What is a Serial Dater & Signs You're Dating One


Last Updated: April 16, 2024

Dating Tips

If you’ve fallen for a serial dater in the past, we can bet that the experience wasn’t such a pleasant one. Getting entangled with this kind of person can leave you feeling underappreciated, led on, and eventually abandoned. And, you might have blamed the whole thing on yourself!

But, when you learn more about how serial daters operate, you can make some important changes in your own dating life to make sure it doesn’t happen again. In this article, we’ll talk about what serial dating is, why people do it, and how you can keep yourself from taking the bait.

What is serial dating?

Serial dating happens when a person engages in a sequence of short-term, noncommittal relationships instead of forming deep emotional connections that develop into long-term partnerships.

When they decide that the relationship has run its course, they may ghost the person they had been seeing or give a reason for ending the relationship. Before long, they’re right back on the dating apps, rekindling old flames, or otherwise looking for their next short-term partner.

What’s going on in the mind of a serial dater?

You might have heard serial daters be called “commitment-phobes” as in, someone who is afraid of committing to a relationship. And for many people who engage in this kind of dating, there is some truth here. In other words, they are more attracted to the fun, exciting stage of getting to know someone. But when things start to become more vulnerable or difficult (as long-term relationships naturally do), they would rather end things than move forward.

Where does this behavior come from? Well, everyone has their own origin story for becoming a serial dater, but a few include:

  • Rejection in childhood. How someone dates as an adult is often a reflection of their childhood. Someone who received a lot of rejection, abandonment, bullying, and other psychological pain growing up may protect themselves by rejecting others before others have a chance to hurt them.
  • Past negative dating experiences. Someone who went through a nasty breakup that still haunts them may be more fearful about being hurt again. It’s easier for them to pursue superficial dating experiences than go through another heartbreak.
  • Pressure in other areas of their life. As with the other two reasons, fear of rejection plays a big role here, too. Someone who is in constant threat of being fired or receiving criticism from people whose opinions matter to them may try to regain control in their dating life.

Of course, while it can be helpful to understand some of the reasons why someone might become a serial dater, these aren’t excuses. There are ways to work through these fears of rejection and abandonment so that they don’t take over a person’s dating style.

Other reasons why someone might become a serial dater


We also want to note that there are a few reasons for serial dating that don’t necessarily have to do with psychological fear of rejection. These include:

  • An unpredictable lifestyle. A person who loves to travel, has a flexible work life, or often makes decisions on a whim may not want to give up their go-with-the-flow lifestyle.
  • Commitment to other areas of their life. Alternatively, someone who is overly focused on another area of their life, be it their career or being a caretaker for an aging parent, may not have the emotional capacity to enter into a serious relationship.
  • Age. This one isn’t talked about a lot, but many young people tend to be serial daters. When you’re young, it’s actually a good idea to keep things light while you explore what you want out of life and the kinds of partners who make you happy.

When serial dating becomes a problem

As you can see, there are some reasonable explanations for serial dating and others that are rooted in psychological harm. So, is serial dating inherently bad?

Well, no. But only as long as the serial dater is honest and open about their desires and expectations for the relationship. They may propose a friends-with-benefits relationship or another form of casual dating.

The problem is when a serial dater isn’t honest or aware that they have no intentions of deepening their connection with someone. As a result, they may build up the other person’s expectations with grandiose promises of commitment and connection, only to leave this person high and dry once the shine of the honeymoon phase has worn off. In other words, serial dating can be a form of emotional manipulation that gives the person a sense of control and power, which is an unhealthy way to approach dating.

How to tell if you’re dating a serial dater right now


Think you might be dating someone who is going to make a run for it when things start to get serious? Here are a few red flags that suggest someone may be a serial dater:

· They put a lot of emphasis on living in the moment. Now, we all want to live in the moment. But, if your partner can only live in the moment, it could be a sign that they’re avoiding uncomfortable feelings.

· They avoid future planning. A serial dater may engage in conversations with you about hypothetical futures, but when it comes down to real-life planning, they can’t commit. They’ll be lukewarm about making plans to meet your friends or family, and may even say no to planning for things a few months out.

· They’ve made it clear they’re not someone you can rely on. Maybe it was the way they kept their distance that time you were sick or how they left you hanging on moving day, the message is clear. They’re not your go-to person for anything more than casual dating.

· They’re hesitant to put a label on the relationship. Any time a new partner says “I don’t like labels,” there’s a good chance they’re not ready for a commitment. Likewise, they may not be willing to become exclusive.

· They shower you with compliments. One of the most confusing parts of being with a serial dater is that they often are sweet and kind at first. They may shower you with compliments and tell you how much they enjoy spending time with you.

