Why modern dating is terrible

The Wandering Engineer
16 min readSep 4, 2023

Earlier this year, I wrote a long post about dating, but truth be said, modern-day dating in the developed world is terrible, especially if you’re looking for something serious and long-term.

Statistics don’t lie. The average age of marriage has risen to over 30 in most developed nations. More than half of all marriages end in divorce. Birth rates are at an all-time low. 2/3 of young men and 1/3 of young women aged 18–29 are lonely in the US. Sexlessness is rising sharply as well. More and more people (up to 20%) are reporting having no close friendships at all.

Now, before I get into the specifics of why this is happening, I want to address a common sentiment that some people have on the Internet. They want to go back to the “good old days”, i.e. the early 20th century or earlier when dating and relationships were supposedly “easy”, especially for men.

But back then, women didn’t have nearly the amount of social and economic power as today, so they had to find a guy early on, get married, and have children. Many women had to stay in abusive, often violent marriages just to get by, as they wouldn’t be able to support themselves otherwise, or would be seen as social outcasts. Today, women can actually support themselves, which gives them a choice of whether to be in a relationship and who to date. I believe it is a good thing.

A lot of others, especially younger men, are entertaining the idea of (or already) moving to certain third-world countries (i.e. “passport bros”) where women’s rights and place in society still resemble that of the early 20th century, places where women still mostly rely on men for survival. However, I believe these people are just running away from their problems. They are exploiting a power dynamic to make up for things they lack. You think dating will be easier there, but without resolving some of your internal issues, you’ll still be miserable, no matter where you are.

We have come a long way since then in terms of women’s rights and their place in society. I do not wish to go back in time. I am very glad for the human rights and freedoms that we’re being given nowadays.

I believe what we are seeing now in the dating scene is simply a byproduct of this social progress. It is not merely dating apps, feminism, or incel culture as people like to claim. Instead of rigid social roles for men and women, we now have much more freedoms, and that in turn has turned the dating market more into a free market. People actually have a choice of whether or not to date and who to date, as opposed to the past, where relationships were a necessity and a social construct.

We are still in a transitional period where human rights and gender roles are still rapidly being redefined. Transitions are always rough. There are still many things that need to be sorted out before things stabilize in the dating world.

As a young person entering the dating scene, it can seem pretty bleak. But I believe if you work on the right things and stop listening to the stuff that you are being told by the world, you can still succeed.

Now there are many reasons why dating is terrible for most people today, but here are what I think is the most important. A lot of people in online forums over-analyze their dating and relationship issues, but it really comes down to a few things. It ties back to why we are writing this blog.

Individualism

It is a big part of modern Western culture. While it is good to allow some degree of individual expression, giving people too much freedom to be themselves, be self-centered, and do whatever they want without severe consequences often brings the worst out of people. When people no longer value morals, they become narcissistic and hedonistic, and pursue instant gratification, as history has shown countless times.

As I will elaborate below, humans are greedy, selfish, and lazy by nature. Coming from a traditional Asian culture, these are the very things we were taught to avoid in order to build harmonious families, communities, and societies. I believe self-centeredness and the erosion of traditional, moral values are causing many of our societal problems now in the West. I believe it is also the root cause of most of our dating and family problems today.

While I don’t wish for the other extreme (i.e. ultra-conservative, religious society with well-defined gender roles like how it was in the past), I believe there needs to be a good balance between traditional, moralistic values (e.g. hard work, family, harmony, gender roles) vs. modern, individualistic values for a healthy, functioning society.

Greed

People always want the best for themselves. With the proliferation of social media and online dating, it is giving people easy access to practically everyone around the world. It gives the illusion that one can have endless options, and humans tend to struggle when presented with too many choices. As a result, everyone wants the best of the best regardless of what they bring to the table. People are more disconnected from reality. People are also becoming more and more entitled.

People thus develop unrealistic standards. Average and below-average-looking people want partners who look like supermodels and make boatloads of money. Promiscuous, non-traditional people who spend years partying and playing around all-of-a-sudden want to find a traditional, caring partner after they grow tired of playing.

As a result, people don’t want to “settle down”. It’s exciting to party, sleep around, experiment, get external validation, and “there is always someone better out there” so they can keep holding out. Then they wonder why they can’t find anybody (or find somebody very attractive and realize that they have many other options). Many “unattractive” people are marginalized in the dating market as a result.

Selfishness

Humans are greedy by nature, and individualism is giving people too much power to do whatever they want to maximize their short-term happiness/gratification, which is also the case in dating.

