AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
If you've ever felt totally exhausted like you're at the end of your rope and done with everything, odds are you've said, I'm burned out. Whether it's from work, your personal life or both, burnout is increasingly common, and it's affecting how we date. NPR's Hanna Bolanos reports.
HANNA BOLANOS, BYLINE: Last fall, I downloaded a dating app. I swiped through an endless sea of faces and went on six first dates in 10 days. It was exhausting, so I deleted the app. A couple weeks later, I re-downloaded it, swiped, and the cycle repeated. In addition to my job and social life, using a dating app felt like more work after work. And it made me wonder; do other people feel the same?
BOLANOS: I ventured into Washington, D.C., on a Tuesday. And even on a weeknight, bars in the city's U Street neighborhood were packed.
BOLANOS: People were guzzling cocktails and beer in sundresses and bright shorts. Everyone was in a great mood until I brought up dating.
WILSON RICKS: I definitely view dating as work.
ELENA ROSS: Sometimes it feels like a job.
DREW DAVIS: It's overwhelming.
MEREDITH ANDERSON: I'm getting burned out on doing, like, all these first dates.
JESCINTA IZEVBIGIE: At the end of the day, yes, there is a burnout effect.
BOLANOS: That was Drew Davis, Elena Ross, Wilson Ricks, Meredith Anderson and Jescinta Izevbigie. They all agree that dating can seriously burn you out. But it's actually just one piece of the puzzle. Slowly but surely, burnout has taken over our lives.
ANNE HELEN PETERSEN: The best way to describe it is feeling like everything in your life has consolidated into a giant to-do list.
BOLANOS: Anne Helen Petersen is a senior culture writer for BuzzFeed. She wrote a feature on burnout in January, and you could say it resonated with people. In the beginning, she got hundreds of thousands of emails from readers, and they're still coming in.
PETERSEN: Now I get one every day that someone is saying, I can't believe that you articulated this thing that I've been feeling for so long.
BOLANOS: According to Petersen, burnout is not exhaustion you can fix with vacation. Instead she calls burnout society's base temperature, particularly for millennials. Thanks to email, Slack and smartphones, we have the potential to be working all the time, so we do. And on top of that, we're constantly optimizing. We turn things that aren't work into work. We're managing social media presences, reading the news, trying to eat healthy, exercise, get enough sleep, keep up with friends while saving money and then, maybe if we have the energy or the time, swipe through a dating app.
PETERSEN: It's a thing that you do in the interstitials of your life that I think can often feel like work. Like, you force yourself. You're like, oh, better put in some time on the dating apps. And that places it within this larger to-do list of things that you should be doing in order to be a functioning adult and can suck all of the joy out of it.
BOLANOS: Let's be clear. Dating has always been hard, but swiping through thousands of strangers when you're already burned out from the rest of your life makes dating even less enjoyable, and yet so many people are doing it.
BOLANOS: On my journey down U Street, I met Hannah Wasserman. She and a group of friends were at a restaurant for trivia night. All of them have stories about bad dating app experiences, but Wasserman in particular feels that using the apps can feel like a second job.
HANNAH WASSERMAN: There's usually multiple people you're talking to, keeping track of them, remembering to make plans, coordinating schedules - all that stuff.
BOLANOS: Wasserman says if you're using an app, you're probably talking to more than one person at a time. The goal is to actually meet at least one of them. But when you've only seen photos and exchanged a few messages, it can be hard to decide who to make time for first. And even if you meet someone, Wasserman told me having unlimited access to more matches in the palm of your hand can make you doubt yourself. More options means more work.
WASSERMAN: You're stuck thinking - you're like, do I go through with this second date even those it was just OK? Am I waiting for perfect chemistry? Am I waiting for a spark? In the meantime, you're nervous you'll get ghosted, so you're setting up backup dates so you don't let the sadness hit you about getting ghosted (laughter). So it's kind of a never-ending cycle.
BOLANOS: And the worst part is better dating habits could actually be saving us from ourselves and our burnout. Here's Anne Helen Petersen from BuzzFeed again.
PETERSEN: The goal of dating is to find someone to spend part of your life with, but instead we're mired in the circle of continuous searching and never finding satisfaction that actually exacerbates our burnout instead of creating, you know, partnership, companionship that I think can really be a salve for burnout.
BOLANOS: So how do we fix it? Peterson recommends spending less time with your phone and more time out in the world. Quite frankly, maybe we'll all date better if we swipe a little less. Hanna Bolanos, NPR News, Washington.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.