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Hype at First Swipe: The Dark Side of Using Dating Apps

Andrea A
Andrea A
Feb 16 · 9 min read

Chasing highs has never felt less gratifying.

Dating apps are like our favourite guilty pleasures: we know they’re bad for us, yet we can’t stay away from them.

We complain about them, share our bad experiences over drinks with our closest friends.

We convince ourselves we’re better off without the apps and take a much needed digital detox from them.

Only to reinstall them a month later and be back in the swiping game.

This pattern of behaviour continues on.

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”- Einsten

Why is it that we put ourselves through this mental torture expecting the outcome to be different the second or third time around?

Short Answer: A desire for connection.

Maslow’s hierarchy shines a light on one of our fundamental needs for “love and belonging” aka- human connection.

With the dating landscape completely changing in this digital era, the days of forging connections in the offline realm are far and few in between.

As much as weddings, networking events or concerts provide an opportunity to bring like-minded people together, the frequency is minimal.

Taking part in weekly social activities that encourage interaction is probably the best way to meet people.

Unfortunately, putting yourself out there in fear of rejection or striking up a conversation with a complete stranger in real life can be intimidating for many.

Instead of basing it on chance in the offline world, a lot of us choose the illusion of choice.

Enter: dating apps.

Recent studies aside, it’s pretty clear that the instant gratification we receive from having the opportunity to match with (what seems like) an endless stream of people makes dating apps a desirable medium of choice.

Add in the selling point of swiping away at your own convenience and the odds “seem” in your favour.

Yet like most things in life, nothing good comes easy.

There is a dark side to all “the selling points” dating apps offer.

(Which may or may not make you reconsider going “old school” in the long run.)

For those looking for the “real deal”, here’s the reality to every selling point dating apps have to offer:

1. Selling Point: Dating Apps Give Us an Unlimited Amount of Choice.

Reality: Dating Apps Are Designed like Slot Machines Making Our Unlimited Choice an Illusion.

While dating apps are a gateway to connecting with a wide variety of people, our options aren’t unlimited.

For starters, you don’t always match with all the people you swipe on.

Out of all your matches, chances are you’ll only wind up going on a date with less than a ¼ of them.

“Despite 26 million matches made each day on Tinder alone, Pew data reveal that only five percent of committed relationships began online.”- NewStatesman

It’s no coincidence coming across the same faces while swiping through the human deck of cards.

If you want “more choices”, you need to pay to play.

That price comes with the ability to “unlock” the prospective matches you may have glossed over.

Secondly, swiping apps like Tinder and Bumble are designed to function like slot machines.

You constantly swipe (gamble) in hopes of achieving a match (winning combinations).

That hit of dopamine you receive from the unpredictable nature of achieving your desired outcome ( a match ) is what “keeps you in the game” and coming back for more.

“This element of surprise creates a rush of dopamine that then quickly fades and leaves you wanting more. Perhaps that’s why users message back and forth with fewer than 10% of their matches. Just like a compulsive gambler at a slot machine, instead of taking their winnings off the table, they keep playing until they’re bankrupt.”- Hinge

Who knew chasing highs would involve so much thumb work?

Hinge, a dating app that doesn’t glorify the hyper swipe but rather focuses on prompts to encourage interactions said it best:

Novelty is a temptress that we can easily cave into but sometimes it isn’t worth the addiction.

“Essentially, swiping is an addictive game designed to keep you single. This is perhaps fine if you’re just looking to have fun, although there is growing research that indicates even in this case it’s neither fine nor fun, leading over time to anxiety and depression.”- Hinge

Just like gambling, if you’re looking for the “real deal” the odds aren’t in your favour.

2. Selling Point: It’s an Easy and Super Convenient Way to Connect with People.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Reality: Minimal Effort for High Roi= Fewer Quality Connections, More Pickiness and Becoming Emotionally Drained.

It goes without saying that one of the biggest selling points from dating apps is the accessibility it provides users.

From the convenience of swiping on your commute to work or on the comforts of your toilet seat (I’ll be damned if I meet my future boyfriend this way), the ability to connect with a large network of people has never been easier.

All it takes is a few photo uploads (or screenshots) of yourself, a short captivating bio (which often goes empty) and you’re set!

Minimal effort for a High Return on Investment (ROI).

Win/Win.

If you’re looking for a fling, your thumbs are in good use.

However, if you’re looking for the real deal, you’re literally searching for a needle in a haystack.

As much as you may have met your ex on a dating app or know people who built long lasting relationships from one, there are 2 things you need to realize:

a ) The online dating landscape has changed in the past few years meaning there are more people relying on it which makes it easier to suffer from the paradox of choice and harder to find a quality partner.

b) The successful cases are the exception to the norm.

Like most things in life, nothing good comes easy.

In the case of dating apps, taking the shortcut comes at a price.

Aside from the inevitable ghosting that takes place, the real cost comes from the emotional and mental depletion that occurs from spreading your attention too thin with matches who are all doing the same thing.

End result?

Dead end matches, overly delayed responses, semi-attentive conversations and of course ghosting.

We take part or accept these behaviours and normalize them as being part of the “game” when in reality all it does is push us further away from our end goal: finding a quality connection.

