Side Effects of Serial Dating?


    A reader wants to know if her daughter's serial dating habits could negatively affect her long-term chances of happily settling down.

    Dear Miriam,

    My daughter is in her 20s, and she dates a lot. Whereas some of her friends may go on one date every few weeks, she could easily tell me about five new guys a month. She's smart, pretty and successful, and she seems happy with her social life, so I try not to judge. But I can't help but wonder if all this dating is helping or hurting her prospects of settling down. What do you think?

    Side Effects of Serial Dating? 

    Dear Serial Dating,

    I'm sure your daughter's friends are jealous of the volume of new guys she meets, particularly because the biggest complaint I hear from single women is that they keep running into the same men. I hope they have some kind of arrangement where they introduce each other to promising prospects — even if your daughter doesn't click with a particular guy, one of her friends might. Further, I hope your daughter is respectful of the differing dating habits/styles/levels of success out there and recognizes that "serial" isn't the only category worth falling into.

    Regardless of how she works things out with her friends, I wonder the context in which she shares these escapades with you. If it's, "Mom, I had another amazing Saturday night at a fantastic new restaurant with a really fun guy," then you'd do well to assume that this is a phase in her life that will eventually pass (probably). In the meantime, she's having a lot of fun. 

    If she says things like, "Mom, I just went out with the fifth new guy this month, but I don't think I'm going to see any of them again," then her subtext may be, "Why am I meeting so many people but not clicking with any of them?" In that case, you could open a conversation about what kind of guys she's dating versus what kind of guy she actually wants to date for the long term. 

    If you're the only one in the equation wondering about her prospects of settling down, keep your wondering to yourself. Be there as a sounding board when she requests it. If settling down isn't one of her short-term goals, it's irrelevant whether her habits are helping or hurting her chances. It's especially irrelevant if you think settling down ought to be one of her short-term goals. If she really is enjoying the experience of dating, as it sounds like she is from your description, you're right not to judge. It's actually refreshing to hear about a single woman enjoying being single and making the most of these unencumbered years. 

    However, since you asked, there are a couple of ways in which I believe serial dating does detract from longer term prospects. When a woman (or a man) goes through a series of one to three date stints with different people, it's possible that she's looking for some magic combination of qualities that may not exist in an actual human. I tend to think this is a symptom of online dating, where you enter your ideal characteristics and wait for matches to pop up. But it's also a symptom of 21st Century expectations of customization, or just plain pickiness.

    Also, if a single person is accustomed to having a constant stream of new dates, spending more time on one person can lead to antsiness about what new person s/he might be missing. Finally, resistence to commitment can be related to fear of rejection and all kinds of other pop psychology truisms, but it can also be a symptom of being in your 20s and having a lot of fun.

    All that being said, if you think your daughter is being unsafe or that her habits are making her unhappy, you have a parental obligation to step in. If not, just let her enjoy the ride and be there for her along the way.

    Be well,