3 Problems With Online Dating Apps That Can Make You Feel Empty
Finding romantic partners is easier than ever. But are dating apps actually helping us?
By Jourdan Travers, LCSW | November 1, 2022
Many people come to therapy torn between the desire to be single and the desire to find a steady romantic partner. They may ask questions like:
- "I've matched with four new people this week. Why do I not want to meet any of them?"
- "I am tired of not being a priority to the people I go out on dates with. Should I just take a break from online and offline dating for a while?"
- "I'm not much of a texter. But I do want to get to know someone I meet online before I meet them in real life. How do I know if my match is safe?"
- "I go on so many dates but they always turn out to be dead ends with no spark. Why is this happening?"
- "I can't decide whether I want to just hook up with my Hinge date or get to know them better. What should I do?"
These questions are very common among users of dating apps such as Tinder, Coffee Meets Bagel, and Bumble.
According to research conducted by Pew Research Center, a third of all adult Americans have used online dating apps. If you are between 18 and 29 years old, half of your peers use dating apps or sites.
With so many potential matches playing the swiping game, why do users of dating apps report feeling jaded?
While these apps help us find attractive people with whom we have common interests, a successful romantic relationship is built on so much more. Whether or not the gamification of courtship is beneficial to mental health is an under-researched topic.
Here are a few things to consider as you navigate the world of online dating. Understanding these aspects of dating apps can help you stay focused on why you decided to use dating apps in the first place.
#1. The flaw of anonymity
With the rise of online dating, less-than-ideal methods of ending relationships such as ghosting, fading, and orbiting are also on the rise.
Ghosting refers to a partner disappearing from your life without any explanation or warning. Fading refers to a partner, who previously responded to or initiated conversations with interest and enthusiasm, gradually becoming less available physically and emotionally to the point where you question whether their interest was real in the first place. Orbiting occurs when one or both partners become "followers" of each other's lives on social media while not really interacting with each other.
All of these methods of ending relationships are common in online dating due to the sheer number of replacements on these apps.
The consequences can be dire. According to one study, ghostees are more hesitant and anxious in future romantic endeavors, adopting a level of self-protection that could prevent the formation of meaningful connections with someone new.
One way to combat the negative effects of being ghosted is to understand that it is not just a 'you' problem – it's happening to everyone using these apps. Even though you may be upset, do not take it personally.
If you find yourself on the other side and feel like cutting off contact with someone you met on a dating app, send them a message saying you are no longer interested. It doesn't hurt you, and you can help make the online dating community a kinder place.
#2. The flaw of choice overload
A classic experiment by Dr. Sheena Iyengar used bottles of jam samples to show how we respond to having too many choices.
In theory, all of us are attracted to a large set of choices. When Dr. Iyengar and her team presented two dozen jam bottles for sampling, more people turned up to taste the jams. But when it came to making a decision on purchasing a bottle, people were more likely to buy when they were presented with six bottles of samples as opposed to twenty-four bottles.
This is analogous to the world of dating apps. We are inundated with too many choices too often. While this is marketed as a benefit of online dating, we must realize that a larger set of matches doesn't necessarily translate to more genuine connections.
Don't play the numbers game with your matches. Be genuinely curious about their lives. Matching with someone means you have a mutual attraction and common interests. Understand that they are their own person and have fun getting to know them.
#3. The flaw of conflict of interest
Dating apps need to be creative to differentiate themselves in a saturated marketplace. For example, Hinge claims to be "the dating app designed to be deleted." As memorable as the tagline sounds, does Hinge really want its users to delete the app? Not initially, at least.
Understand that there is a certain degree of conflict of interest between you, as a user of dating apps, and the apps themselves. Your motivation for using a dating app is to find excitement, courtship, romance, and perhaps even a long-term relationship. Dating apps, on the other hand, are motivated by things like increasing the time their users spend on the app and upselling users on premium offerings.
Ask yourself if you are spending too much time 'collecting' matches with common interests rather than getting to know the matches who show romantic potential.
Collecting matches is okay if all you are looking for are hookups or textlationships. However, if you are using dating apps to find a significant other, your goal should be to watch out for dealbreakers, meet your matches in person, and gauge a real-world connection with them.
Online dating can be fun depending on what you are looking for. Certain dating apps are more geared toward hookups while others claim to help you find "the one." It is important to look beyond the marketing and see dating apps as nothing more than a place to meet interesting people. Understand the problems with dating apps and use them on your own terms to have a healthier experience with online dating.