In other words:

Dating apps allow us to become the lazy bachelors/bachelorettes of the online world.

“Less than 10 percent of matches are consummated with even a half-assed “hey”, as users opt to “keep playing” instead of messaging the matches already made.”-Newstatemen

With apps that encourage you to swipe your heart out and remind you to check out your categorized “top picks” of the week, how can you expect anything less?

With the grand illusion of the unlimited amount of potential new matches that are only a swipe away, the grass is greener syndrome is real and unfortunately, it’s making us pickier than ever.

“We’re used to swiping on a screen and talking to a new person. It’s all too easy, too upfront, and too available. This means that our standards for long term commitment become impossibly high. We have such a high availability of potential partners that we can afford to be picky. Too picky.”- Lessonslearnedinlife.com

Embracing the “plenty of fish in the sea” mantra to the extreme is only making us more ridiculously selective into what we’re looking for (such as seeking out the real Pam Beelsy or Jack Pearson in non-fictional form 🙄).

Expecting a person to check off all the qualities we seek leaves room for doubt about how realistic our expectations are.

After all, if match #40 doesn’t enjoy pineapple on their pizza or watches true crime documentaries while sporting the same hairstyle as Zooey Deschanel, there’s always room for potential for the new card in the deck (aka prospective match) that will.

Not to mention, with dating apps glorifying convenience and easy accessibility, you’ll get just that: convenience with minimal results.

“[Dating apps] exact a huge cost on our time, expectations, self-esteem, and habit health. They delude us into thinking we can flout life’s reality — the truth that some things require hard work and there are no guarantees we’ll find romantic love.”- Jonathan Warner

The time and energy we exert into dating apps won’t always give us the ROI we desire most.

After all, it’s delusional to think we can take “the fast line” into finding a quality partner.

That delusion is what’s making us become j-j-jaded about online dating in the first place.

Selling Point: It’s a Fun Way to Meet New People and Find a Quality Connection.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Reality: It’s Fun If You’re Looking for a Fling but for the Real Deal, It Can Be a Struggle.

With dating apps focusing primarily on appearance, it’s a no brainer that if your photos aren’t presentable, you won’t have much luck in the matching department.

Yet somehow, even with pixelated photos or outdated Facebook photos that can turn a user into a Deceitful Danny/Debra, people still flock to these apps.

Reason being? See point #2 (easy and convenient).

Since the focus is on appearance, swiping apps are great for users interested in a casual fling.

Tinder’s barely visible “bio” section is a dead giveaway their primary audience is catered towards users looking to hook up or take part in something casual.

A quick conversation and a meet up are enough to seal the deal in figuring out whether to take the connection in between the sheets.

Casual = less emotional investment.

After all, context isn’t at the forefront if you’re looking for something physical.

For the rest of us who are looking for the real deal, it’s a dark seedy world out there.

While apps like Bumble and Hinge, allow you to add more context and showcase your personality through filters and prompts like “two truths and a lie” or “we’ll get along if”, it doesn’t change the fact you’re part of a human catalogue.

“From the get-go, we approach the quest for true love the way we approach shopping on Amazon Prime. We filter, and rank, and “add to cart,” and “save for later,” and comparison shop, and bargain hunt. Basically, we completely commodify our potential dates.”- Jennie Young

From Tinder commodifying your personal top picks into categories like the “adventurer” or “the scholar”, to Bumble’s notifications prompting you to swipe more for “love”, you’re literally a card in a deck.

Or better yet, a shiny new product in a human catalogue.

If you want to be featured at the top of the deck, you gotta pay to play.

Shopping for a partner has never been more fun (not).

If being reduced to a commodity doesn’t bother you, then keep on swiping.

Otherwise, realize that dating apps aren’t your solution to finding a quality connection.

“Reducing people to swipes, shopping for a partner the same way you look for a blender on Amazon? It just sounds incredibly unenjoyable and exhausting compared to getting out in the world.”- Rachel Presser

I realized if you view dating apps as an additional (not primary) way to connect with people, you’ll depend on them less.

As a result, you’ll become less frustrated and disappointed by the online dating game behaviour taking place.

As much as most of us desire a genuine connection, a big component of that can only be measured in person and not online.

A surplus of factors including body language, physical appearance, energy, and the overall chemistry (or lack of) between 2 people aren’t taken into account on an online dating app.

Which is why it’s no surprise when disappointment takes form once a date takes place.

When dating apps become a large source of your negative energy (frustration, disappointment etc.), something’s gotta give.

Maybe the answer to digital dating is to simply de-prioritize it and focus instead on living your life and building connections organically.

“There’s a lot to be said about getting out in the world and letting the universe do its thing when you do the things you love.”-Rachel Presser

While some connections may not all be permanent, at least you’ll know you wouldn’t be competing with a large segment from a human catalogue to “stay in the game”.

By making a first impression in the real world, you’re already one step ahead from the online catalogue.

After all, a genuine “chance” connection made through living your life is worth more than an illusion of choice.

I’ll take being someone’s priority over an endless swipe of options any day.

And I can only hope you feel the same way.

Andrea A

Written by

Andrea A

Content writer by day, pizza lover by night. Sharing all my “aha” moments, one story at a time.

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