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.
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 .
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.