10/22/2014 01:39 pm ET Updated Dec 22, 2014

Here's Why You're 20-Something and Single

Michael Martin via Getty Images

I've written before about the cultural implications, stigma, and challenges millennials face, from choosing colleges to choosing which battles to fight. So, in that vein, here's another issue plaguing the life of your average 20-something:

Dating. Let's be honest: it sucks.

Is your idea of a fun Friday night meeting an acquaintance for a drink, (or 12) bouncing through miles of awkward conversation with as much grace as a rhino on a pogo stick, only to wrap it all up with either a) a meaningless one night stand or b) a Netflix-filled screen and a pint of Ben & Jerry's?

Nope, mine either.

So, why do we keep doing it to ourselves? Why do we keep ending up on these shitty dates that never amount to anything other than mediocre sex and/or late-night dairy calories?

The problem is multi-fold, but I think there's one major contributing source: your cell phone.

Tinder, Hinge, OkCupid, and their ilk are simultaneously helping and harming your dating life, because these apps provide you with the blessing (and curse) of a massive romantic network.

In the days before online dating was a widely accepted phenomenon, your romantic prospects were limited to people who were minor degrees of separation away from your life: coworkers, fellow students, friends of friends and friends of family members. If you wanted to meet somebody new outside of your network, you went to a bar or club and, you know, talked to people instead of greeting them by grinding on their rear.

For better or worse, your net was a whole lot smaller, which meant you had less to choose from. When you caught somebody good, you pursued that person more fervently, and since they also likely had a tiny net, they were more receptive.

I use the term "good" here as more than just a non-signifying adjective. I'm talking about somebody that makes you check maybe 7 out of your 10 must-have boxes. Not anybody that would ever appear in your dreams at night, or on the cover of a romance novel, but somebody that you could learn to be crazy about.

Enter mass-accepted online/mobile dating, and suddenly, our nets are as a big as a 4G network can stretch. Now, nearly everybody in your city of residence is fair game. Doesn't matter if you have mutual friends, acquaintances, or hangout spots. Hell, doesn't even matter if you're even within sight of each other. You can see all of their pictures, learn a bit about them in their bio, and the app provides you with the needs to communicate with them: provided you are mutually attracted to each other. You'd think nobody would ever be single again thanks to this technology, right?

Wrong. Now that you've got a city's worth of potential matches in the palm of your hand, why would you settle for 7 out of 10 must-haves? There's got to be somebody out there with 8, or 9, or even all 10. And the more you keep swiping or liking away, the better a chance you have of finding them, right?

These apps have made us so hypercritical that we no longer value a "good" person when he or she comes along. We're willing to swipe left or dislike because of the most minor flaws, (bio longer than a paragraph? NEXT. Looks kind of chubby in that picture from 4 years ago? GOODBYE.) -- many of which wouldn't even have been immediately evident had we met that person in real life. Any why not? There's plenty of fish out there in the digital sea: what's one rejection in the grand scheme of things?

Even if you actually progress to a first date, it doesn't get better. How often have you heard "she didn't look like her pictures" or "he was a lot shorter than his bio said" when asking a friend about their latest date? We fetishize an artificial persona of our potential matches, and are then disappointed when the real deal falls short of our unrealistic, projected expectations.

The bottom line: technology engenders illusion. We see it time and time again in Photoshopped album covers, perfectly snapped selfies, and typed out conversations that are far too smooth to occur in vivo. We see it in online dating, too, where we learn to love the fiction behind a person more than their reality.

Traditionalists would say that the solution here is to delete all dating apps, start living in the "now," value real human contact and yada yada. Realistically, nobody's going to delete those bad boys, and the tech generation isn't going to undergo a major behavioral overhaul anytime soon.

I think the best piece of advice us online daters can rely on is to manage expectations. These apps and sites are pretty remarkable, but understand that anything you see or read on them is likely Photoshopped, pruned, perfectly positioned, and therefore, perfectly unrealistic.

And on the flip side, understand that you may be sabotaging yourself as well. You're dealing with people here, not pixels, so nobody you meet in person is going to live up 100% to their digital persona.

Be OK with that, and be willing to look beyond some of the flaws you'll inevitably encounter. If the person checks 6-8 of those must-haves, be open to date #2. Falling for somebody takes time. As much as we'd like it to be, a mutual swipe right does not true love make.