Online Dating: The Mental Health Risks
The rise of technology has vastly influenced the ways in which we go about seeking love.
Dating apps have never been more normalised, with Tinder reporting 57 million users worldwide. Their usage has become astronomical, virtually becoming a replacement for in-person dating, with eHarmony predicting that 70% of all relationships will start online by 2024. Although online dating isn’t inherently all that bad (many success stories have been formed), there does exist a dark side to this virtual world that you may not be fully aware of until now.
While there has been a 60% increase in 45-55 year-olds seeking romantic relationships online, studies have found that the most prominent age group utilising dating apps are 18-24 year-olds. With many dating app users being this young, it means they can struggle with their mental health as a result of the risks and/or difficulties that come with online dating.
I will take you through the reasons why people use dating apps, the benefits and the dark sides to dating online, and how to protect your mental wellbeing on the journey to hopefully find love.
Dating app users
There are many reasons why people use dating apps. For some, dating apps are a means to satiate a desire for validation – or, more simply put, an ego boost. Some people are seeking a life-long partner or spouse to share their life with; others just like all the attention that comes from talking to someone but don’t really have the desire to develop a meaningful relationship. Around 47% of dating app users have stated that they are specifically seeking casual sex.
A common reason as to why people don’t use dating apps is that they are not seeking a partner. Some people simply prefer to meet potential partners in a more organic way (i.e. in-person), while others have reported that they don’t trust people online. There are a few that feel as though online dating won’t provide them with the type of relationship that they are seeking.
The downsides of online dating
Online dating is very hit and miss for many people. You could be talking to someone on a dating app for weeks on end, only to find out that they aren’t actually interested in meeting face to face. Studies have found that 22% of dating app users never actually arrange to meet up in the flesh. There are many cases, especially in long-distance connections, where people may converse with potential partners for months, only to find that they aren’t compatible upon meeting in person.
Many people don’t trust other dating app users, which is understandable. Catfishing – where people set up fake dating profiles to deceive – is now incredibly common. On dating apps such as Hinge, there is no option to verify your profile, making it increasingly difficult to identify the real from the fake. If you want to know more about how to spot a catfish, read this article.
Poor body image
For people who use dating apps as a form of validation, this can make them vulnerable to rejection, self-criticism and low self-esteem if they don’t get the reassurance they are seeking. Another downside to online dating is its superficial element. Users tend to be driven by looks and physical attraction and may swipe to the point of de-personalising people – seeing them as pictures or objects, as opposed to actual human beings. Those on the receiving end of this who face rejection may be prone to contemplating their attractiveness and overall worth as a result.
Approximately 49% of dating app users with a pre-existing mood disorder have stated that online dating exacerbates their depressive symptoms, which may relate to a lack of self-worth. In addition, feelings of rejection, abandonment and hopelessness (especially in relation to not finding the right person) may be triggered; only 20% of users reported that dating apps elevate their mood.
Although many people participate in hookup culture – and feel empowered by doing so – it can actually lead to feelings of worthlessness, especially if the aftermath of those encounters is unpleasant (i.e. a partner disregarding you after the event, asking you to leave, or ghosting you). Hookup culture is also responsible for 50% of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), with many sexual partners disregarding the use of protection which can be incredibly dangerous.
Ghosting is highly common and present on all dating apps. It can happen both in-person and online, though it tends to be the latter. Ghosting is when a person you are talking to completely vanishes without a trace. They stop replying to messages, calls and emails without a single explanation as to why. These people often tend to lack emotional maturity and are unable to communicate their feelings, so they choose to avoid them rather than challenge them head-on.
For the person being ghosted, it can leave them with so many questions, such as:
- “Did I do something wrong?”
- “Was it something I said?”
- “Do they not find me attractive?”
All these unanswered questions can lead to feelings of abandonment, resentment, mistrust, shame, embarrassment, hopelessness, and worthlessness. It may also result in that person building up walls and disregarding future connections for fear of getting hurt like this again.
How to protect your mental health
There is no negating how effective dating apps can really be – they do work for many people. Those who manage to find their soulmate amidst a sea of potential suitors are the lucky ones. Dating can be fun, but it can also be difficult and taxing. The saying “You Have To Kiss A Lot Of Frogs To Find Your Prince” can be applicable to the many trials and tribulations of online dating.
However, here are some ways to alleviate that pressure:
Learn to appreciate yourself
As cliche as it may sound, it is essential to practice self-love and appreciation where you can. When you use dating apps for validation, you are putting your worth in the hands of others. Statistics show that 50% of matches don’t message back, so developing self-worth, self-assuredness, and a ‘thick skin’ will aid you greatly. It is not healthy to rely on strangers at all.
Date with purpose. Ask yourself what you are looking for, be upfront about your expectations and what you hope to achieve from dating and think about the qualities you desire in a partner. By being straightforward early on, you save yourself the heartache and all that wasted time. After several days of talking, you will be able to get an idea of the person you’re dating, and if they don’t align with what you are looking for, vocalise this.
Setting boundaries is essential in every aspect of life, especially when you’re out dating people. Be sure to limit the amount of time you spend on dating apps to avoid overstimulation, only go on dates you wish to go on, don’t be forced into doing anything you don’t want to do, make sure you respect yourself and the person you are dating, and communicate as openly as possible.
Ultimately, finding love starts with yourself. To navigate the dating world, you need a strong sense of self, your life goals, what you are seeking in a partner, and – most importantly – how to feel whole on your own so that your worth isn’t reliant on any other person.
If you feel that your mental health has been impacted by bad online dating experiences or need support building your confidence, therapy can be a good option. Head to my website to book a counselling session; I offer in-person and Zoom appointments, so there is an option to best suit your needs.