Everyone complains that dating isn't working, but no one want to put the work into dating. Here are 10 reasons why.

Cross-posted from Putanumonit, this is part 3/4 of a sequence on selfless dating.


In years of writing and talking to people about dating the biggest mystery to me has been that most single people seem to spend so little effort on their dating lives. They’d tell me that finding a partner is as important as their career or their hobbies, then they’d spend 40 hours a week working, 20 hours watching Netflix, and half an hour swiping on Tinder half-hoping no one would actually match them and expect a message to be written.

People put more thought into their brunch order than into composing their online dating profiles. They don’t seek out places where members of the opposite sex socialize, and if they end up in one by accident they find excuses not to flirt. They complain to their friends about dating but would never ask them for matchmaking. They mock anyone who is explicit and proactive about looking for dates as they’re literally dying from loneliness.

Laziness begets cynicism and laziness. Scrolling through low-effort profiles and thoughtless spam messages on apps doesn’t inspire anyone to put the time in to write well. It’s a lot easier to ghost someone who themselves isn’t diligent about texting back on time, easy to flake on someone who put no effort into setting up a pleasant dates. After a couple years of this, many people just give up and blame the entirety of the opposite sex: if they all can’t be bothered, why should I be?

Of course, it should be the exact opposite. In a landscape of negligence and apathy it’s not hard to stand out with even moderate effort. I’ve gotten delighted responses for simple things like reading the entire three paragraphs of a woman’s Hinge profile, asking about a woman’s commute convenience before picking a spot for a date, or remembering someone’s favorite wine after she mentioned it three times.

I had a theory of why the bar for effort is so low for such an important pursuit, but as I started writing about it I came up with some alternative explanations that seemed relevant. I asked my friends and they came up with even more theories, all both plausible and flawed. Once I wrote them all down I realized there are many traps one can fall into. I also realized that in spite of my convictions, this post was always destined to become a clickbaity listicle.

Without further ado, here are 10 reasons why you’re fucking lazy instead of fucking.

1. Dating is pain

Being alone sucks, but trying not to be alone can suck even worse. Awkwardness, rejection, creepy people, dating someone for two months when you suddenly find out they put mayo on french fries. In many cases, the pain of being alone is the devil you know while the ways dating can lead to suffering are varied and unpredictable. People may be putting little effort into dating because they’re internally conflicted about the pursuit itself. A big part of them just wants to avoid the trouble, and they won’t put their whole heart into dating until that conflict is resolved.

2. Inconsistent reward

On the other hand, the rewards of working hard on your romantic life are both unpredictable and often delayed from the work itself which can really sap one’s motivation. This is especially true of the longer-term ways of boosting your romantic potential, like establishing friendships in new communities and letting your new friends know you’re on the lookout. This is the stuff that actually leads to romantic success, but it could be months until it pays any dividend and even when it does you’re never exactly sure what you did to make it happen.

An attractive and busy female friend told me that she occasionally logs on to a dating app just to get quick validation, with several men willing to chat and give her compliments. This gives her some of the immediate benefits of a relationship without having to do much or take any risks. This makes it harder for her internally to justify the hassle of actually setting up a date with anyone or investing in kindling a relationship.

3. Waiting for a soulmate

60% of American adults believe in “the idea of soulmates” (although only 49% of singles do). We get this idea from fairy tales and rom-coms, and from people in existing relationship who are trying to signal (mostly to themselves) how unique and irreplaceable their partner is. If you believe that you are destined to meet someone and immediately fall in love no matter what, there’s not much point in pursuing other people or expanding your dating circles.

The main point against this theory is the fact that “soulmate” is semi-coherent magical thinking that’s contradicted by almost everyone’s lived experience. I think for many single people its a rationalization for their lack of dating effort as opposed to a cause of it. But perhaps many of you are still waiting to get stuck in an elevator with a beautiful stranger and that’s your entire dating strategy.

4. Trying isn’t hot

It’s simple logic: if you were a real romantic catch you wouldn’t have to work hard to find dates. Ergo, if you’re visibly trying you must not be that attractive. Of course, this should cause people to downplay or hide the effort they’re making as opposed to simply not making it. A lot of the effort isn’t publicly visible (e.g. on dating apps), and a lot of it is simply part of having a vibrant social life. Plus, few people will actually say that they’re a perfect catch entitled to romantic attention with no effort on their side.

