How Online Dating Affects Mental Health and Behavior

Using a dating app.

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In these times, almost everything, from grocery shopping to our therapy sessions, is done online. The global pandemic that set upon us in 2020 moved even more of our lives and interactions with each other to the virtual platform and further increased our screen time.

Many People Use Dating Apps

Technology has ushered in a huge cultural shift in how we find love—over time, the pervasiveness of online dating has skyrocketed. Online dating has been, for the most part, normalized and accepted as a tool for making human connections. The revenue from this industry and its frequency of use are astronomical.

The popular swipe-based dating app Tinder reports 57 million users worldwide. An estimated 20% of all Americans are engaging in online dating. This may seem like a small number until you consider that most American adults are partnered.

Only 30% of Americans are single (i.e., not married, cohabitating, or in a committed relationship) according to Pew Research Center.

Of Americans recently married, over 30% met online. In Australia, which is one of America’s closest global competitor for online dating, a 2017 survey of 14,000 recently married or engaged couples, 1 in 5 met using online dating apps.

One survey conducted by the popular site eHarmony predicts that by the year 2040, a full 70% of all relationships will start online.

Most online daters are between the ages of 18 and 34, with most falling between the ages of 18 and 24. There has been a recent 60% increase in those seeking to spark a virtual romance who are between the age of 45 and 55. The use of dating apps by those over 55 years old has doubled in recent years.

Why People Use or Don't Use Dating Apps

People cite the obvious reasons for being on dating apps such as seeking a long-term partner or a sexual encounter and the split is fairly even. On the other hand, some choose not to participate in dating app usage for other reasons.

Dating App Users

Forty-nine percent of online daters report looking for marriage while 47% report that they are specifically seeking casual sex.

In one study, participants noted that they used dating apps in pursuit of validation of their self-worth. Forty percent of online daters report that being on a dating site had a positive impact on their self-esteem.

Non-Users

Those individuals surveyed who denied using online dating stated reasons such as they are not looking for a partner at all which is the most common reason.

Others stated that they prefer meeting people other ways, mistrust for people online or that they felt that meeting online would lead to a type of relationship in which they were not interested in.

What People Look For On Dating Apps

Things such as geographical proximity, age and education level are important to online daters in addition to appearance. However, men are much less likely to adhere to their predetermined criteria if they find a potential partner attractive.

Most online daters did eventually meet at least one person face to face, while 22% never arranged a meeting.

Forty percent of users report that they have had at least one relationship that they would describe as “serious” with someone they met online.

Potential Drawbacks of Online Dating

Forty-nine percent of users with a pre-existing mood disorder report that use of online dating aggravates their depressive symptoms, while 20% state that online dating was actually beneficial to their mood.

Psychological Distress

People who using dating apps are likely to be more distressed, anxious or depressed. In fact, dating app users face three times the amount of stress in comparison to non-users. This number increases if the dating app user is on dating apps more often (i.e., daily use) and for a longer period of time.

Those daters who are seeking validation are more vulnerable and sensitive to rejections or are positively impacted by attention. Studies show that the pursuit of external validation, whether through online dating or social media correlate with emotional distress.

Poor Body Image

Online dating is also associated with poor body image or the use of unhealthy methods of weight loss such as laxative use or anabolic steroids.

Despite this, there is evidence that online dating may actually help shape someone’s self-image. In one survey, online daters decided whether or not they would choose someone based mainly on if they thought the person would be attracted to them.

This puts the online dater in the position of constantly appraising themselves through the potentially critical eye of other daters.

How Online Dating May be Changing Mating Patterns

Those individuals who may have struggled with making connections in person or establishing romantic relationships with conventional dating appear to have an advantage within online dating.

Usage of this dating platform is higher among those who have social anxiety and those who have autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Some researchers believe that the recent increase in the prevalence of ASD is due to greater reproductive success among those with the condition.

Hookup Culture

A hookup is defined as an uncommitted sexual encounter with a non-romantic partner.

The exact rates of hookups are unknown but this behavior is thought to be particularly common among those between the ages of 15 and 24.

Annually, this population is responsible for 50% of all sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and reports show that less than 50% of people use condoms during hookup encounters.

Online Dating vs. In-Person Dating

One interesting study attempting to understand how technology is impacting dating interactions compared online dating to conventional methods of meeting such as at a bar or party.

Hookups are heavily associated with alcohol use, with over 70% of women between the ages of 18 and 29 reporting intoxication at the time of a hookup. This has the potential negative consequences of alcohol related sexual behavior such as an increased risk of sexual assault. Meeting someone online significantly decreases alcohol use with partners and perceived level of intoxication among women.

There appears to be no difference in the likelihood of an initial encounter becoming a hookup when comparing couples who met online to those who met at a bar or party.

The main determining factor for the probability of a hookup occurring is the location of the initial meeting.

A Word From Verywell

Online dating is widely used and for many is considered mainstream. More than half of all single American adults are utilizing online dating. Although some may perceive online dating to be more likely to be used by those not seeking long-term, committed relationships, this is how many couples who eventually marry meet.

If you have a pre-existing mental health condition, you may want to discuss your dating experience with your healthcare provider given the potential risk of exacerbating symptoms and causing emotional distress. Always prioritize safety when dating online or in person.

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Article Sources
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