Using a dating app can be an extremely surreal experience for those starting out. There’s a little button on your phone that connects you to an almost endless stream of people, each with a different possibility. What if you accidentally swipe the wrong way on your soulmate, or spend time chatting to someone only to get ghosted because you have different opinions on peanut butter? It’s a lot of pressure to put on a little button, and it’s also a lot of pressure to put on yourself.
There have been studies that show that increased use of a dating app can make you feel more depressed, anxious, stressed and lower your self esteem. It’s easy to see how this happens: you’re judging people based on one or two pictures and a few sentences, and everyone else is also judging you. Additionally, everyone is trying to work out if they’d like to be intimate with you, which is inherently personal – it’s almost like walking down a catwalk whilst people hold up signs saying ‘I’d do you’ or ‘I wouldn’t do you’.
It’s part of the reason certain groups were so concerned about sites like Tinder when they were first launched. The algorithm encourages you to make snap decisions about another person, and people thought that this would make people more judgemental and superficial.
There are deeper issues, too: data taken from dating sites shows deep racial biases from all groups, people have reported developing body image issues after seeing endless chiseled torsos on sites like Grindr and there are huge problems with way creeps are dealt with and questions over what dating sites are doing to protect their users.
Here’s the thing, though: dating sites are supposed to be fun. You’re supposed to scroll through, find someone bearable and then, well, do something enjoyable together. But if you’re not having a good time on a dating app then you should be able to walk away. So let’s talk about how to stay healthy.
Firstly, you should think before you download any dating apps. Dating is exposing and rejection really does feel awful. If you’ve just come out of a long term relationship and you’d like to sleep with a few strangers, great! But it can also be pretty liberating to spend some time single and enjoy your own company. Try a new hobby, catch up with old friends and don’t just jump directly on the latest hip dating app. Sometimes you just need a bit of you-time to heal.
But if you are keen to do some dating, think about what sort of relationship you’re looking for. Have you found the right site for that type of dating? If you’re a cis-het man, lesbian dating app Her won’t be appropriate, and if you’re in your mid-20s and you’re looking for a one night stand with someone of a similar age, don’t download SilverSingles. Rejection over mis-matched expectations is annoying and pointless, so it’s worth doing a bit of research.
When you’ve found the right app, limit the amount of time you spend there. Swiping left and right can be very addictive, and it’s pretty easy to mindlessly look through potential matches for hours on end. Because there are so many users on dating apps it’s almost impossible to ‘complete’ them, so you just keep on swiping. With a time limit you have to prioritise who you speak to and how many profiles you view, which keeps you focused.
You also need to know when to walk away. Dating apps are, in theory, very easy to delete. If you’re feeling rejected, or you’re sick of being ghosted (it does happen to everyone and it’s actually not always about you) or you’re feeling overwhelmed, you should stop using the app. It’s not worth sacrificing your mental health over. You’re a complete, interesting person, not just a photograph and a two-line biography. There are a lot of other ways to meet people and a lot of better ways to spend your time, so don’t continue with online dating if you’re not enjoying it.
Mental health problems (including sex addiction) are extremely serious. If you’re concerned about yourself – or someone else – please reach out for help, because these things won’t necessarily get better on their own, and reliance on/heavy use of dating apps can be a sign of deeper issues. A good place to start is with a doctor or therapist, or you can contact mental health charities and organisations for more information.