Match.com, one of the leading online dating services, recently did a survey. The survey found that one out of six singles felt addicted to online dating. The younger generation (born since 2,000), called millennials, were 125% more likely to say they were addicted than those from other generations. Men were 97% more likely than women to say they were addicted. Fifty-four percent of women said they were burned out.
Tinder, an online dating service that facilitates a kind of instant dating, was the most popular service among millennials. According to Tinder, their app produces about 1.6 swipes a day that translate to one or two dates per week per user.
Such apps produce a form of intoxication when people first discover them. You can easily and almost instantaneously get in touch with hundreds of prospective dates and begin chatting with them, one after the other. This then leads to quick dates, particularly if you contact someone and find that they are at a bar nearby. “Let’s meet,” one of you says. “Let’s do.” This can often end up as a one-night stand.
For someone who feels lonely, as most of us do, getting on Tinder and finding a plethora of dates is almost like taking a drink of some elixir. The process of online dating begins to absorb you. You are on your cell phone all day long, even during work hours, chatting and messaging an ever-increasing array of prospects. It is like finding treasure the easy way.
Unfortunately, like all addictions, the online dating addiction can lead to depression and lower self-esteem. This is probably related to the fact that online dating brings multiple choices, but it also brings multiple rejections. Before computers, one would go to a social gathering and get one rejection a month. Now one can get several rejections a day. Or one can meet for a one-night stand and have some icky encounter that leaves you disheartened.
A 2017 study in Body Image by Jessica Strubel surveyed 1300 young people about their Tinder use and its relation to their body image and self-esteem. The study found that people who use the app frequently tend to have a lower body image and lower self-esteem.
“As a result of how the app works and what it requires of its users,” Strubel notes, “people who are on Tinder after a while may begin to feel depersonalized and disposable in their social interactions.” In other words, prospecting for gold sometimes becomes prospecting for fool’s gold.
Another study by Alejandro Lleras in 2016 linked technology addiction to anxiety and depression. In this study researchers surveyed 300 college students and found a connection between intense cell phone use and mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. This link does not say heavy cell phone use causes anxiety and depression; it only says they are linked. It is not clear which comes first, the cell phone use or the anxiety and depression.
One of my clients, caught up in online dating, described it as a “splendid misery.” She spoke with high excitement of the instant ups and with a notable disenchantment of the sudden downs.
It appears that while smart phones and apps like Tinder make it easier for people to connect, they also keep that connection on a shallow level. Often people who are most prone to addiction are those who desperately need to plunge into something that will distract them from loneliness. In the beginning, Tinder promises to do that. In the end, it usually doesn’t deliver.
All addictions are alike in that they are all ways of dealing with emotional problems via some fast fix. And while you can get that fast fix, you can’t get what you ultimately want, relationships with depth and meaning, and relationships that are satisfying on a continuous basis. Finding such a relationship is not fast and not easy. Often it requires you to get in touch with your feelings and figure out what you’re doing with them. This is hard.
Also, the allure of romantic love and enduring relationships doesn’t have the same appeal these days, not only in the United States but in all civilized countries. Recently a poll found that only 38% of men and 59% of women in Japan wanted to get married. A recent Gallup Poll found that 65% of American young people 18 to 29 years old were unmarried.
The reasons why young people seem more likely to seek quick fixes than long-term, committed relationships are numerous. Some point to financial reasons or other practical considerations. My guess is that young people have lowered expectations with regard to relationships because they did not have satisfactory or rewarding attachments in the childhoods, nor did they witness satisfactory and rewarding relationships by the adults who raised them.
Whatever the reason, the online dating addiction seems to be fully entrenched for now, and where it will end nobody knows.