The Psychology of swiping right

A few weeks ago, I was on fire, dating-wise. I had 4 dates in 4 days.

At one point, I was putting my makeup on for the next date, while the guy from the previous night was still in my bed.

I felt like the queen of everything. I couldn’t stop strutting when I walked.

Then, the very next weekend, I had nothing going on. Not a sausage (pun intended).

Pretty much everything from all four dates had fizzled out.

I watched a whole series on Netflix, started knitting a new cardigan, caught up on the Archers and had a Sunday roast dinner on my own.

I was talking to Flatmate Joe about how dating can be very all or nothing. Feast or famine.

Then I thought about it more. We realised there is a boom and bust cycle in dating!

This is something we talk about quite a lot at work – boom and bust. It’s really relevant for long term health conditions we work with, like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or Chronic Pain.

What happens is that someone will be in loads of pain or have no energy, so they rest for a few days. Then, they feel better for resting, but they know good days are rare, so they try to do as much as they can on the good day. Then, over-exerting themselves makes their pain and fatigue worse again.

Being inactive for too long when the person is resting, can cause their muscle tone to deteriorate, making their symptoms worse over time.

What can help is pacing – trying to keep activity levels roughly the same each day. This stops the boom and bust cycle. Then, gradually, the person’s strength increases, and they can gradually increase their activity levels.

I realised it can be like that with dating. (I appreciate my frippery love life has little in common with the horribleness of having a serious long term health condition, other than the boom and bust thing.)

This is how it goes. First, I have nothing on the horizon. I get bored and lonely, and spend ages looking at dating apps.

Then, being online a lot means I start chatting to a lot of guys. It doesn’t take long for me to feel overwhelmed, when I can’t remember which one is which, and I feel like I don’t have time to reply to everyone. Then, I stop logging in because I feel like I’ve got a full caseload.

Then, some of the chat fizzles out, and maybe I go on dates with a couple of the guys. Inevitably, most of the dates don’t go anywhere.

Then I get bored and have little going on again… and the whole thing repeats.

Sometimes I think about how long it is since I broke up with Matthew (June 2016) and I think argh it’s been so long already! I’ve been looking all that time and haven’t found anyone!! Then I feel a bit hopeless.

But actually, I haven’t really been looking for much of that time.

I think really, I want to be in a relationship more than I want to be single, and as soon as I start enjoying a guy’s company, I stop looking.

I feel like I’ve been looking on dating apps solidly for more than 18 months, but actually, as soon as it started going anywhere with Whippersnapper, Mike, the Bearded South African or the Great Scot, I stopped looking.

It’s like I’m going fishing, but instead of having my fishing rod in the water the whole time, I’ve got 12 rods, which I put in the water all at once, but only for five minutes at a time, then as soon as I feel like I’ve got a live one, I whip them all out.

When I got back in the game after a break from dating last Autumn (for about 30 seconds), I stopped as soon as I had a full caseload.

Then, even though I had too many irons in the fire, one evening, I decided to look on OkCupid again, and that was when I came across the Great Scot. (Which almost worked out really well). Maybe I was a bit more relaxed when messaging him, because I already had potential dates.

So, I’ve decided to break my boom and bust cycle!

Instead of spending no time at all on dating apps, and then spending ages and ages scrolling through faces, I’m going to keep my swiping activity levels constant each day.

At first, I decided to look at a dating app every day, and scroll until I swiped right once, and then stop. One right swipe a day. Maybe two, if the very next guy after the first one looked nice.

I found that wasn’t quite enough, and nothing was happening, so I tinkered with the levels until it felt right. Now, I’m logging in and swiping until I’ve had two matches a day. Then I stop.

I’ve done it for about 2-3 weeks so far, and I like it.

One thing I’ve noticed is that my mentality when swiping is different. When I only expect to swipe right about twice, I feel a bit fresher and less jaded by the faces. When I finally get a match, I feel more interested in the lucky lad I’ve chosen, and I make an effort to send the first message and make it good.

