When most people hear the word “burnout,” they tend to associate it with work. Unfortunately, burnout can show up in any context, and that includes dating.
As licensed counselor Mariana daSilva sees it, the process of seeking a partner isn’t all that different than searching for full-time employment. “The amount [of resources] spent on a search for a partner is considerable, often without much reward, making it no surprise that dating fatigue or burnout is incredibly common,” says daSilva, NCC, MHC-LP, LAC.
So what is burnout, exactly? According to Very Well Mind, burnout is a psychological condition hallmarked by exhaustion, hopelessness, and feelings of inadequacy. Burnout not only affects mental health but can also have dire physical consequences when not taken seriously. It is critical to recognize the warning signs of burnout and correct them quickly to protect yourself.
Knowing how to recognize dating-related burnout is more crucial than ever, as it’s been even more prevalent in the context of COVID-19. “Dating is hard enough under the best of circumstances, but when the opportunities to meet people organically and the options for fun first dates have been limited for so long? People are just giving up,” says clinical social worker and certified sex therapist Stefani Goerlich.
If you’re feeling hopeless about your dating life, you might be experiencing burnout. Here are four hallmark signs of dating burnout to watch out for—and what to do about them.
Sign #1: You feel emotionally and physically exhausted.
Burnout is a reaction to prolonged stress, and it often manifests in physical and emotional exhaustion. While typical fatigue can usually be alleviated with a good night’s sleep, some self-care practices, or a brief vacation, emerging from burnout isn’t as simple. Burnout-related exhaustion involves feeling weary, depleted, or drained, despite efforts to cut down on work or engage in self-care. This state of reduced energy can feel like you’re walking or moving through mud. You’re mentally exhausted, you feel less coordinated than usual, or you may feel a complete lack of motivation.
According to Goerlich, burnout can also show up as decision fatigue when using dating apps. When you’re exhausted, it can be really challenging to feel a desire to swipe right, even if you’re interested. When burned out, it can feel like it’s easier to just keep swiping left. If you’re noticing you’re less interested in potential prospects than usual, you’re probably burned out from dating.
Sign #2: You feel hopeless at the prospect of dating.
Another hallmark symptom of burnout is cynicism and hopelessness. DaSilva notes, “The biggest warning sign is growing ambivalent or losing the desire to continue searching.”
This feeling of ambivalence can manifest in a variety of ways. You may dread the idea of opening the application or going on another date. Thoughts can arise such as “What’s the point?” or “I can’t do this anymore,” or “I’ll never find a partner.” You may be experiencing an overwhelming feeling that things won’t work out. These are all manifestations of hopelessness associated with dating burnout.
Sign #3: The prospect of rejection feels unbearable.
Burnout can spur significant feelings of inadequacy. The narrative in our mind turns significantly more negative, which puts us on the lookout for potential rejection.
Anyone who’s ever been on the receiving side of a non-mutual breakup knows romantic rejection can be the most painful form of rejection. When we are burned out and depleted, we are significantly more emotionally vulnerable to rejection—making heartbreak even more painful and recovery even harder.
This warning sign can show up in several ways. You might feel like you can’t tolerate one more mismatch or no-show date. You may attribute rejection as something inherently wrong with you, rather than the situation, the app, or broader hookup culture. You might avoid romantic interaction altogether in an effort to stave off potential rejection. All of these markers are symptoms of burnout.
Sign #4: You feel you can’t show up as your authentic self.
Dr. Spirit, Ph.D., LPC, NCC, says that not showing up as your authentic self can greatly exacerbate burnout, keeping us stuck in an exhausting cycle. “We spend time and energy trying to be who we think someone wants us to be so we can be ‘chosen,’ instead of being our authentic self who “chooses” a compatible mate,” notes Dr. Spirit. “This leaves us further exhausted by heartbreak and disappointment in the end.”
Not showing up as your authentic self can look differently for everyone. It can be as subtle as not disclosing information that’s important for a potential partner to know, or changing your persona by dressing or talking a certain way. If you’re noticing that you’re trying hard to be an ideal partner to someone rather than simply showing up as yourself, you might be burned out.
I’m suffering from dating burnout! What should I do?
Dating burnout can feel like you’re on a hamster wheel. Fortunately, there are ways to manage dating burnout. Simply recognizing the signs and labeling the condition as burnout are the first steps. (Fortunately, you’re halfway there by reading this article!) Take note which of these symptoms are showing up for you. Once you acknowledge and accept that you are experiencing burnout, you can take steps to change it.
One of the most effective ways to manage burnout is active rest. “If you find yourself frustrated, disappointed, and exhausted, don’t be afraid to take a step back and practice some self-care,” daSilva says. Get that much-needed rest by taking a break from dating and getting back to things you enjoy that boost your self-esteem. Spend time taking care of yourself emotionally and physically.
You can also combat burnout by attending to other meaningful relationships in your life. Reconnect with family, or reach out to a friend you haven’t spoken to recently. It’s important that we reconnect with our authentic selves by identifying our values. Ask yourself: What are the things that are important and meaningful to me? Connecting with what gives our life meaning and purpose is a natural salve for burnout.
Finally, know that you’re not alone. Dating burnout is an extremely common experience, especially in the COVID-19 era. If you’re feeling exhausted, hopeless, rejected, or inauthentic, it’s likely time to take a step back from dating and reconnect with other things that fill you up.
Craving true connection? If you’re ready to date like a human again, sign up for early access to the forthcoming Keepler dating app here.