other people while keeping others on the back burner.

I first became aware of my serial habits as I began swiping on dating apps while heading home from a date. It wasn’t that my first dates were terrible — it was just too easy to match with someone else and meet someone new. My serial habit became even more clear when I started to go on more first dates than outings with friends.

Dr. Sherman says the culture surrounding apps makes serial dating more common. “It’s like a feast instead of famine because there are so many prospects,” she said. “After you end things you can just get on the app again to get another date.”

Well aware of these habits, some dating apps, like Coffee Meets Bagel and Hinge, have implemented limits. Justin McLeod, the founder of Hinge, the dating app that prides itself as “designed to be deleted,” says his service allows users to like only up to 10 people per day. This helps to reduce the chance of developing an overwhelming inbox filled with numerous matches.

“We want to get people moving offline and out on dates and not stuck in always looking for the next thing, whether in the app or offline later,” Mr. McLeod said. “Ultimately we aren’t limiting our users, but the design of our app slows them down and forces them to choose what they really like about a person.”

Providing everyone with the same number of daily likes per day puts everyone on the same playing field. Hinge profiles also require users to write three prompts and choose six photos.

Most dating apps expect users to contact multiple people at once. And some dating experts think it’s a good idea to do that, at least initially. Dr. Sherman suggests her clients contact 15 prospects a week since they may only win one or two dates out of that effort. Serial daters never seem to leave this mode.

Chloe Carmichael, a clinical psychologist and relationship expert based in New York, sees nothing wrong with enjoying going out with a steady stream of new people and not being interested in a long-term relationship.

“The headache and heartache come in when the serial dater is unwilling or unable to be honest about it,” Dr. Carmichael said. “But most don’t realize what they’re doing. They might sincerely believe that they haven’t met the right person and be unaware that they have a fear of intimacy or use dating as some big source of validation or entertainment.”

Dr. Carmichael believes a solution lies in serial daters being more explicit in their intentions, so long as they’re aware of what they’re doing. Not everyone is dating for the same reasons.

“Everyone isn’t searching for an exclusive monogamous relationship with an end goal of marriage,” she said. “It’s OK to enjoy getting to know new people and have different experiences with new people. It just often isn’t communicated or goes unnoticed, and that’s when things get difficult.”

Since discovering my habits of serial dating, and ultimately ending up with tons of unsaved phone numbers and very little love, I’ve pushed myself to slow down on dating over all.

I now limit myself to no more than two dates a week with two different people, and I always give someone at least a second date if the first encounter wasn’t terrible. We’re rarely our true selves on a first date and it’s impossible to fully get to know someone in an hour or so. A second meeting can provide a more lucid understanding of the people I’m seeing.

Additionally, I stop swiping once I enter a satisfying chat and only revisit swiping if I’m absolutely out of options.

The idea of being highly dated has been somewhat rewarding — I’m the resident dating adviser of my friend group, I’ve met tons of interesting people, and I’ve learned to vet like a pro. But at the end of the day, I’ve developed a much more stimulating dating life once I started to involve fewer people — and once social distancing is over, I will begin again.

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