When I tell people that I have always put a lot of work into dating they don’t say that it reflect poorly on my attractiveness. On the contrary, they accuse me of humblebragging and say that I probably didn’t have to work hard as all that because I’m a top 20% guy.

5. Doomerism

I discussed this in the “Top 20%” post, but a lot of guys in particular love to scour the internet for reasons why they (and most men along with them) are simply doomed by women’s capricious hypergamy and cruel modernity to be alone forever because they aren’t rich, jacked, blonde, charismatic, or tall.

Here’s an example of a research paper I see quoted a lot to prove that dating is hopeless for short men. People often pull the screenshot that says a 5’6″ man has to earn almost $200,000 more than a 6’0″ man to generate the same level of interest. That sounds totally hopeless, until you look at the actual numbers for both height and income:

A 6’0″ man is about 50% likelier to get a message or response than one who is 5’5″. That’s roughly the same difference in contact rates as for men seeking long-term relationships vs casual ones, men with a BMI of 35 (obese) vs 25 (high end of normal), an income of $80,000 vs $40,000, or having a college degree vs only completing high school. Yes, women prefer men who are tall, committed, fit, rich, and educated. But none of these preferences are overwhelming or insurmountable, each one can be compensated by other attributes. And this doesn’t even consider the fact the women’s preferences are wildly heterogenous — some women genuinely prefer shorter men!

You’d also think that this research should motivate short (or whatever) guys to work harder rather than less. If tall guys are getting 50% more responses than you, you can simply send 50% more messages. But guys usually bring up heightism not because they want to find dating success but because they want to whine and blame someone else for their failures. And the one insurmountable obstacle in dating is not height or income, but being a whiny little bitch .

6. Narcissism

This is roughly the mirror image of doomerism, and one I wrote about at length before. Many, especially the young, educated, and female, are stuck in a loop of maximizing externally measurable relationship-worthiness, or “fuckability“, at the expense of actually pursuing relationships or even just sex. They’re endlessly self-improving in all the ways that boost their ego and none of the ways that actually matter to a romantic partner. They’re always frustrated that the mere elevated status their fancy degrees and yoga skills may confer by association isn’t enough to secure them a relationship. The longer they spend alone the less they actually try to flirt and connect, locked behind the wall of their entitlement.

7. The app promise

Dating apps promise in every ad and screen that they will make finding dates entirely easy and frictionless. Dating apps are also designed to keep the relationship you seek just out of reach to keep you on longer as a paying customer. They dangle a seemingly endless list of potential matches, whispering in your ear that if a relationship didn’t pan out it’s not because you failed to make it work but simply because you didn’t swipe on the right person yet. More and more people are expressing their frustrations with the experience and outcomes of dating apps, but this doesn’t necessarily inspire them to shift their efforts elsewhere.

8. Evolved psychology

Geoffrey Miller points out that we evolved in small tribes where any potential mate would be familiar to you since childhood and know all your traits and relative status. We didn’t evolve to systematically search for compatible partners in huge mating markets or impress strangers in brief one-time interactions. Even though there’s plenty of upside in doing those things, we don’t intuitively recognize this.

9. Far from grandma

The vast majority of people until quite recently dated in the communities where they grew up in and where their families lived. The effort of setting a young person up on a date was distributed among their parents, aunts, grandmas, teachers, the old ladies at church, and the guy at corner store. And your grandma certainly wasn’t bashful in talking up your best qualities in ways you couldn’t yourself! In a community like this, advertising yourself too loudly on the dating market was actually counterproductive — a signal of lack of trust with your family.

When a young person leaves their community for college or the big city the effort required is equally high, but now it all falls on one person with no real experience matchmaking themselves or anyone else. They also have to overcome the awkwardness and insecurity of talking themselves up. One can probably find better matches in a big city full of single young people, but they’d have to be willing to do the work of several grandmas and people aren’t ready for that.

