The modern love story and the problems with online dating

Online dating may compromise the mental health of users.
Online dating may compromise the mental health of users.

"Swiping right and sliding into DMs" has become the new launch pad for relationships and falling in love. Millions of people worldwide are registered on some kind of online dating site, sometimes several at a time.

According to an article by Business Tech, 31% of South Africans make use of online dating sites and apps, compared to 40% of American citizens. Online dating allows people to connect with thousands of potential lovers at a time.

The apps allow users to filter through the profiles of people whom they find physically attractive, who share common interests, and who are located within a certain distance of them, among other things. While this method of trying to find a mate may seem efficient, things don't always work out and the experience can actually have a deep psychological impact on users.

In her TED Talk, public speaker and entrepreneur Christina Wallace made use of her MBA skills to design a way to find the ideal partner on Tinder, a popular dating app. What she noted is that online dating sites are excellent when it comes to simply broadening your potential dating pool beyond your usual social circles. She adds that beyond that, however, it isn’t much good.

Negative impacts 

The online dating phenomenon has had researchers rushing to investigate its impact on relationships. Most studies have noted that while many people are enabled to form meaningful relationships, dating apps can also have a negative impact on users' mental health.

According to psychotherapist Denise Dunne, in an interview with BBC Stories, “Apps create an atmosphere that psychotherapists would historically have regarded as slightly pathological and narcissistic. The way these apps are designed is around appearance; they involve non-emotional online communication rather than offline communication. And they’re about ubiquity and endless promise.”

As Dunne notes, most online dating apps are primarily designed around the physical appearance of users. Focusing largely on this aspect can create a significant amount of anxiety and self-esteem issues. Being exposed to a certain amount of rejection can be detrimental to anyone’s mental health, and even more so to people who already struggle with mental health issues.

Dunne adds that it’s not only your self-worth that’s affected; these apps are also designed to be addictive. “When you look at the app itself it very clearly has qualities that can in some circumstances encourage addiction. There is the repetitive action of swiping which everyone knows is soothing in the case of anxiety. And then there’s the dopamine hit when you’ve been searching and you get what you’re looking for, which is a match.”

Seeking validation

BBC stories followed three subjects with a strong presence on online dating sites. One woman named Meggy, speaking about online dating said, “When you’ve had a bad day and someone’s rejected you, you just go straight onto the gambling app (dating app). You can see how you’re being reviewed; you’re just going to get rated like everything else... that’s kind of depressing.

Seeking validation and approval from total strangers is a dangerous game to play. It's very enticing, but may cause more harm than good. Like with everything else, doctors recommend moderation when using dating sites. If you feel that these sites and apps are affecting you in a bad way, try to slowly wean yourself off them, and if you’re brave enough, just delete them.

Image credit: iStock

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