Dating apps have gone through a strange evolution since they first debuted.
First, online dating sites were pretty basic, just a place where you could put up pictures of yourself, some well-curated facts to optimize your potential attractiveness, and see how many matches the site’s mysterious algorithm cooked up for you. Over the years, sites began to boast of more and more highly sophisticated algorithms that could harness the power of the psychology and the science behind compatibility.
But it’s back to basics.
If you’re on the dating app scene today, chances are good that you’re part of the move away from those sophisticated algorithms and back to basics: physical attractiveness. With the rise of apps like Grindr and Tinder, app makers seemed to be saying, “Let’s cut the BS. We all know people looking for a date really just want to know one thing.” Clearly, due to these and other copycat apps’ popularity, the creators were not wrong; people are incredibly interested in physical attractiveness and in using it as the first and only metric in deciding whether they want to pursue a connection.
Is this shift something to be concerned about?
Is it a good thing, a bad thing, or a little bit of both? Can our self-esteem and overall mental well-being hold up against such relentless scrutiny from strangers? Unsurprisingly, psychological research has found both pros and cons of the new dating app scene, but there are certain signs you can use to figure out whether it might be time for you to take a break from swiping left and right. To figure out whether dating apps are harming your well-being, ask yourself the following questions:
Do you spend more time analyzing yourself in the mirror than you used to?
When you wash your face in the morning, do you lean in to scrutinize your eyebrow arch? When you step out of the shower, does the size of your thighs in the mirror make you frown more than it used to? A study from the American Psychological Association reported in Time found that “Compared to people who weren’t on the dating app, Tinder users had lower levels of self-worth, reported being less satisfied with their faces and looks and were more ashamed of their bodies. They were also more likely to think of themselves as sexual objects, to internalize societal ideals about beauty, to compare their appearances to others and to constantly monitor how they looked, the researchers found.” Note that these results were true for women and men.
Do you feel like you need to look as good as you possibly can before you leave the house to grab milk at the grocery store or put gas in the car?
This is related to the study mentioned above: when you see yourself primarily as a sexual object, you feel like you can never relax or let your guard down when it comes to physical appearance. You feel like you constantly have to make yourself appealing to potential partners, or even just people in general. You lose sight of the reality that there are times in life when it really doesn’t matter at all what you look like and start putting more and more time and energy into your own appearance.
Are you spending more money on beauty/attractiveness related items?
This could include anything from hair products to plastic surgery. Most of us might wish we spent less on image-maintaining items, but if your purchases are starting to exceed your budget, then that’s another major red flag that your dating app usage is causing you to feel not good enough and constantly in need of more and more outside help to reach impossible beauty standards.
Do you find yourself having a harder time committing to relationships than you used to?
Having a huge number of choices for a partner is great! … until it isn’t. On one hand, it’s amazingly convenient and wonderful that dating apps can deliver up people we’d never meet in our usual daily lives. But on the other hand, the sense that there are always more people out there to meet can become overwhelming. We swipe and swipe, and the faster we do it, the more accustomed we get to the sensation of looking for someone who’s juuuust a little better. Eventually, we get trapped in that mindset, and even when we’re genuinely enjoying getting to know someone, we feel hesitant to commit to a relationship with them because we’re haunted by the feeling that someone a little better might come along.
Do you find yourself looking at dating apps even after you actually get into relationships?
You might tell yourself that you’re not actually looking for a partner; it’s just fun to scroll through pictures and profiles. This might actually even be true. But even if it, and you’re more addicted to the act of looking at the app than the act of searching for a partner, would your partner be comfortable with you still looking at the app? For most people, the answer is no; no matter what a partner might tell you about their activity, no one likes the feeling that their partner is looking at other prospective partners. If you can’t give it up, then you’re addicted in some way – whether it’s to the idea of finding the perfect person or just the actual technology. And just like any other addiction, it’s probably time to wean yourself off of it.
Remember, dating apps aren’t inherently wrong or bad.
If you check in with yourself regularly to make sure that they’re not harming your self-esteem or giving you unrealistic expectations about relationships, then there’s no reason not to use and enjoy them. Just make sure that you’re asking yourself the questions above to ensure that you’re not headed for a self-esteem crash or a commitment cliff.
Are you starting to feel like dating apps are doing you more harm than good? If so and you want to talk further about it, you can call us at (305) 501-0133 or click here to schedule a free 20-minute Clarity Consult to learn more about how working with one of our therapists can help you improve your life.