10. People are just lazy

People don’t like to work hard, study hard, think hard, to invest unusual effort in their health or wellbeing or the people around them. Everyone has plenty of external demands on their time and energy that give them an excuse not to put effort into anything voluntary, and no one is threatening to fire you if you don’t find a date by next Monday.

That’s true of me as well! I’m a lazy bastard. But I always found dating fun (or at least funny) even when it didn’t go great, I didn’t feel entitled or believe in soulmates, I didn’t fall into spirals of fatalism or narcissism, I treated the apps as tools to be hacked rather than genies who would do the work for me, and I had my grandma asking me every time I called her if I found a nice girl already.

You may not have those advantages, but at least you have this blog post. If your dating life isn’t going like you wanted it to, maybe you fell into one of the 10 traps outlined above. Or maybe you just need to get off your lazy ass and earn the romantic life you want.

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You left out legitimate reasons, which seems like a big bias on your part. Dating is for babies and babies are dangerous in exploitation-land. And people in exploitation-land are dangerous too.

I can't parse this. Babies? Exploitation land? What?

The OP says they don't know why people don't invest in certain strategies, and says stuff like

Without further ado, here are 10 reasons why you’re fucking lazy instead of fucking.
Or maybe you just need to get off your lazy ass and earn the romantic life you want.

The OP presents a bunch of reasons, roughly all of which paint the supposed non-investor as stupid, myopic, weak, etc. I'm saying the OP fails to understand non-stupid reasons to express wanting something and also not taking the actions the OP recommends. I elliptically gestured at some such reasons. The first reason is that "dating" is an activity that's motivated by motivations that evolution put there mostly to cause one to have babies. Which of course we choose to repurpose for lots of other things, which seems good, but my point is that the motivations that would drive one to date are bound up with motivations to have babies, so dating that isn't aimed at having babies is more fraught (not saying it's bad, just saying it's by default more complicated and tension-inducing, since there's tension between the apparent aims, the actual aims, and the repudiated aims). Actually having babies is a dangerous thing to do in a world where, for most people, you're at the behest of actors who are not aligned with your interests, like governments and employers, and who may take advantage of you having a baby to exploit your satisficing strategies (you have to satisfice having enough food and shelter for your baby). Also, as a knock-on effect, many people are adapted to live in a world where generous collaboration is punished, by exploiting others (see women used for sex and then abandoned to raise a child alone, or men being made debt slaves by crazy divorce rulings from hostile ex-wives). Wanting something badly (such as companionship, protection, children, etc.) makes one vulnerable to exploitation.

Dating is for babies

The confusion comes from parsing this as "babies are the ones who should be dating" rather than as "people date in order to make babies".

in an earlier, social, life, i always met my dates through my friends. i never had to go out of my way to make friends of both sexes, my hobbies/interests just happened to attract both. 10 years later, all my friends are dudes, 90% of my friends’ friends are dudes, and my social ties are just fewer in number.

i’m focused on just growing my immediate friend network at the moment. i was raised to not use my real name on the internet, much less post photos of my face on it. i’ve had just enough continued success in that approach that i haven’t been forced to concede. but i legitimately enjoyed having my friends set me up on dates. i’m not ready to abandon that method of dating and relegate matchmaking to some app behind a screen. part of this is the expectation that i’m far less likely to be compatible with the wide pool of candidates on a dating app than with the narrower pool filtered through my lifelong friends. but a bigger part is probably just stubbornness, holding onto a dying model. and maybe some amount of risk aversion — not of the “fear of rejection” type — but of dismissing the new models without first risking them. i think it’s distinct from laziness, but maybe it falls into #9.

Some more points:

 - Social bias: People only feel confident taking the paths that other people around them also take.

 - "Dating is pain" can be elaborated imo. Same as doing professional work, you may need to experience a minimum level of satisfaction or flow just to make it through. Doesn't matter how high the reward is, some people just can't do some tasks. I may not want to being a salesman even if I was paid $150k a year for it. (Coincidentally sales also requires social skills.)

 - Effort / expected reward threshold below which you (rationally) aren't willing to expend effort on a specific person. Which is fair, although I'm guessing that's not what you're including.