There are loads of phenomena in Psychology, where you think you’re making a decision based on one thing, but actually, extraneous factors you’re unaware of heavily influence your choice.

For example, with the Mere Exposure Effect, if you have to chose a favourite of some random options (e.g. shapes, characters of a language you don’t speak) your favourite will be the one you’ve seen more times. (This is why if you ask someone their favourite word, often it shares letters with their name.)

Another example is how, if you watch a video of a car accident, when you get asked “how fast were the cars going…?”, you’ll give different speeds depending on whether you’re asked “…when they collided?” compared to “… when they smashed?” or “…when they bumped?”

You’re more likely to rate someone as seeming ‘warm’ after reading a description of them, if you’re holding a hot drink at the time.

A pattern I’ve noticed is that I’m more likely to swipe left on the next guy, if I’ve just swiped left the last few times. If I’ve just swiped right the last few times, I’m more likely to swipe right this time.

If I’m already in a good mood, swiping makes me feel hopeful. If I’m in a crabby mood, swiping makes me feel crabbier.

Look at all these pricks! I think. I don’t even want to be friends with them! 

Now I’m only swiping for a few minutes a day, I don’t feel like that so much.

I’m hoping that regulating my boom and bust cycle will mean that… boom! soon I’ll bust out my vagina for the right guy.

PS. This is what happened on the 4 dates.


This was the night I was supposed to have a date, but postponed it so I could go clubbing with a friend instead, and I met the Abrasive Uber Passenger.

Since that night, we texted each other every day for about two weeks. It felt pretty promising. He went on holiday for a few days and was even texting me when he was waiting for his flight to take off.

Then, we finally arranged a date for a Sunday evening. I was excited. Also, I had just got the keys to my new flat, and was spending the whole rest of the weekend decorating.

I was painting a ceiling that was going on forever – it was like when you have a dream that you’re running for a bus but you never get any closer to it. The ceiling seemed infinite.

On the morning of the date, we had this conversation:

He cancelled on the day of the date for what seemed to be absolutely no reason.

I thought are you fucking kidding me?

It seemed like he was yet another ridiculous canceller, like the Whippersnapper, or serial moper, like the Great Scot.

The chat fizzled out and I didn’t make any effort to resurrect it.

But then he did, and we’re going out on Saturday!

When we were arranging it, I was careful to say this:

(The Virgin is going to be my TV and internet provider – recently I’ve been on WordPress less as I’ve moved and had no internet.)


Sunday was the day I got ready the next date, with the Abrasive Uber Passenger still in my bed.

First I went into central London and watched the film Lady Bird with my friend.

Then I met a guy from OkCupid for a Sunday Roast in a pub, late afternoon.

He was in his late 30s, and lived in the part of south London I’m about to move to. He’s a teaching assistant.

I was enthusiastic about the date, as the texts had been good leading up to it.

However, it just didn’t feel like we clicked.

I was a bit late to meet him. It was Chinese New Year and the cinema I’d been in was near Chinatown, and there was a big parade, so my friend suggested we walk to Marylebone instead of getting the Underground (by complete coincidence my friend was also meeting someone from a drink in Marylebone).

My friend told me it was 30 minute walk, but it turned out to be about 50 minutes.

When I realised I would be late, I texted him profusely apologising and jogged the rest of the way.

I was about 15 minutes late in the end.

When I arrived at the pub, I apologised again and started to explain about Chinese New Year, Chinatown and my friend’s miscalculation, but he cut me off mid-sentence, saying “you don’t have to give an excuse.”

I think he was just trying to put me at ease by saying that, but it had the opposite effect, as he didn’t let me finish my story and used the word ‘excuse’.

And then the whole night was like that. We got on quite well, but I just didn’t feel that comfortable or have that great a time.

One thing I cannot bear in men, is meanness, money-wise. My first proper boyfriend was terribly stingy. This guy did pay for one more drink than I did, but he seemed very money-minded and asked me exactly how rent I was paying to Flatmate Joe, which I found surprising.