· You feel caught up in the thrill of the honeymoon period. The beginning stages of a relationship can be downright intoxicating. But, if you’re finding yourself putting the rest of your life on hold because you’re spending all of your time with this person, it’s a sign that something might be off.

· They say that their ex was too clingy. We all know that someone talking about their “crazy” ex is a red flag. But, with a serial dater, it might be more subtle than that. They may make negative comments about their ex being controlling or clingy, when in fact, they were simply emotionally unavailable.

· They make you feel too clingy. One reason why a serial dater may talk about their ex being too clingy is as a subtle warning that you should avoid “making the same mistake.” If they make unwarranted jokes about you being clingy, jealous, or otherwise, be mindful that they may be showing their own insecurities with commitment.

· Small disagreements quickly become heated. A person who doesn’t deal with emotional intimacy well will put up a strong front against any kind of confrontation. If, for instance, you tell them that a joke they made hurt your feelings, they may turn it into a fight about you trying to control what they say. Their quickness to anger shuts down potential arguments quickly and prevents you from feeling comfortable sharing your emotions in the future. They may eventually use these small disagreements as excuses to end the relationship.

· They periodically disappear. Someone who is not ready for commitment will often bail out when they feel overwhelmed. Instead of having a mature conversation about something that’s bothering them, for example, they might disappear for hours or days at a time. Eventually, they may leave for good without having a formal conversation.

How to prevent getting caught up with a serial dater in the future

If you’re looking for something serious, you’ll want to avoid the serial dater. Here are a few things you can do to have a healthier and more fulfilling dating life:

  • Make your intentions clear. One of the best ways you can avoid any kind of casual relationship is to state your intentions. This will help to set the tone of your dating life and hopefully weed out anyone who’s not looking for the same things.
  • Take things slowly. Serial daters are hyper-focused on the intense phase of early dating. As a result, they may engage in love bombing or pressure you to move the relationship forward more quickly than you’re used to. If you feel like your emotions are starting to take over, consider pumping the brakes. Someone who is genuinely interested in getting to know you and building a relationship will be willing to take things slow.
  • Keep up your existing routine. Staying committed to other areas of your life, such as your friend group, work, exercise goals, etc. is a great way to keep yourself grounded in the early stages of a relationship.
  • Work on your own insecurities and fears. Working with a trained professional to boost your own self-esteem will put you in a much better dating position. Not only will serial daters recognize that you’re too emotionally stable to get caught up in their whirlwind, but your self-confidence will make you feel less abandoned when the serial dater leaves.
  • Don’t shy away from learning about their exes. It can be uncomfortable to bring up the subject of past partners with someone new. But, how someone talks about their ex can be a good way to understand their character. Do they talk about this person in a mature, healthy way? Or do they constantly deride them in a way that makes you fearful of ever being an ex yourself?
  • Consider whether their behaviors align with their words. Serial daters can often be highly social, passionate people who appear to be emotionally intelligent and mature. But, one of the benefits of taking things slow is that it will give you a chance to see if their actions support your initial impression of them. For example, if someone tells you early on in the relationship that they are a caring and thoughtful partner, check in after a few weeks to consider whether that’s true. How have they shown that they care about and consider you?
  • Take the time to think about how this relationship is making you feel. Sometimes our bodies are better at telling us how we feel than our logical brains. If since you’ve started seeing this person you’re feeling more tired, stressed, uneasy, or if you’re struggling with stomach issues or sleep problems, those could be physical manifestations of the emotional roller coaster you’re on.
  • Don’t expect anyone to change for you. As we’ve established, many serial daters are driven by the need to overcome their own fear of rejection and abandonment. This is why, if you start pushing back on their behavior and distancing yourself, they may try to win you back. They may make lofty promises about changing their behavior, giving you gifts, and even agreeing to commit when they were unwilling before. But, be very mindful about whether they’re promising these things because they really want to change or because they don’t want you to walk away first.
  • Empower yourself to find someone who truly wants commitment. There’s no shame in giving a new relationship a good effort. But, if you feel like you’ve spent a lot of time constantly questioning this person’s interest, walking on eggshells, and feeling like you have to convince them to stay, it’s time to move on. The right person will consistently show you that they’re on the same path as you. You will feel safe bringing up your emotions and cultivating a deeper connection.

You’re ready to put your days of entertaining serial daters behind you!

In this article, we’ve taken a deep dive into the world of serial daters: possible reasons why they do it, how to spot one, and how to avoid them. You may still feel some nervousness about whether your next partner will be serious and ready to commit. But, all you can do is stay connected to how you’re feeling, take things slow, and stay open to being pleasantly surprised! Those are some of your best defenses against the serial dater!

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