My friend Eliot (name changed) has stopped dating. But it’s not because he’s in a relationship, or skint, or caught an STD. He’s simply fed up. After a guy he met last month turned out to be some twenty years older than his profile pictures, Eliot uninstalled the app and declared that he was through.

There were a few of us discussing this over drinks and I have to say none of us took Eliot seriously, there was quite a bit of ribbing going on. But a month later Eliot had not changed his mind. He might be salivating over delivery guys and bartenders a bit more obviously, but don’t we all? In the end, this made me think.

Of course, this happens all the time. Going through a collection of handsome strangers (not your experience? Come to London) is exhilarating, for a while. Sooner or later the fatigue kicks in, you have a little break, then go right back to where you left off. Only some people don’t. Some, like Eliot, start looking around for different ways to live.

You might be in a dating rut if:

  • it’s starting to feel expensive;
  • you are more direct than you were before, and prefer to cut to the chase;
  • faces in your app are starting to look familiar;
  • you don’t really discuss your dates with your friends any more, unless something bizarre happens;
  • no one is ever worth seeing for the second time.

But wait a moment before you follow in Eliot’s footsteps, there is no need for drastic action. Maybe it’s just time to mix things up a little.

People just feel the same?

Usually a solution to this lies in a simple idea: dating and sex don’t have to mean exactly the same thing.

Okay, it often does, but it doesn’t have to. When was the last time you’ve gone out on a date just to do something fun, without ending up in bed (or against the wall, etc.)? Try having a date that does not result in sex, and don’t worry about the other guy being weirded out. He’ll just think you’re playing hard to get.

If you actually spend time with someone, you will learn things about them that will make them stand out of the crowd (for better or for worse). Remember that if you app doesn’t deliver, there are alternative apps or websites that are less sex-oriented and more geared towards relationship-seeking.

Or even better, stop scrolling.

Scrolling can be exhausting. You’re giving strangers one split-second of your attention (honestly, even if) and they treat you the same way. It’s a valid way to evaluate your match if you’re looking for casual sex within the next hour so you can still make your plane home, but it’s a dogshit strategy for making lasting connections.

Even a purely sexual relationship hinges on more than a mugshot. So if you don’t have a plane that you need to board urgently, consider learning a few things about a person before committing to drinks. The extra work you put in will save you time and disappointment later.

Is rejection getting you down?

Those bastards. Wait till I come after them. That might be a joke, but hear me out. We hear a lot about how rejection is a normal part of life but it’s plain wrong to equate getting ghosted and ignored to having your advances cordially refused.

It’s not that people are horrible, it’s the superficial nature of the dating apps. Just like spending too much time on Twitter (sorry not sorry, X) can make you feel that everyone is angry and the world is in a state of chaos, too much time on dating apps can make you feel like people don’t find you likeable or attractive.

The pain you experience is real but the world view it suggests is not based in reality. If you’re feeling down and have been online a lot lately, consider that it might be the case of Internet poisoning. Time to take a break. Which brings me to…

Go offline.

Is this ridiculously radical? It shouldn’t be. In person you have access to even more information about a person, from their body language to their voice, height, smell, behaviour. Some say that chatting strangers up in public is dead but I think it’s still the most romantic way to meet a person.

To play it safe and respectful, especially around reserved and boundary-conscious Brits, follow the structure of friendly comment > small talk > conversation > invitation for a drink. You will instinctively feel whether each stage is welcome and reciprocated, and proceed further where you receive encouragement.

If you’re not a gambler by nature, attend some LGBT+ groups, such as running meetups or drinks socials, and you’ll find interactions much easier. Or just turn up for dinners and parties thrown by your friends, which is how people met their prospective dates pre-Internet. I know, right. Fascinating!

The last resort.

If nothing else works, take a page out of Eliot’s book and stop dating for a while. See it as a time to recharge and use the new-found time and energy on other projects. If nothing else, it will give your dopamine system, which is probably burnt out from all the scrolling and novelty, a rest.

Dopamine is a ‘seeking’ hormone, and searching for a mate is a powerful ‘seeking’ behaviour. It won’t give you a sense of satisfaction upon finding the right person – it cannot – but will encourage you to seek more. Using an app where the ‘seeking’ activity involves a split-second decision, lights your brain up like a Christmas tree. Long term, it’s not that great for your dating life, so it might be time to take a step back.

And Eliot?

I’m not gonna lie – he was back on the apps before I even finished writing this article. On the bright side, he said that his break was beneficial. Perhaps stepping back occasionally is the best we can do.

We are like guinea pigs testing out human interactions with technology, and the results won’t be in for a while longer. Look after yourselves, friends, and don’t ghost each other. I know I try.