In an increasingly fast-moving and hectic world where it can be hard to make meaningful connections, dating apps have been a godsend for many, allowing them to meet prospective partners without even needing to leave the house. Upwards of an estimated 25 million people currently use dating apps, but along with that convenience comes a downside – as with social media –, there is worry that the constant access can take a toll on mental health.
Is this really the case? A recent study carried out at Toronto's Ryerson University that highlights links between dating app use, social anxiety and depression claims that it might be.
Participants in the study were asked to complete a series of questionnaires about their mental health and dating app use and behaviour as well as the Tinder Motives Scale survey which assesses the relative importance to the individual of love, casual sex, ease of communication, self-worth, validation and the thrill of excitement when using the app. The results showed strong correlations between the use of dating apps and social anxiety and depression in both genders, with an effect which was more pronounced in women.
So given that a link does seem to exist, how can we make sure that we're using dating apps in a way which won't be harmful for our mental health?
Firstly and perhaps most importantly, experts say that it's vital to be honest about our own motivations and expectations when we use them. When it comes to our love life, each of us is looking for different things, from casual sex to committed relationships, so we need to make sure our profile reflects who we really are and remember to be compassionate and open-minded towards the people we chat with.
Dating apps can encourage us to focus on superficial factors instead of the things that actually matter to us, and this can be damaging for our self-esteem. It's important not to fall into the trap of constantly 'swiping left' in the expectation of finding something better, and not to waste energy pursuing people who might meet our expectations as regards income or appearance but don't necessarily satisfy our criteria in other ways.
Because dating apps allow us to be constantly engaging with potential partners, they also encourage us to think we should be receiving responses just as frequently, and when this doesn't happen, it can lead to feelings of rejection. It's important not to use dating apps to validate our self-worth - only use them when you are feeling resilient enough to deal with rejection, and stay away from them when you are feeling low.
As the business models of most dating apps rely on keeping us engaged with the site for as long as possible, experts say users should make sure that they remember to privilege the real world over the virtual one. They suggest setting boundaries about when and where to use dating apps and only logging on at specific times of the day, as choosing when and how we interact helps keep us grounded. And it’s also important to try to bring any new relationships into the real world as soon as possible, even if it's only through a Skype call.
The study's authors admit that their results don't make it clear whether it's the use of dating apps that leads to anxiety and depression or whether sufferers from anxiety and depression are more likely to turn to dating apps, but whatever the case, the key to engaging with them productively is to make sure that we are clear about what we want, and that we - and not the algorithm - are the ones in charge.