The Psychology of Dating: Go for the Person Who’s out of Your League

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Dating can be rough on your self-esteem. It’s hard to be confident sometimes, but it’s even worse when you’ve tried so hard to impress someone who tells you that it’s not really working. Being ignored or insulted online, or meeting up once and then being ghosted, can really put a dent in your self-image. Surely, it makes sense to keep your expectations low. Why would you attempt to date someone who you suspect wouldn’t be in to you? True love signs might be easier to spot in some cases than others. It all depends on the character of the person.

In fact, rather than setting you up for failure, setting your sights high can actually improve your dating chances. Some people rely on high-end matchmaking services such as Kelleher International to make it easier to qualify dating partners.

If you’re not using a matchmaking service and decide to use online dating instead, consider this:

If you’re 35, there’s no point swiping right on a 23 year old whose profile clearly says they’re looking for someone their own age. If your idea of exercise is getting up to open the door when the pizza delivery arrives, don’t bother messaging the person who’s looking for a gym partner. But unless your self confidence is the size of Mount Everest, there will be times when you’ve looked at a dating profile and thought, “This person looks amazing, but I’m sure they wouldn’t want to date me.”

This is a normal and natural way to think. You assume that other people feel the same way about you that you feel about yourself. It’s not until you get to know someone that you can imagine they have their own opinions. If you’ve recently started playing guitar, you can accept that your mother thinks you’re talented, but you wouldn’t suppose that if you start busking then passing strangers will applaud and give you money. So when you don’t know anything about another person except what they’ve written on their profile, you’ll naturally assume they will see you the way you see yourself.

There are several problems with this kind of thinking. First of all, it makes completely unsupported assumptions about the other person. How many couples do you know where at least one partner will say “I honestly don’t know why s/he loves me.” Discovering that another person likes you even when you don’t like yourself is incredibly positive. But, your belief that they will see you how you see yourself gets in the way of that happening. This is where online dating websites that use personality based matching can be a big help, check out eHarmony.

Secondly, it reinforces negative ideas about yourself. Your mind is great at doing what psychologists call counterfactual thinking: imagining a scenario as if it had been different. So when you see someone who you’d love to date, but decide they’re out of your league, your mind naturally pictures what might have happened if you’d taken the chance. Of course, the idea that you could have found lasting love and happiness would fill you with regret, so you tend to tell yourself something like, “Well they would have got bored with me and it wouldn’t have lasted.” This might make you feel better short term, but as far as your self esteem is concerned, there’s no difference between what actually happened and your mind’s counterfactual thinking. Imagining that someone would find you boring has the same effect as someone saying, “You’re boring,” in real life.

Regret has other effects too. You’re not only likely to devalue something you missed out on – “It wouldn’t have been good anyway” – but once you’re missed an opportunity, you’re more likely to pass up chances in the future. Studies demonstrate a phenomenon known as “inaction inertia.” In dating terms, this means that if you pass up a chance to chat with someone who seems amazing, you’re more likely not to try connecting with someone who’s good, but not as wonderful as the one you missed. Importantly, this doesn’t happen if you flirt with someone who seems wonderful and get rejected or ignored. It’s only when you decide not to bother that deciding not to bother becomes your default choice.

There’s no point trying to date someone you’re certain is never going to be interested. But if you assume they wouldn’t like you, not because of anything you know about them, but because you’re guessing how they’d feel, then you could be missing out. Even worse, you’ll damage your own self esteem and make yourself less likely to take a chance on a great date in future. Taking a chance and getting knocked back isn’t fun, but it’s not as bad for you as not taking a chance at all.

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Melissa Thompson

Melissa is a mother of 2, lives in Utah, and writes for a multitude of sites. She is currently the EIC of and writes about health, wellness, and business topics.