He seemed a bit negative as well. We talked for quite a while about how he hates the Beatles, and the thing that annoyed me was his view that everyone who likes them just hasn’t thought about it properly.

When I went to the toilet, I found I was checking train times home rather than reapplying makeup or excitedly texting friends about him.

Neither of us texted each other afterwards.


This was not officially a date, but the night I met the Great Scot as friends.

I’m so sad we don’t seem to be friends anymore.


Tuesday I met the guy I had cancelled on the Saturday.

I was not enthusiastic about meeting him. I wasn’t sure I fancied him from his photos, and from his messages he seemed a bit glib and a bit too cool for school.

He lives in east London. He had told me “the Nike Advert with Skepta was filmed near where I live”.

I didn’t admit I didn’t know who or what Skepta was.

I was absolutely shattered before the date. It was my 5th night out in a row, and work had also been horrible and stressful for a few weeks. I fell asleep on the train to meet him and then felt disoriented when I got to Marylebone.

Then, I had a surprisingly good time!

He was much more attractive than his photos, and much warmer and not too overly cool in person.

We had a great time, talking about things like podcasts and things we both like, and politics, which we had the same views on.

We had both been at the same Jeremy Corbyn thing before the election in June.

Then, I left a bit abruptly, because just as we were deciding whether to have another drink, I looked at my watch and realised if I left then, I would just be able to get a train. If I missed it, I’d have to wait over an hour and would get home at about midnight.

As I had made such a sharp exit, I sent a nice message on the way home.

He replied to that, but didn’t say anything to keep things going.

Then I sent another message a few weeks later, saying “I hope the rest of your week’s been good” which he never replied to.

I find this one of the worst things in dating – when a date feels like it had gone well and the person seems keen on the night, but then they don’t keep in touch and you don’t know what happened to change their mind.

Never mind. Onwards and upwards.

23 thoughts on “The Psychology of swiping right

  1. Ooo, I love this post! I love your experiment on swiping and the psychology behind it. I’ve actually been doing something similar by default. Whenever I feel things are getting a little stale, I’ll put myself on “discoverable” on Tinder and adjust my search settings on Hinge… but just for a bit. Maybe 10 minutes, tops. Then I go “into hiding” once again by readjusting all the settings.

    I’ve noticed the feast or famine phenomenon, too, and am trying to remedy it. It’s especially tough to moderate with my availability, though! And I’ve recently had the issue of dudes I matched with several weeks ago messaging me for the first time out of the blue so that upsets the balance a little as well.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. The feast or famine thing happens to me all the time in most aspects of my life. I thought it was just me. Clearly not. Thankfully I seem to have reached some sort of tickover. It’s kind of on the famine side of things but not so bereft that I am without hope. The time between dates can be like a desert though.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Yes I love this post too. Very clever again Dater.
    I like this bit: “It’s like I’m going fishing, but instead of having my fishing rod in the water the whole time, I’ve got 12 rods, which I put in the water all at once, but only for five minutes at a time, then as soon as I feel like I’ve got a live one, I whip them all out.”

    When I am on a dating site or sites I have a very short time with my profile active, say 2 weeks max, otherwise I feel it gets stale. I also like time to adjust to my current crop and decide whether they’re going anywhere. I agree to that it’s disconcerting when a date feels like it went well but you don’t hear back. That hasn’t happened to me very often (as in, with someone I wanted to hear from again!) but it’s the ones where you care about a second date or a possible future that leave you feeling a bit crap and empty. (Or worse)

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I always hated it when I felt a date went well but then the texting after fizzled with no explanation. I just do not understand the mentality of some people. If there is no chemistry be honest!! It is not a crime to not feel chemistry with someone.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. I’m really disappointed with these wishy-washy cancellations! I have had occasions in which I feel so shattered I can barely speak, but if that has been the case I have either suggested something really low key or called the person up to apologise. I want you to find a resilient and robust man!

    Liked by 3 people

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