Tinder. Bumble. OK Cupid. Match. E-Harmony. Christian Mingle. J Date. Sound familiar?
If you’re like majority of the single twenty and thirty somethings in Chicago, at some point in the past few years, you have found yourself spending time on one or more dating apps. According to Pew Research Center’s Aaron Smith and Monica Anderson, 15% of adults in the United States report they have used online dating sites or mobile dating apps (2016). Let’s be honest, no matter who you are and where your interests lie, in the online world, “there’s an app for that.” Despite the fight you put up to withhold from joining dating sites, your most recent breakup, or perhaps all the times you laughed at your single friend for her failed weeknight dates; you finally give in and decided to check out the hype of online dating.
You know the drill. You browse through and choose your best selfies and Go-Pro photos, highlight all the unique and awesome things about yourself, give your job a fancy name and spend endless hours swiping left only to try and convince yourself that you’re “done” with dating apps.
Dating apps can have an effect on your mental health. Some people use it as a way to build their ego, feel wanted, or just to fill time, and that's where it becomes unhealthy and potentially harmful. After asking a few close friends and colleagues about their experiences with online dating apps, I realized that while many people have the same concerns about online dating, there are also a lot of positive aspects that apps can provide if used in a healthy way.
Think about it this way, if you decide to have a “cheat” day once a week, and splurge on your favorite junk food it most likely will not have a negative effect on your otherwise healthy lifestyle. However, if you find yourself overindulging in your favorite junk food as part of your daily eating routine, while it may feel good in the moment, the choices are really not conducive to a healthy balanced lifestyle. In the same way, dating apps can be useful and worthwhile when used in moderation. If you are spending all day on an app it can affect not only your self-esteem and confidence; but it may also open the door to anxieties about your present and future, guilt about wasting time rather than doing something productive, and anger or jealousy toward those who have significant others.
So to make sure you do not fall into the 200 left-swipe cycle, questioning why there is not a single soul out there for you, and realizing it’s hours past your bedtime and you’ll probably wake up late for work... here are 5 tips for maintaining a healthy online dating lifestyle.
Sign up for only one app at a time.
Signing up for one app at a time will help prevent you from becoming “obsessed” with apps. If you have more than one app to check each day, you might start to realize that you feel the need to constantly check for matches or messages, and the repetition of going from app to app can lead to feelings of failure or insecurity. Remember, IT’S ONLY AN APP. While it is a good way to explore “what’s out there” it is not the end all be all of your dating life. Using only one app at a time allows you to set limits on the time you dedicate to online dating. Which leads to the next tip…
Give yourself a time limit to spend on your app each day.
Pick a time of day where you are often trying to find something to do or fill time and dedicate that time to your app. A friend of mine allowed herself only 30 minutes a day to explore her dating app of choice. When I asked why, she said it was to make sure she wasn’t “obsessing over being single” and also “not wasting time that [she] could spend being more productive with [her] day or going out and being social rather than sitting on a phone”. Obsessing over dating apps can become a compulsive behavior that you seek out when you feel unwanted, unworthy, or alone; however, the compulsive behavior can sometimes increase those feelings and lead to more serious symptoms of depression; especially if you are not meeting anyone or having ambiguous conversations with a stranger.
Set realistic limits for your search settings.
If you really want to use online dating as a way to meet a potential significant other, then set up realistic limits when searching through the masses. Do not just swipe right for every attractive person you see, but at the same time, don’t swipe left thinking that prince charming or the girl of your dreams is bound to pop up in the next 100 profiles. Decide on your deal-breakers but be open-minded at the same time. If you know you couldn’t date someone who lives over 20 miles away, then set limits on your distance. However, just because you “prefer blondes” do not count someone out simply because they do not fit your “perfect mate” profile. If your limits are realistic, you may meet someone you never thought you would have dated, or you might find out things about yourself that you never knew. These limits can open up your dating options, but they can also help you learn about yourself and build confidence.
Don’t bother telling your life story through chat.
And then, it happens. You match with a girl who seems “perfect.” She sends a message, and immediately the two of you jump into twenty questions. You end up dedicating two hours to messaging back and forth with her for the next few days. She could be the one! But then, BAM! She ghosts you. You never hear from her again. All your dreams and wishes to travel the world together, meet her dog Lulu, and plan for this summer’s concerts and sporting events go down the drain. This is why you should NOT spend so much time divulging information about yourself to a stranger you have never met. If you meet in person, you will have plenty of time to talk about your hopes and dreams! However, telling someone your whole story and feeling as if you are making a connection can lead to disaster. If you do this with every match and then never end up meeting, it may feel like you are going through a mini break up each time which can be harmful to your mental health. In the same way you set limits on time, set limits on number of times you will communicate back and forth before agreeing to meet. And if the person keeps asking questions but doesn’t ever commit to a date, then recognize that spilling your guts to this person may realistically be a waste of your time. This goes along with tip number 5, but the healthiest approach to utilizing dating apps is to plan on actually meeting people!
Make time to actually meet matches.
One third of online daters never go on dates with people they meet online. This statistic comes from a survey conducted in 2013 by the Pew Research Center (Smith, Anderson 2016). If you are using the app to “see what’s out there” or to get some attention, you are not using it in a healthy way. While it may satisfy your need in the moment, it may end up hurting you or the people you converse with. Decide that after a certain number of interactions (via messaging) you will put out there that you want to meet in person if your match does not say it first. Set up a casual date; nothing fancy. Once you do meet, remember once again to try and stay realistic. Give everyone a chance, even if you think the date isn't going to go well upon first impressions.
In conclusion, from a therapeutic standpoint, the number one approach to maintaining a healthy online dating lifestyle is to remember that if a date doesn’t work out or if you aren’t finding your dream matches, don't get down on yourself. There are many approaches to dating and using apps is one way of reaching out to those who might be interested. Remember that it's JUST AN APP. Just as you try to create the perfect profile to share with the world, your potential matches will do the same. The apps reduce you to a four sentence profile and a few good pictures, and in the end, that's obviously not enough to express you as a person and potential partner.
Help is out there! If you need help in improving your relationships and your lifestyle, therapy can be a source of help. Clarity Clinic offers therapeutic services for a variety of clinical needs. Please call 312.754.9404 or visit http://www.claritychi.com/contact/ to schedule an in-person session with one of our Psychiatrists or Therapists. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is proven to help clients with such difficulties as anxiety, stress, panic attacks, depression, and low self-esteem.
Smith, A., & Anderson, M. (2016, February 29). 5 facts about online dating. Retrieved July 18, 2016, from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/02/29/5-facts-about-online-dating/
Author: Kristen Okrzesik, MSW