So what’s changed? In 2021, you knew what you wanted from dating and became more focused, not wasting time on people with incompatible values, goals or visions of what relationships should look like. You talked more openly about your mental health, your needs, what you felt comfortable with, what you weren’t willing to put up with, the facts about public health. You started putting self-care and compassion in the diary, working on yourself, building up your support networks. Authentic connections, organic dating (meeting in real life) and healthy boundaries became the ideals you knew you wanted to pursue.
So how is the dating industry supporting these changes in dating? And what can you do to make healthy relationships an integral part of your life, not just in your friendships but in your love life too?
Let’s stop compartmentalising our love lives
Marie Bergström, in her new book The New Laws of Love: Online Dating and the Privatization of Intimacy, describes the way people don’t like to date people who are friends or friends of friends (which you find out on apps like Tinder which are linked to your Facebook account), partly because they don’t want their behaviour to be judged. There is a general sense of compartmentalising our love lives and keeping them separate from the rest of our life, so that people now won’t consider talking to strangers in a bar when they are out with their friends. In Beautiful World, Where Are You? by Sally Rooney, the main character wonders whether her date minds people he knows seeing him out on dates. In Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams, men do not hold back in fetishizing black women and making offensive racist judgments partly because online dating is anonymous: there’s no accountability. People are able to experiment with behaving recklessly or in ways that are out of character. There is no continuity with who they are in other areas of their lives.
While it could be argued that this separation encourages people to date outside their ingroup – which in turn improves integration in society – splitting ourselves into two people with different values and behaviours is not a sustainable mode of transport on your journey of self-development. Try keeping a journal, joining a dating support group, investigating group or one-to-one coaching or therapy, so that you can articulate those universal conflicting needs for novelty, excitement and uncertainty on the one hand and security, love and intimacy on the other.
Let’s meet authentically, with or without technology
As dating apps seek to accommodate pandemic-inspired video-dating and voice messages as a bridge between messaging and meeting in real life, the gap between online and offline is narrowing. Tinder has experimented with Swipe Night, an online interactive whodunit experience where you can be paired with another user. Bumble has the Night In feature, where a pair can play a trivia game together online. Online speed-dating is in some ways less pressurising than real-life speed dating (which is challenging for some personality types and the neurodiverse). Video-games such as Animal Crossing are being used for dates and people are ordering meals from the same place and eating them over Zoom.
The use of technology in dating and relationships has been a popular theme in literature this year, and its development through AI is sure to continue. There are a number of apps for enhancing your relationships and starting good conversations on dates. Technology doesn’t have to get in the way of building connections.
Let’s narrow the gap between making friends and dating
Another new trend from the pandemic is taking things slowly, especially now becoming intimate has more consequences, with the risk of viral transmission needing to be assessed. Research shows that being friends first – on average for twenty-two months – is the way many of us date.
Research also shows that Generation Z and Millennials (18-39 year olds) – like older generations – are using dating apps to look for friendship and ways to reduce loneliness as much as for dating, and many are happy to focus on their own personal growth and career rather than relationships. There are a number of apps where you can specify a search for friends like Bumble For Friends.
Joining a class, club, activity or voluntary work is a great way to meet people with similar values and lifestyles. And if people don’t seem to be talking much, why not be the one to get everyone to socialise afterwards?
How can you date more authentically?
While 40% of Tinder users in Generation Z plan to continue with video-dating, 57% say a video-date is not a real date. Activity dates are becoming increasingly popular for a first date, and supper clubs such as Pickled Pear and make new friends evenings in London provide opportunities to talk to a number of people in a relaxed, supportive setting. Why not sign up for a social event this January – if you don’t feel comfortable being inside right now, what about a ramble in the countryside or community gardening?
Can dating connect to your self-care goals?
Dr Kristin Neff, self-compassionate practitioner and Assistant Professor of Psychology, challenges us to embrace being a compassionate mess in 2022. This means prioritising opening our hearts over what must always end up being a futile attempt to control our lives, but also being kind to ourselves when dating produces surprising outcomes. If we apply a mindful approach to all of our lives, including our love lives, we can react differently when a date doesn’t work out, without blame or criticism. Taking some time to work on ourselves, perhaps through coaching, self-reflection exercises or reading, can strengthen our resilience and enable us to connect parts of ourselves as well as connect with others in more open ways, with the aim of learning from one another rather than trying to change each other or feeling threatened.
 There are some situations when this might not be safe, such as for members of the trans community, who experience a lot of online abuse, misunderstanding and rejection by the cis community, who may decide dating within their trans ingroup is the best way to care for themselves.