Dating apps are everywhere these days.
They are becoming more and more popular because they are convenient and simple to use. In fact, they offer the chance to meet new people without even having to leave home.
But there is a darker side.
Sure, dating apps offer a tool to connect with potential partners. But the reality is that they can also be detrimental to our emotional well-being.
Why are dating apps toxic? 9 reasons
1) We come to expect and accept poor behavior
You’re driving along and someone cuts you up on the freeway. Without even having time to think about it you find yourself giving them the finger.
There’s something about being in the car that feels like a protective barrier between you and others. It makes you behave in ways you wouldn’t face to face.
The online world is the same.
Hiding behind a screen, we find that people feel bolstered to say things and act in a way they wouldn’t dream of in real life.
They’ll say rude things, they’ll call you names, they’ll totally ignore you, they’ll ask you for sex in the first 5 minutes of chatting. Whilst commonplace on online dating sites, you’d probably be pretty shocked if you encountered this anywhere else.
What’s worse is that in response we simply lower the bar of human decency. We set lower expectations of the behavior we can expect from someone online.
We may try to shrug it off and label it as just part of online dating. But every nasty comment, unmatching without explanation, ghosting, date that stands you up, request for nudes, and 1001 other examples of poor behavior starts to eat away at you.
2) Choice overload
Why are dating apps causing burnout? The answer is probably in part down to choice overload.
I love going to a restaurant where there are only a few things on the menu. Because I genuinely find it overwhelming when there is too much to decide between.
Perhaps you can relate? Or maybe you spend all your time choosing which Netflix show to start next, checking out trailer after trailer, but never actually watching anything.
We tend to think of choice as a good thing. We imagine it brings us closer to finding something that is most suited to us. Something even better. But it’s not really the case.
Quite frankly our brains can’t handle a lot of choice, and it can have some negative side effects when we are faced with it.
Studies have shown that making decisions drains our willpower in a process called “ego depletion”.
Dating apps present us with hundreds and hundreds of choices. Is it any wonder it causes fatigue and burnout?
The paradox of choice is that the more we have, the worse we end up feeling.
When we are faced with too many options we find making and sticking to a decision harder, and we’re less likely to be happy with our choice.
This could explain one of the reasons why short-term romance is rife on dating apps. There is always the temptation of more choice just a swipe away. But the reality is that more choice isn’t bringing us more satisfaction.
3) You face higher levels of rejection
More choice equals more knockbacks too.
Dating apps feed into our on-demand culture. We want everything now, and we don’t want to wait.
You can have pretty much anything you want these days delivered to your door within the hour. Dating apps give the illusion of on-demand romance.
You don’t need to wait for a chance meeting, or for love to suddenly strike. You can have it right now by browsing a catalog of potential partners.
But love isn’t the same as that food you ordered from Uber Eats. It’s a more complicated process.
When we met people organically we probably weren’t dating anywhere near as much. But it also meant we weren’t feeling those heartbreaks as frequently either.
On dating apps we are opening ourselves up to way more unmet expectations and far more frequently than in real life.
Many men in particular report feeling a lot less satisfied with the amount of attention they receive on dating apps. With far more guys than girls saying they felt disappointed by being overlooked.
The rejection can feel relentless. In fact, dating apps have given birth to so many new forms of rejection that a whole variety of dating terms had to be invented to explain it all.
There’s ghosting, benching, breadcrumbing, cushioning, catching and releasing and more.
Human beings take social rejection seriously. It causes the same pain in the brain for us as physical pain.
Dating apps expose us to far more unavoidable rejection.
4) Swiping can become addictive
Let’s not forget that ultimately dating apps are a business.
And they’re a very big business, with stats showing they made $5.61 billion in 2021.
Let’s not be under any illusion that they’re playing matchmaker here. They are out to make money. And they do this by keeping you on the app.
Just like all social media, the user experience is designed to hold your attention. That’s why dating apps can quickly start to feel like a game of Candy Crush.
You mindlessly open them and start to swipe away without much thought. But like any addictive activity, it can be very detrimental to your wellbeing.
As the author of ‘Nothing Personal: My Secret Life in the Dating App Inferno’ Nancy Jo Sales told Vox:
“It’s imposed on you by platforms and algorithms that aren’t really about you finding love, they just want you to engage. The more you see 18-year-old women or whatever — and [the apps] have fake bots, too — it gets your dopamine spiking. So you think, “Maybe if I just keep swiping and keep swiping, I’ll get another one.” It’s like gambling.”
You may think that it is you who is using the dating app, but below the surface, they are using you and they do so by subtly manipulating you for their own benefit.
That’s why you should try to do something about this behavior before it becomes an addiction.
A great way to do so is to focus on yourself and start building a healthy relationship with yourself.
I know this might sound confusing but that’s something I learnt from the renowned shaman Rudá Iandê.
It turns out that the reason behind your actions is related to the degree you think about those actions. And if you do it without reflecting on them, chances are that you’ll become addicted.
But guess what?
Focusing on yourself is a great way to solve this problem and build fulfilling and happy relationships.
