Should You Be Dating? Differentiating Between Healthy Dating and Dating as a Coping Mechanism

A friend of mine requested that I write an article differentiating between dating in a healthy way, and dating as a coping mechanism or as a way to avoid the things going on in your life. He asked me, “How do I know when I am actually ready to start dating? I don’t want to give all my baggage to someone else, so when do I start dating again and know that it’s healthy for me? How do I know I’m not just avoiding being alone?” I have been mulling over this question for months, and I have put this blog post on the back-burner because I had no idea how to write about this. I tried to do some quick googling a few times, to see if anything was out there on this topic. To my surprise, I really couldn’t find anything.

In my search, I came across one woman who wrote a blog post about online dating as a way to combat boredom, as she is in the PeaceCorps, and how entertaining it is to talk to strangers she will never meet, as well as the high number of scammers she runs across. You can find her blog post here: [1].

I also came across an article about negative coping mechanisms. While it did not touch on dating specifically, it did list “withdrawing from your community” and “being promiscuous” as negative coping techniques, which could potentially go hand-in-hand with dating. You can find this article here: [2].

I found many articles about coping with being single, coping with a breakup, and even coping with the stressors of online dating. However, in my quick search, I found nothing to suggest that anyone might use dating, in and of itself, as a coping mechanism to get away from their “real life,” or whether this could be done in a healthy way.

So, I want to take this opportunity to parse this out a bit. Dating as a coping mechanism, like any other coping techniques, can be done in a healthy way and in an unhealthy way. As I tell many of my clients, there’s nothing wrong with turning your brain off for an hour at the end of a long day to watch your favorite show. We all do it, and sometimes we really do need that break from reality; it IS self-care! However, when you are turning your brain off for six hours at the end of the day, and binge-watching for days on end, this simple self-care technique becomes very detrimental. You are now using it to avoid your problems rather than to just take a break from them.

So, as you think about your own life and dating techniques, it may be important to ask yourself some questions:

  1. What is my reasoning for going on this date?
  2. Am I really looking forward to this date?
  3. Have I been dating so much that I feel tired, and start dreading my dates?
  4. Have I been going on dates to the detriment of my friendships or other romantic relationships?
  5. Is there something I have been putting off for a long period of time, and using the excuse of a date to continue avoiding it?

If you find that you are not really looking forward to the dates that you’re scheduling or are feeling tired even thinking abut dating, this may be a sign that it is okay to “pause” dating and refocus your energy on yourself. If you find that you are missing out on experiences with your existing friends and partner(s), or they are complaining that they never see you because of your dates, this may also be a sign that your energy may be put to better use than yet another first date. And, of course, if you realize that your dating behaviors are there only because you’re avoiding something else in your life (e.g., a difficult conversation with your nesting partner; going back to therapy), it may be important to address this. These are all signs that your dating behaviors may have moved into an unhealthy way to cope with your life, and that these behaviors may start to create problems for you, if they haven’t already.

If you find that you are looking forward to the dates, having fun, and your friends and partner(s) are not feeling abandoned, then you may be utilizing dating as a healthy coping mechanism, or may not even be using dates as a coping technique. If you find that you are not putting off connections with your support systems, your work is not suffering, and you are still able to maintain a balance for yourself, you are probably engaged in healthy dating. So even if you are using dating as a coping technique (as the woman in the PeaceCorps is), there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that. It is simply important to consider the impact dating has on your life.

Happy dating!

-Steph.

[1] Marsh, S. (2016). Online dating: My coping mechanism for boredom. Retrieved on September 3, 2019 from https://soniamarsh.com/2016/08/online-dating-coping-mechanism-boredom.html

[2] Snow, A. (2017). 9 negative coping mechanisms that you need to stop doing ASAP. Retrieved on September 3, 2019 from https://thoughtcatalog.com/alex-snow/2017/05/9-negative-coping-mechanisms-that-you-need-to-stop-doing-asap/

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