Just the Tip is a sex and relationship column hosted by queer non-monogamous kinkster Jera Brown. Here you will find interviews with sexuality researchers and educators as well as smart and compassionate responses to anonymous questions. If you have a sex or love question you’d like Jera to answer, email firstname.lastname@example.org or DM Jera on Instagram or Twitter @thejerabrown.
This is the part of a series of posts Jera is writing for the column about dating while traveling full-time in their RV.
There have been times when I’ve felt so hungry for love, for sex, for … something … that anywhere I went, I’d be on the lookout.
I’d see a cute person and wonder if they were available. And immediately, I’d put myself down. I doubt I’d be their type anyway.
I’d stay up late compulsively swiping on Tinder or Bumble, waiting for the next match. Then waiting for someone to actually respond back.
If you’ve used one of these apps, you know that little action that happens when someone un-matches with you? That shifting up of rows that signals you’ve lost a match? I knew the app was affecting me when seeing that same action in my email app on my phone, when I deleted an email, would cause a surge of shame to run through me.
My app usage would ultimately leave me feeling icky and self-conscious. And it had little to do with the people I was talking to.
In other words, dating brought out habits and patterns that I was ashamed of. Searching for someone who wanted to get to know me, fuck me, maybe even love me intensified all of my insecurities. The constant rejections. The ghosting. The miscommunications. The waiting.
Dating made me feel not good enough. And desperate. So desperate for someone to prove that I was.
If any of this resonates, let me tell you there is hope.
I’m not saying I have the perfect mindset when it comes to dating now. I certainly don’t. But I can point to drastic changes in my perspective that show my progress. For instance:
- I follow my gut and say no way more often when I’m not a hell yes.
- I’m able to press pause on meeting new people A LOT when I need to focus on other things.
- I’m way, way, way more selective of who I swipe right on.
- I go into dates more concerned about what I think of them than what they think of me.
Here are some of the things that helped me.
1. I Waited Until My Life Stabilized
I’ve noticed a pattern. The times I’ve felt the most desperate for someone to want me are the times I’ve been the most financially unstable.
For instance during grad school and the following 18 or so months when I was trying to make a go of freelance writing. I was broke all of the time. And I compulsively dated during most of it.
Not being able to consistently pay my bills messed with my self-worth, and I was searching for someone to make me feel worthy.
Interestingly the more my finances stabilized, the less I felt like dating. Funny how that works.
When I start to feel particularly lonely (or even horny), before I jump on a dating site, I now know to question why I might be feeling this way. Is there a need I’m asking someone else to fill that I should be filling for myself? Like a sense of worthiness?
2. I Found Other Physical and Sexual Outlets
I also found it helpful to find other ways to connect to my body and my sexual self.
Like, I get it. If you don’t have an intimate partner in your life, masturbation can start to feel old real fast. But there are so many fun ways to spice up masturbation or to even find touch if you need it. Some things that come to mind:
- Get a massage
- Ask a friend to watch a movie and cuddle (other people in your life might be touch deprived as well)
- Hire a professional cuddler
- Hire a sex worker
- Attend public kink events
- Look for workshops that can spice up solo play at your local feminist adult toy stores
- Go dancing
3. Accept That the Desire to Date Is Natural
When you’ve felt desperate, it’s so easy to forget that the desire to find someone is actually a pretty natural thing and nothing to be ashamed of.
In our fat-phobic society, we can feel shame when we eat or even feel hunger. Hell, we can even feel shame taking care of ourselves and prioritizing our mental and emotional needs! (Ahem … Simone Biles).
So yeah, obviously, a society that looks down on anyone that is single is going to make single people feel desperate for wanting to find someone. Which is bullshit.
So above everything else, the first step towards not feeling desperate is to stop eating the bullshit. There’s nothing wrong with being lonely. There’s nothing wrong with being alone. There’s nothing wrong with being horny. And there’s nothing wrong with searching for someone to meet those needs.
Once I accepted nothing was wrong with me for wanting to find someone to spend time with, things got a little easier.
(BUT, I had to get stable financially before I could accept there was nothing wrong with me … refer to point #1).
4. Work On Being More Comfortable Alone.
Yeah, this is a whole ‘nother article, which you’ll find here.
5. Believe Change Is Possible
When I rejoined Tinder after a long break, I was apprehensive. I was ready to meet new people and, let’s be honest, online dating is the easiest way to make that happen. Especially during the pandemic with limited social options. Or if you’re like me and traveling a lot. But I was sooo not excited about the possibility of feeling self-conscious and desperate again.
You know how sometimes when you’ve been a certain way so long, it’s hard to see yourself as anything else? Like when something about your physical appearance changes drastically and you’re surprised every time you like in the mirror?
Yeah …. That was me when it came to dating.
For so long, the mere thought of dating has made me feel so inadequate that the realization that I could date without desperation felt foreign to me … even when I’d done a ton of work conquer this desperation.
My default was to feel desperate. Like if I was a car, desperate would be my neutral gear. But, I had new strategies to shift out of neutral and move on to something healthier. But I had to believe that I could.
6. Understand the Brain Chemistry at Work
When I rejoined Tinder after that break, I found myself staying up really late that first night swiping.
There are chemical reasons for why it’s so hard to stop swiping. In an article for Bustle, addictions expert Dr. David Greenfield explained, “When you go on dating apps, you’re playing with very primitive structures that aren’t rational … This is why people will sit and do it over and over again; it’s not about the rational desire to be in a relationship.”
The swipe right phenomenon triggers the dopamine pathways in your brain. Greenfield compares it to slot machines—a monotonous activity that offers the possibility of an “unpredictable reward.”
Why was this so important for me? Because that pull to keep swiping doesn’t necessarily mean I’m desperate for a match or weak. It means my brain is working as it’s supposed to, searching for the next dopamine hit. And recognizing this gave me some peace. I stopped blaming myself for it which allowed me to shift my relationship with it.
I also figured out that when I’ve actively been talking to people online, as soon as I get bored, it becomes my go-to boredom solver. I want to look for someone new to entertain me. When I became aware of this, it became a lot easier to break the habit. I was able to question: do I really want to mindless swipe out of boredom? And the answer is almost always no. I started pulling up a Spanish lesson on Duolingo, grabbing my dogs for a walk, or reaching out to a friend instead.
7. Don’t Expect Perfection From Yourself
Don’t get the wrong idea.
It’s not like I said goodbye to panic, desperation, or self-consciousness for ever and ever, amen. For instance, that time when the dude ghosted me after the perfect first date and I freaked the fuck out? Yeah … That was after many of these insights.
The last thing I’ve learned about how not to date with desperation is that feeling normal emotions doesn’t = desperate.
Those people I scared away with a lengthy text? That’s on them.
The low-grade anxiety I feel when getting to know someone? It’s normal
The thing is … I’m not a robot, and neither are you. And I want to go into dating open-hearted. This means accepting a flow of emotions, good and bad. And learning from them.
And look … all of these tips are personal to me. So I’d like to leave you with two questions: what does healthy dating look like? And what is getting in the way?