People are entering relationships for the wrong reasons — seeking someone to satisfy their own pleasures (sexual, financial, emotional, etc.), not for the sake of responsibility, personal growth, shared experiences, or raising a family, etc. Because these relationships were built on the wrong foundations, this leads to people leaving relationships as soon as they feel unhappy or run into a conflict, instead of working together to resolve the issues.

People are also ditching traditional responsibilities or gender roles because they are too “restricting”. They also care less about how others feel and only seek to maximize their own happiness and satisfaction. There is less accountability and self-awareness. With countless options on dating apps, people and relationships have become disposable, and they treat each other as such in the dating market.

It is also this selfishness that people don’t want to start families or become good members of society. Why bother with societal expectations when I can just be happy on my own? Why work, get married, and have kids when I can pursue my hobbies, travel, and sleep around? As a result, more and more people are ditching the idea of contributing to society, starting families, and having children. Family and children are seen as burdens rather than investments. We will look back on this when the human population inevitably enters rapid decline with years of critically low birth rates.

Laziness

Humans are lazy by nature, and again this causes people to not think long-term and maximize short-term happiness (aka dopamine). Everyone is seeking instant gratification, including in dating. People no longer build social networks and seek potential relationships from normal friendships, or go outside to meet people because it is time-consuming.

Everyone either wants to swipe on dating apps because it is easy to do so, or go for one-night stands and watch porn because it feels highly rewarding (aka easy dopamine) compared to putting in all the work to build and maintain a long-term relationship. Some just take the easy way out, such as avoiding the dating scene altogether (e.g. MGTOW, Hikikomori), or going to another country (“passport bros”) thinking the game will be easier there.

Again, it is because of that laziness that people don’t want to get out of their comfort zone or work on improving themselves, making themselves more unattractive as a result. By many metrics, people today are less attractive than they used to be — more overweight, more unhealthy, more politically extreme, and less wealthy. Younger people also have worse social skills today from sitting inside all day playing with electronics rather than socializing.

Finally, people don’t want to work together with their partners to maintain a relationship or marriage. They rather divorce or break up rather than communicate and settle their differences because it is easier to do so. Working hard to be a good partner, compromising, and healthy conversations are no longer valued because people are selfish and lazy.

Promiscuity

Due to the aforementioned reasons, why settle down and get married when you can have all the fun sleeping around with the most attractive people? As a result, the average person is having more sexual partners than before, aka the Hookup Culture. Even within relationships, infidelity is increasing.

Countless scientific studies have shown that having more sexual partners hinders the human ability to pair bond, and increases the risk of infidelity. In other words, the more partners you’ve had, the more difficult it is to dedicate to one person. It is no wonder why divorce rates are sky-high, especially when a lot of people now see marriage as “settling down” after they had their fun sleeping around. And it is no wonder why cultures that discourage promiscuity generally see more stable marriages and families.

Many people nowadays use the excuse of “finding themselves” or looking for “sexual compatibility” in order to sleep around with many people in their youth. More and more people are getting into polyamorous relationships or “situationships” which are shown to be more damaging to mental health compared to traditional monogamy.

People in the past or in more conservative cultures often married their first partner at a young age, which often leads to a lifelong marriage (although it may not always be perfect).

Mental health

With all the peer pressure fueled by social media, along with the enablement of toxic behaviour that leads to addictions (external validation, drama, Internet/social media, substances, dopamine, etc.), mental health is rapidly declining worldwide. A lot more people are living with deep traumas that prevent them from entering healthy relationships.

As people are too lazy to go out and socialize and are too full of themselves, they are becoming increasingly self-isolated, lonely, and disconnected from the real world, gluing themselves to electronics and substances (video games, drugs, porn/camgirls, etc.). It’s no wonder why rates of anxiety, depression, ADHD, and ASD are through the roof nowadays. Unhealthy behaviours lead to unhealthy humans. Duh.

Unhealthy people are unattractive, and it only singles these people out further from potential friendships and relationships, which drives them even more lonely and mentally unhealthy. It’s a vicious feedback loop.

There are many other reasons that explain why the dating scene is horrible in the West, but all these reasons can be tied to one of the above. It used to not be this way, but years of individualism since the 1950s have eroded away traditional values and basic morality, and have enabled toxic behaviour amongst people, leading to the phenomena we see today in dating.

In other words, people are simply less attractive and less desirable relationship partners than before. Many people are simply not relationship material and are quite literally “undatable”.

