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Online dating is no longer a fringe activity.

At this point in time, I would guess that we all know someone who has met their spouse via online dating. The academic research bears this out: a Stanford researcher surveyed 4,002 adult respondents in 2009 and found that a total of 21% of adults confirmed that they had met their partners online. Additionally, a 2013 survey of over 19,000 American adults showed that out of marriages that began between 2005 and 2012, one-third of them began online.

This massive shift in how we form our most intimate relationships has so much potential for positive results. Online dating is exactly like most technology in that it promises a high-powered algorithm that will give us exactly what we want and deliver it to our phones.

On one hand, the ability to filter matches and find someone who fits you like a glove is amazing. On the other hand, like any new phenomena, it also opens us up to new psychological experiences that we may not be fully prepared to experience.

rejection in online dating therapy

Going through the online dating experience, particularly in a city like San Francisco, is not for the faint of heart.

If you’ve ever sat with a group of friends swiping left and right on Tinder over Friday night happy hour, you know all too well that the spectrum of stories can be hilarious, inspiring and at times, scary.

What you may not be prepared for is the potential for rejection. One of the things that online dating is good at is giving you lots of potential dates. Lots of options also means there is lots of opportunity for being rejected. One of the ways online dating is different is that there are many ways you can be rejected throughout the many steps of dating online:

  • You can feel rejected if you get fewer matches or messages than you hoped for, or in comparison to what your friends receive.
  • You can feel rejected if you send lots of messages and receive fewer replies.
  • You can feel rejected if you have a string of messages back and forth with someone and then person suddenly stops replying.
  • You can feel rejected if you make plans to meet up with someone and they don’t show up, or continually re-schedule.
  • You can feel rejected if you go on a date and then the person stops replying to your messages and you don’t know why (AKA “ghosting”).

Meeting someone in person is often a clearer means to understand your rejection status. If you meet someone at a bar and they don’t want to talk to you, you are often fully aware of this and are psychologically able to tie up those loose ends swiftly because it is obvious what has happened. What changes with online dating is the nuance of the unknown and the quantity of rejection that is possible.

. . .

The nuance of the unknown

The nuance of the unknown is difficult for many of us who struggle with self-doubt or are anxious. It is very natural when we don’t know why something happened, our minds attempt to fill in the blanks. If you are someone that has had negative relationship experiences in your past, it is easier for you to imagine that the reasons why this current person might be rejecting you are also negative.

Further, since we don’t know much about this new person, it is much easier for our minds than to imagine we are the problem. Logic reigns supreme here, since in many cases we may be “ghosted” for practical reasons, as when the person is traveling for work, but this may be difficult for us to accept on an emotional level.

This is an opportunity to engage in a practice of self-compassion and also to challenge our automatic assumptions that we are the problem.

conflict and compromise

The quantity of rejection

The quantity of rejection has the power to challenge nearly everyone, even those of us that are least vulnerable to self-doubt. You might be the most grounded and successful person in your social circle, but once the flood of rejection from online dating pours in, you might be wondering what happened to your previous sense of healthy self-esteem.

This is a good time to remember that hits add up. Just imagine that a professional football player can only take so many tackles before a concussion is inevitable. Remember that it is okay to take breaks from dating. This can be a very healthy way to give yourself time to recalibrate between dates and swiping.

Approaching online dating in a way that is healthier for your psyche is possible. The best way to start is to understand your experiences. Start a journal to track how you feel and react in each of your dating encounters. This could be long narrative style or a simple spreadsheet listing out your dates and associated feelings.

Be honest with yourself in terms of your reactions. It is okay to be sensitive to rejection; knowing something is not going well is the first step to changing your future.

. . .

What if you find you are sensitive to rejection?

Choose to explore this part of yourself via introspective actions like journaling or talking with trusted friends or family. This could also be a good time to try psychotherapy or to continue if you already are in therapy.

If you know this is you, but you have done a lot of self-growth work, still be cautious with online dating. Your challenge is that you be more easily triggered than others. Pay attention to the process and assess how you are feeling each step of the way. Go slow, show yourself self-compassion and pre-define a self-care plan for when you do experience rejection.

. . .

Sample self-care plan to use when you are rejected

  • Have a friend you can call or text.
  • Journal about your experiences.
  • Exercise and eat nutritiously.
  • Talk to your therapist.
  • Give yourself a break and remind yourself that the process is not easy.
  • Give yourself permission to grieve relationships, even if they were short. No one else gets to decide the meaning of people in our lives, except us.

Online dating is a whole new world of possibility that is both ripe with potential for finding the partner/s that you seek for a full life, but also layered with complex challenges.

If the process feels difficult or overwhelming, know you are not alone.

LGBTQ Marrital Therapy in San Francisco


Catherine Wohlwend is an Associate Marriage & Family Therapist (AMFT) at Well Clinic in San Francisco. She specializes in helping people navigate modern dating culture – specifically online dating.

»» Learn more & book an appointment with Catherine


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