This Is What A Decade Of Dating Apps Has Done To Your Brain
Gabrielle, who is still single, agrees the experience of using dating apps to no avail can be overwhelming. “Name anything more self-defeating than spending hours going through your social accounts to find the right combination of six photos to post on your profile, plus having to try and sell yourself using prompts like, ‘If I had a superpower, it would be…’ and then increasing your location preferences from 5 miles to 20 just to get a match every time in a blue moon,” she says. “Then imagine you set a relationship with a guy who asks you out but later ghosts you once you agree to go on the date.”
It’s impossible to talk about how dating apps have changed our behavior without addressing ghosting — and the countless other so-called cruel behavioral tendencies that dating apps have made possible. If it’s not a ghost image (which one in five people have experienced), it’s breadcrumbing (sending signs of interest to a romantic partner but never following them), zombied (when someone who ghosted you comes back into your life as if nothing ever happened ), or set up a “backburner” relationship (when you use apps to see if there’s someone better for you than your current partner), with an American study finding that 42% of Tinder users were in a relationship or married.
All of this can damage self-esteem. “You often hear this in the therapy room when clients are discussing their low self-esteem,” says Josh Smith, relationship counselor at the charity Relate. “Spending your day scrolling or browsing other people’s ‘perfect’ lives and ‘perfect’ bodies makes people more anxious about their lives and more negative about their own bodies.” And yet, because of its addiction, we keep submitting to it again and again.
That’s part of the reason Margot, who is still single, couldn’t delete dating apps from her phone despite being exhausted from the experience of using them. “I find myself going days without checking them out and thinking I’m going to delete them. But then I talk to someone who’s met ‘the most gorgeous boy in Bumble’ and I’m like still ready to quit.”
Of course, not everything is bad. Some studies have shown positive psychological results from using dating apps. “It opens people up to a wider pool of encounters and the ability to cross social and geographic circles,” says Gina Potarca, whose Swiss study from 2020 found that an increasing number of long-distance relationships are formed after meeting on dating apps.
“I also think that apps can be a tool for raising awareness because they force you to reflect on yourself by presenting yourself online, and to use the gaze of others as a mirror tool. Someone recently confessed to me that she uses dating apps as a tool to take stock of who she is and what she wants right now by engaging with others and seeing the type of people who are attracted to his profile.
As for me, I remain firmly in the dating app fatigue camp for now. They definitely made me pickier and gave me a slightly pessimistic view of the single market. But who knows what the future holds? Many of my friends have met their partners and now spouses on apps. Maybe they just got lucky: who’s to say I won’t be too?