So, if you’re done with unsatisfying dating, empty hookups, frustrating relationships, and having your hopes dashed over and over, then this is a message you need to hear.
5) It’s inherently shallow
It’s very easy to start to feel like a piece of meat on dating apps.
The whole format of popular applications like Tinder and Bumble is to select potential dates from a few pictures and very limited (if any at all) information on the person.
When dating becomes 2-dimensional it automatically makes it more shallow.
Of all the meaningful long-term relationships I’ve had, I’m not sure I would have swiped for any of them if we’d met through an app.
You’re basing attraction on a picture. In real life, it doesn’t quite work like that. Attraction is complex. It’s based on so many interweaving factors.
We read people’s energy, and their body language. We pick up subtle cues that are powerful indicators of whether someone is “our kind of person”.
A friend of mine once put it like this:
“Beauty is grace in motion”.
What we find attractive in real life about people isn’t a static quality based solely on the way they look.
When we naturally meet love interests it is often through common interests, friends, work, family, etc. There is something that connects us.
This makes it more likely that we will share those all-important common values, beliefs, and identity that ultimately help you connect on a deeper level and give a relationship longevity.
For a lot of people, being reduced to selling themselves based on how they look is a breeding ground for disappointment and insecurity. Like thirty-one-year-old Daniel explained to the BBC:
“The biggest problem for me, which gets me down the most, is that you’re only connected because of what you see in a picture. I’ve found this in turn leads to expectations and ideas about the person, which end up being a disappointment. I’ve turned up on dates and it’s clear within minutes I am not what the guy had in mind and vice versa.”
6) It dents your self-esteem and messes with mental health
Countless studies have shown that dating apps expose you to more stressors. Social anxiety and depression have been linked to their usage.
One piece of research published in BMC Psychology found that people who use dating apps are indeed more likely to be depressed, anxious or feel distressed as a consequence.
Meanwhile, another study showed that male Tinder users struggled with self-esteem whilst female users had body image issues.
Frustration, toxic connections, low self-esteem, loneliness, and disappointment. There are plenty of mental health pitfalls to fall foul of on dating apps.
Whilst the direct relationship might not be clear, the evidence suggests that we should probably be cautious with how these tools are capable of messing with our minds.
7) It can leave you feeling used
Hookup culture is rife and undoubtedly fuelled by dating apps.
This isn’t any kind of moral judgment. I simply question whether this genuinely works for many people.
As the Newstatesman highlights:
“Studies consistently find the same thing: following hook-ups, women are more likely than men to experience regret, low self-esteem and mental distress.”
If you are searching for meaningful human connection and are consistently met with “send nudes”, you’re bound to be left deflated.
Dating apps can quickly make both men and women feel disposable, as dating app user Kirsty, puts it:
“It fuels the idea of a disposable society where people can match, date once, and not give it much effort. I find it difficult to distinguish between those who are just using it as a way of passing time on their commute or ego-boosting and those who actually are looking for something serious.”
8) We start to become jaded
Have a quick swipe and it’s not long before you encounter an abrasive bio littered with comments like:
“If you don’t want to chat, why bother matching”
“No one night stands”
“No fake girls, so if you use filters swipe left”
“If your bio is empty I won’t match with you”
It’s usually a reflection of our frustrations with dating apps in general, but it comes across as slightly bitter.
We may start to close ourselves off in an attempt to handle the emotions datin apps bring up.
We might even find ourselves playing games like ‘I’m not going to message first until they do’ as a protective attempt to get the upper hand.
People lie so frequently to us online that we develop trust issues.
Defense mechanisms kick in to handle all the drama and disappointment that is thrown at us. And we end up feeling deflated, dejected and jaded.
9) It can be demoralizing and in some instances physically dangerous
Most of us know all too well that dating apps can make you feel like you’re wasting your time. The disappointment and expectations constantly being dashed start to feel demoralizing.
But sadly sometimes dating apps can even become a source of abuse.
Pew Research concluded that around a third of women on apps have been called abusive names. Half had also been actively pursued by men online, even when they have said no. Meanwhile, 57 percent of female users between 18 to 34 said they’d been sent a sexually explicit message or unsolicited image.
Even more alarming, Columbia Journalism Investigations surveyed 1,200 women and found over one-third reported being sexually assaulted by someone they had met online.
The way that race discrimination plays out on dating apps was highlighted in a 2018 study by Cornell that exposed the racist biases in the algorithms dating sites use.
An article on Wired explains how POC have to face offensive statements regularly:
“People of color also routinely experience vile forms of harassment on dating sites. They see profiles riddled with racist statements in the form of “preferences,” such as “No blacks” or “No Indians, no Asians, no Africans.”
In certain instances, dating apps can clearly be incredibly psychologically damaging.
To conclude: Why are dating apps so depressing?
A collection of potentially harmful factors come together to mean that dating apps can impact on mental health.
Perhaps that’s why to many people it feels like the dating market is getting worse.
Whilst it is probably unfair to say definitively that dating apps are bad for mental health, it is more evodent that the way that we use them certainly can be.