If you’re on the dating scene in 2024, chances are you’ve accumulated a certain amount of clutter. Maybe it’s an outdated online profile that you can’t check, or a couple you keep messaging despite not seeing a future together. Maybe you are still haunted by someone who cheated on you.
These forms of romantic hoarding are symptomatic of an app-driven dating culture in which people are conditioned to constantly swipe and seek out new prospects, even though “that’s not necessarily the best thing for mental health,” said Nick Fager, a Licensed mental health specialist. Counselor serving clients in New York and California.
“Each of these people that you’re matching with, that you’re starting conversations with, is taking up a little bit of psychic space,” he said. “You can only get into so many new relationships before you start to feel some burnout.”
Mr. Fager and other dating and mental health experts shared strategies that can help declutter your love life and give you a renewed sense of clarity and calm.
Consider what you really want.
If your love life feels messy and confusing, spend some time identifying your goals, said Samantha Burns, a licensed mental health counselor and dating coach in Boston. Are you on the rebound and just looking to have fun? Are you looking for a long-term partner?
“A messy love life feels chaotic,” she said. “It seems like you have no real framework for your dating decisions.”
Lamont White, a professional matchmaker and dating coach in Atlanta, said it can be helpful to look back at past relationships and previous dates, and write down what you liked or what you felt was missing. Take a hard line on dating if you can’t clearly express what you want. “People who are not intentionally dating should stay out of the dating pool,” Mr. White said.
Therapy can also be a useful resource “for people in the dating world to become very, very, very self-aware,” said Lisa Blum, a clinical psychologist in Pasadena, California. That might mean discussing childhood experiences and previous relationships with a professional. . “You have to ‘sort yourself out’ so you don’t invite relationships that don’t really serve you,” she said.
Set limits on apps.
Dating clutter, like all e-waste, can easily infiltrate your phone. There are no hard and fast rules, experts said, but White recommends using no more than two dating apps at a time to avoid becoming overwhelmed.
Burns recommends communicating with no more than three to five people at a time and mentally committing to messaging anyone you “swipe right” on. That helps ensure that swiping isn’t a “pointless process” or a temporary “ego boost,” he said. It can also be helpful to set a time limit for swiping and communicating with matches, such as 20 minutes a day, he said, and delete contacts or conversations that have fallen through.
If you feel any kind of connection to a match, try to disconnect from your interactions as quickly as possible, Fager said. He acknowledged how daunting and time-consuming it can be to go on a date or even call someone, but texting non-stop also takes a lot of time and mental effort.
“I think it’s best to save energy for that meeting,” Mr. Fager said. That way, he added, you won’t project your romantic hopes onto “30 different” and unsuitable partners.
Beware of ghost images.
Mr. Fager knows that there are times when ghosting may be necessary, as matches can sometimes be dishonest or even dangerous. But closing the loop, when possible, can be restorative for both, he said.
“I completely understand the impulse to ghost. I have,” admitted Mr. Fager. “But I think people don’t realize how much it leads to things like burnout.”
Lack of closure can be emotionally draining on all sides.
Keep it simple, he said. Instead of prolonging an online conversation or holding on to a “situation” that’s going nowhere, you could say something like “this doesn’t seem like a coincidence,” Fager said, or even just “bye-bye.”
Listen to your instinct.
There are often moments, in the early stages of getting to know someone, that can offer insight into how they will treat you in the future, Dr. Blum said. Paying attention to them can help provide clarity, he said.
Dr. Blum gave the example of a friend who struck up a promising conversation with a man she met at a restaurant. But on her first date, he insisted on taking her to a seafood restaurant, even though she told him she was a vegetarian. He proceeded to order a giant tower of seafood, while she ate the only salad on the menu.
“We tend to make excuses and try to justify behavior,” Dr. Blum observed. Don’t invest your hopes in a game that starts off on the wrong foot, he said: “That’s part of ordering from the beginning.”