“Ignorance is bliss”. Many people like to pretend we don’t have a problem in the dating scene, but we clearly do. This is not an easy problem to solve, as many things in society must be changed. However, if a lot of people are aware of this and change the way they look at things, we still have hope.

As I said earlier, there needs to be a balance between traditional and modern values for a functioning society and dating market. However, this is difficult to find anywhere in the world as things are changing so quickly. Thus you need to change yourself to maximize your chances of finding someone desirable. If more people start recognizing this and changing their own behaviours, it will certainly make things easier for most people.

Remember, in order to find someone desirable in dating, you must become desirable yourself — human relations are transactional. Our current societal values have made many people less desirable romantic partners in general — less healthy, less wealthy, and more emotionally unstable. If you work on these things, you can easily become attractive. It is up to you to change that.

  • Stop blaming others for your dating problems — Mindset is the most important thing. I see too many people blaming others (a gender, society, or parental upbringing) for their dating problems. You are not entitled to sex, relationships, and a partner just by existing. Nobody is entitled to anything. Same thing as believing that your life is screwed and you’re doomed to be single. You’re never going to fix your problems if you carry that mindset. You’re always going to be bitter and depressed. It’s an uphill battle, but giving up, especially if you’re young (<50 years old), is pure cowardice.
  • Understand that biology cannot be changed No matter how many genders they want to define, what pronouns they use, or what gender roles they want you to believe in, in biology there are only two sexes — male and female. In most animals, females give birth and perform most of the nurturing duties (e.g. breastfeeding), while males provide food and resources, and protect the female and young. No matter how people want to spin it, these basic gender roles cannot be changed. While it is possible to defy traditional gender roles (e.g. the stay-at-home dad, or the career-focused mom), something else has to give in order for the biological responsibilities to be carried out (such as having another caretaker for the children if the mother isn’t available due to work). Also, humans only have so many years of fertility, outside of which it will become difficult to have biological children. You see many people who forgo relationships to work on their careers and other things before regretting it once it’s too late to have children.
  • Dopamine detox — Many people nowadays are hooked on an IV of dopamine and instant gratification — video games, social media, easy access to sex and pornography, alcohol, drugs, etc. To truly get a grip on your life, you need to cut those things out and develop self-discipline. Stop wasting your time. When your brain is hooked on easy dopamine, it becomes more challenging to do things that matter — gaining knowledge, learning skills, getting healthy, making money, and self-improvement. It also makes people less likely to put effort into dating and relationships since their dopamine-fueled brains think dating or maintaining a relationship is too much effort when they can find easy alternatives (e.g., porn and casual sex).
  • Work on yourself — Everything from your physical appearance (body language, fashion, fitness, etc.) to social skills (communication, conflict resolution) to responsibility, your interests and hobbies, your education, career, and finances, to physical and mental health (including your past traumas). Invest in yourself. Become the best version of yourself. Become attractive. People often say they only want to date the top X percent of men or women — It is actually not that difficult to make it to the top X percent because of how lazy, self-absorbed, and unhealthy most people are. If you are willing to put in the work and change the things you can change, you will become much more desirable than the average person. Even if you don’t see dating success in the process, you still become a lot more valuable, and you gain self-confidence knowing that you put in all the work, which in itself is attractive.
  • Develop communication skills — Dating is just social interaction, and social skills are rapidly declining amongst younger generations due to increased electronics use and self-isolation. Many people don’t know how to carry a conversation, crack a joke or take a joke, talk to strangers without panicking, read situations and emotions, be empathetic, or handle disagreements and conflicts. You don’t get good at these things by sitting at home all day and scrolling on your phone. You need to put yourself out there and practice with real people — there is no shortcut. Put yourself into social settings. Get trained in public speaking. Learn how to approach strangers and flirt respectfully without being creepy. Learn to read body language and social cues. Learn how to take a rejection or reject others gracefully. Also, don’t run away from conflicts or uncomfortable situations. Be ready to own up to your problems and compromise. Relationships take work and sacrifice.
  • Be realistic — With so much focus on social media, appearance, and materialism, everyone has high standards. Now, I don’t mean ditching all your standards, but you need to be realistic about what you bring to the table. Demanding something while giving nothing in return is not a relationship — it is welfare. If you look physically unattractive, either work on becoming more physically appealing (fashion, weight & fitness, etc.), or stop expecting someone who looks like a model. If you are poor, what makes you think you can get a rich partner to shower you with money and gifts? If you are a boring, blank sheet of paper, why do you deserve an interesting, charismatic partner to “spice up your life”? Furthermore, too many people have the wrong idea of what a healthy relationship should look like. Many people are traumatized, addicted to drama and conflicts, and think that a peaceful relationship where both partners are doing their part is boring. People will intentionally start drama to “spice things up”, and it leads to relationships falling apart. Finally, give everyone a chance. Many people pre-reject others before even interacting with them due to not meeting certain arbitrary standards they have (e.g., height). How do you know if they are compatible or not? At the end of the day, I believe standards are for those who don’t know what they want.
  • Work on being a good partner and friend, not just a provider/caretaker — Whether you like it or not, dating standards have objectively changed. It no longer cuts it just being a good provider or a good caretaker like how it was in the past. Don’t be stuck in the past. Nowadays you need to work on being a good and equal partner and, more importantly, a good friend (not the same as “friendzone”!). If you can’t even maintain normal friendships or make new platonic friends, why are you even trying to date? Despite what people like to say online, being a good partner is essentially a step up from being a good friend, but with the shared goal of maintaining the relationship. There is a lot of learning, hard work, compromise, and sacrifice involved, which people rarely do today. Be an asset to others. Nobody wants to befriend or date an entitled asshole, a lazy bum, or a boring robot. Learn how to be a good friend first.
  • Limit the use of social media and online dating — Again, these things are largely a waste of time. You need to go outside and meet people in real life. Social media and online dating are inherently superficial and you are asking yourself to be judged based on a few photos and statistics rather than your full personality. Humans are complex and it is completely unnatural to meet people and develop attraction based on some statistics and photos. Although I think it is still beneficial to maintain a basic presence on popular social media platforms and dating apps; however, do not make those your primary means of meeting people.
  • Finally, don’t give out sex too easily — We live in such a hyper-sexualized culture here in the West. Everything is about sexual appeal nowadays, and so many people today have various forms of sex addictions. When you enter a relationship, don’t make it solely about sexual attraction. Looks fade and people’s appearances change. You also risk getting used for sex, as well as other problems such as STDs and unwanted pregnancy. While I don’t encourage going towards the other extreme either (i.e. total abstinence or no sex until marriage), temporarily refraining from sex (for a few weeks to months) is a good test of faithfulness and relationship strength. Also, have some self-respect and don’t give out sex to anyone like it’s candy — your body is valuable.

