How Dating Apps Can Play with Our Emotions

How Dating Apps Can Play with Our Emotions (Photo: Levi Elizaga on Unsplash)

Bumble. Tinder. The League.

These dating apps have turned the process of finding a soulmate into something as simple as swiping right.

And, sometimes, in the process, we get a little ego boost. From an overt message praising our looks to the mere knowledge that comes with a mutual match that someone out there is interested enough in you.

It’s almost as if we’re becoming reliant on dating apps to tell us we’re worthy.

“[Dating apps] can make me feel better, because when you match with someone, you know they thought you are attractive,” says Shay Panowicz, 22, from Overland Park, Kansas. She told YR Media she downloads dating apps just for fun, rather than using them seriously.

After all, about 44 percent of Tinder users said they were using the app for “confidence-boosting procrastination” and only about four percent said they were actually looking for a relationship.

That’s because there’s much less at stake when you’re speaking to someone online, and often much more to gain in terms of validation and self-esteem. And that attention feels good — at least until it feels bad.

Instead of searching for love among the code of these virtual matchmakers, we’re really just hungry for someone else out there to validate our self-worth and boost our self-esteem, which, despite the momentary high, is a dangerous double-edged sword.

Although women often openly sing the praises of that post-dating-app-ego-boost glow, what happens when we start to rely on dating-app users virtually validating us?

I once attended a lecture at my school about healthy relationships, and the speaker referenced what she calls a “dopamine treadmill.” Each affirmation, each kind word or gesture, triggers the release of dopamine in the brain, and after a while, it becomes addictive. You’re constantly chasing it, forming a habitual cycle that becomes increasingly difficult to break. And it seems that’s exactly what has happened in the world of dating apps.

And while that momentary pat on the back seems dandy, not every dating-app experience is a positive one.

On these dating apps, you’re stepping up to bat far more than one would IRL, so the probability of facing rejection is much higher. And some of us take rejection to heart — rather than getting an ego boost, their self-esteem takes a hit.

Researchers have even found that this repeated rejection could lead to an actual decrease in self-esteem and less satisfaction in one’s body image.

“We found that being actively involved with Tinder, regardless of the user’s gender, was associated with body dissatisfaction, body shame, body monitoring, internalization of societal expectations of beauty, comparing oneself physically to others, and reliance on media for information on appearance and attractiveness,” said Jessica Strübel, PhD, of the University of North Texas, who co-authored the study.

But what happens next is that, feeling low, and in need of a boost, we often look to the very app that depreciated our self-worth to heal us and make us whole once more. We toss the dice in hopes that someone give us a sense of validity — to remind us we’re pretty or handsome and well-liked. And we go around and around.

Dating apps are fun at times, and can provide us with a momentary sense of self worth, but we can’t — and shouldn’t — rely on them to completely validate us.

When we advertise the best version of ourselves online, sometimes even a version of us that’s far from the truth, we get a couple of fish to bite. And in turn, we get that hit of dopamine each time we get a new match or message. But we’re simply perpetuating a potentially harmful cycle by constantly seeking that fleeting feeling.

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