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Love in the Age of Swiping: Navigating the Complexities of Online Dating


The rise of technology has drastically changed the dating landscape. Nowadays many turn to dating apps to find a romantic partner. Before diving headfirst into the world of online dating and solely focusing on its fun aspects, it is important to take some time to consider the possible implications and negative consequences.

This is how swiping-based online dating apps work:

You set up a profile, you swipe left if the profile you are seeing seems uninteresting to you and you swipe right if the profile looks promising. If the opposite side swiped right on you as you did on them then it is a match! This means you can start a conversation with them.

Easy, right? But there is a catch…



Confidence


Some individuals use these dating apps to boost their ego and confidence, but this overconfidence can sometimes be detrimental to their overall dating experience. This is true not only for online dating but also for offline dating.

Since these apps are predominantly based on appearance and social comparison, some users may become overly conscious of their physical appearance and how they present themselves to others. These negative thoughts can lead to a decrease in self-esteem, making them feel unworthy, ultimately defeating the purpose of using these apps in the first place.

A paper has been published that suggests men are more likely to experience lower self-esteem while using Tinder and similar dating apps. This could potentially be due to the emphasis on physical appearance and the constant comparisons to other users on the app.



Addiction


In 2022 there were over 366 million online dating service users worldwide (“Online dating worldwide - Statistics & Facts | Statista”). The user penetration for 2022 of these apps is as follows:

Selected Countries

User Penetration 2022

United States

17.2%

United Kingdom

16.0%

Luxembourg

15.2%

Netherlands

13.3%

Portugal

13.4%

Spain

12.8%

Norway

11.7%

France

10.5%

South Korea

10.5%

Germany

8.8%

Italy

5.9%

Table 1 Source: Statista


Many people agree that dating apps can be incredibly addictive. Interestingly, even Jonathan Badeen, the Chief Strategy Officer of Tinder, has openly admitted that the app can be just as addictive as gambling devices. According to Badeen, the inspiration for Tinder actually came from an experiment that turned pigeons into gamblers.

The big problem with using these ‘swiping’ apps is that it can lead to the release of dopamine in our brains. The raised levels of dopamine, a sort of ‘teaching signal’ and brain reinforcement mechanism (Schultz et al 1997) we get from swiping means that we will return again and again to these apps leading us to a dopamine feedback loop. The gamification of these apps does not help either as it makes it more addictive by how easy it is to use. It is a form of instant gratification and is less about finding a suitable date.



Choice overload


By swiping you will go through hundreds of profiles in a very short amount of time. The options seem basically endless. But instead of it being useful and helpful, by using these services we are under more pressure than ever before to find “the one”. This choice overload makes people more willing to change their minds. Matches are more likely to be seen as disposable since there are always so many options. This can lead to less than positive dating behaviour.

Another issue is people being less satisfied with their choices due to idealisation and setting unrealistic expectations. First off, in online dating many strive to present themselves in the best possible light, but this also carries the expectation that their ideal date should be flawless. This may cause people to have unrealistic expectations that are challenging to fulfil. Furthermore, there is frequently a mismatch between what people claim to want and what they actually find appealing.

With so much information to process from swiping, we spend less time looking at each individual profile and filter them out quicker. We are moving from a process that is supposed to be very personal to something that almost seems robotic.

All these issues and many others combined lead to feeling overwhelmed and anxious.



Optimism bias


Do you truly believe you are going to find a long-term relationship on a dating app? While you certainly can, the odds are, unfortunately, not in your favour.

Despite this, many of us hold onto the belief that we will be among the lucky few who find love through these apps. However, statistics show a different story. In 2016, Hinge self-published data indicating that around 81% of its users had never found a long-term relationship through the app. This disparity between our beliefs and the statistics is a reflection of the optimism bias, which leads us to believe in the possibility of success despite the odds, that we are going to be part of the lucky 19%

This excitement and hope are understandable and human, but they can also lead to dangerous situations, such as disregarding potential red flags or having unrealistic expectations. We may feel disappointed and frustrated when reality falls short of our idealised expectations. It is critical to be aware of statistics and manage our expectations accordingly, while remaining open to these opportunities.



Algorithmization of love


Dating apps have brought forth a concept that uses mathematical formulas and algorithms to forecast and explain the dynamics of love. By using data and user preferences to suggest potential matches, these sophisticated algorithms have raised the question of whether love can actually be predictable or not.

While 42% of users are looking for marriage, only around 13% of users get engaged or married after meeting someone on a dating app. In addition to providing insight into romantic relationships, algorithms seem to be dehumanising the dating process, turning it into a cold and calculated exercise. Critics argue that algorithmization reduces love to a set of data points and fails to capture the true essence of these complex emotions and behaviours.

In essence, these apps are leading us to forget that love involves a range of intangible factors that are difficult to quantify and capture through mathematical models alone. It is imperative to keep in mind that despite advancements in technology, love is still a deeply personal and emotional experience that cannot be distilled down to an algorithmic calculation.



Conclusion


With all this said, we would say that it does not hurt to try online dating apps yourself, but be aware of the negative impact it can have on you in the short and long-term. Be upfront with your intentions, do not lead people on and keep an open mind to new opportunities, but also be prepared for the realities. Ultimately, it is up to you to decide if online dating apps are the right choice for you. Be mindful of how you use them and be sure to take care of your mental and emotional wellbeing. Good luck and stay safe.



Written by Siripong Franzen and Carolina Martins




References:

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