At the end of the day, you need to change your mindset from being a slave to sex, happiness, and instant gratification to becoming your best self and investing in yourself long-term. A good relationship takes work and sacrifice, and not always happy and perfect, but if you’re willing to put that in, you will be ahead of most people in the dating market.

Again, I am not preaching that we should go back to the culture of the early 20th century and undo all the societal progress. Instead, I believe we should adopt a modern twist to traditional values, and maintain a balance. There is a reason why some parts of the world, especially those with strong traditional values, still see good relationships and families.

We are living in interesting times full of societal, political, and economic change. The dating market is merely a reflection of societal values and prosperity. In prosperous and stable times, people partner up early and start families. In turbulent times as we live in now, relationships and families become less of a priority.

As I mentioned in another blog post, the kind of prosperity and stability we had in the West since the end of WWII was unprecedented. As such, the kind of dating market where most people (mainly Baby Boomers and Gen X) were getting into good relationships and starting families was also unprecedented. I believe those easy times are coming to an end. When people are overworked, cannot afford necessities such as a home, and are stressed about basic survival, dating becomes less of a priority — you see that in many developed nations today, such as Japan, China, and the US.

Also, the widespread availability of electronics/cheap entertainment options and the lack of third spaces (public spaces outside of home and work/school) means fewer people are going outside and meeting in person. This is detrimental to dating since it is how most people used to meet and find prospective partners. However, with more people than ever staying indoors, and more stigma surrounding workplace dating and approaching strangers in public, people have resorted to using social media and online dating platforms, which are inherently superficial, and do not represent real-world social dynamics.

Throughout most of human history, the majority of people had to settle into suboptimal relationships just to survive. Many people had no partners and remained single and childless for life. Many others don’t even live to childbearing age or perish in conflicts, wars, or pandemics. In fact, in most of the world outside of the developed nations, it is still like that to this day. Most people either get an arranged/forced marriage or stay single for life.

We are lucky to be living in the developed world where people actually have choices when it comes to dating. Let’s appreciate what we have. It may be difficult for some, but we have it so much better now compared to how it could have been.

But no matter what times we live in, there are always people who are successful at various things, whether it be wealth or dating. You just need to have a certain mindset and do the right things, and these things will come to you.

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