Remember when there was a stigma around online dating? In the mid-late 90s during the inception of what I call the ‘chat room era’, following through and courting someone online was a major faux pas in most social circles. By doing it, you were somehow admitting fault in your ability to have real social experiences in favour of the fake ones you’ve found online. Once in a relationship with someone online? Forget it. Talk to anyone about it and they’d tell you you’re doomed from the start.
Fast forward to 2018 and dating apps are not only socially accepted, but there’s little disputing that they actually work. In fact, in a recent survey 59% of respondents said dating apps and websites are a “good way to meet people”. Dating apps are now accepted by the majority.
All good right? Not so fast. The gamification features in dating apps like Tinder, where swiping right or left signals your approval or rejection of your counterpart, is shown to affect your mental health. Thus, it’s important to use them in a smarter way.
Dating apps can hurt your self esteem
As utterly shocking as it may seem, when you are accepting or rejecting someone based on their physical appearance in the span of a few seconds, it can negatively impact self esteem. Crazy, right! A 2016 study suggested that Tinder users have more body image issues and lower self esteem in comparison to non-users.
“When we as human beings are represented simply by what we look like, we start to look at ourselves in a very similar way: as an object to be evaluated,” says Trent Petrie, professor of psychology at the University of North Texas.
How can you combat this? Petrie says keeping perspective is vital. “Go into this framing it like, ‘They’re going to evaluate me this way. That doesn’t define who I am,’” Petrie suggests. “Surround yourself with people who know you, support you and value you for all your various qualities.”
Another approach, as suggested by Keely Holmes, a California psychologist who specializes in sex and relationship issues, is to maintain a health dose of exercise and social interaction to avoid the isolation of these dating apps.
“Do things that would in general support your mental health and self-worth, so that it doesn’t get caught in the cycle of what’s happening on your phone,” Kolmes says.
Petrie also suggests limiting the time using these apps is best practice, as their use can be somewhat addictive and almost become a part-time job.
Swiping can be overwhelming
Tinder has a limit on the number of ‘likes’ (right swipes) per 12 hours. 100, every 12 hours, is the maximum you’re allowed to swipe, after which you’re unable to swipe for a 12 hour period until it’s reset. That is an average of 8.3 right swipes per hour…we’re not even factoring in the left swipes.
This swiping era has given people limitless options, which isn’t always a good thing. Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist and chief scientific advisor for Match (the company that owns Tinder), suggests limiting your pool of potential candidates to around five to nine people, rather than swiping endlessly. “After that, the brain starts to go into cognitive overload, and you don’t choose anybody,” Fisher says.
Kolmes says even with these dating apps, it’s important to establish that real personal connection of going out to meet someone. To do this, she recommends self-imposing rules that bring you and your matches into the real world. “Have a system. How much are you willing to engage with somebody before you actually meet and make it real?” Kolmes says. “If somebody is not meeting you in the way that works for you, it’s far better to just let them go.”
Don’t like rejection? Dating apps may not be for you
Dating apps are changing the game when it comes to rejection. I think back to my
studly high school and University years and remember straight up avoiding approaching girls at times out of fear of rejection. I could control my circumstances, and knew that the idea of rejection sometimes was enough to send me tumbling.
Today, the sheer amount of rejection people can accumulate is staggering. While you may only approach one person at a bar, you can swipe endlessly on an app and the likes go unanswered, all of which can feel like a rejection.
While I’d debate these rejections don’t have near the impact as a blank stare from a girl in a bar (speaking for a friend – this never happened to me), it’s still a rejection, and bouncing back can be tricky. Fisher recommends positive affirmations (“I love being myself”) and thinking about the future instead of the past. “Planning gives you a sense of control and optimism and something to do,” she says.
Petrie, meanwhile suggests that dealing with these little rejections is all about perspective. “There are many, many, many reasons why someone doesn’t respond,” he says. “If we are attaching it to the idea that there’s something wrong with us, then that may be a good time to check in with our friends and ground ourselves in the reality that we’re a fine person.”
Look in the mirror
Feeling down about all the rejections? It mayyy be time to reflect on your own behaviour in this online dating environment. For example, objectifying other people in an endless session of swiping (much of it left) exacerbates the same behavior that left you feeling isolated in the first place.
Instead, put yourself in your counterparts’ shoes, limit the swiping for the sake of it (looking at you, person swiping when on the toilet in the bathroom), and avoid going on these apps unless your intention is to actually date, Kolmes recommends.
“Think about the kind of attention you would want someone to pay to you, and whether you’re ready to pay that kind of attention to people who have put themselves out there looking for a date or love,” she says.