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Does online dating make you depressed? There's a reason why

By Leah Groth ; Updated May 31, 2018
According to multiple studies, online dating and apps can have a seriously negative impact on your mental health.

According to research compiled by CNN, online dating lowers self-esteem and increases depression.

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You might get a rush out of using dating websites and apps like Tinder, Match.com and OkCupid, but it turns out that in the long run they are unlikely to make you happier. In fact, according to multiple studies analyzed by the online news giant, using technology to find a mate can have a seriously negative impact on your mental health.

So what gives? First off, rejection — whether it be online or in the “real world” — really hurts. According to a 2011 study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, being turned down stimulates the same part of the brain that processes physical pain. To put it simply, your brain doesn’t distinguish between tearing a ligament and a broken heart. And while it definitely stings when the person you are flirting with at the bar starts chatting up someone else in real life, an evening of swiping right and getting zero matches takes rejection to an entirely new level.

Beyond the feeling of rejection, consistent swiping might also take a toll on your self-esteem. A 2017 study published in the journal Body Image asked more than 1,000 college students about Tinder’s effects on their body image and self-esteem — and the results were not encouraging. Researchers discovered that both sexes that use the app have lower self-esteem and are less satisfied with their bodies and looks than nonusers.

“As a result of how the app works and what it requires of its users, people who are on Tinder after a while may begin to feel depersonalized and disposable in their social interactions, develop heightened awareness (and criticism) of their looks and bodies and believe that there is always something better around the corner, or rather with the next swipe of their screen, even while questioning their own worth,” wrote the study’s author Jessica Strübel.

And to top it all off, online dating can bring about addiction. According to a recent, nonscientific, volunteer-based Match.com survey, nearly one in six singles (15 percent) reported feeling “addicted” to the online dating process. When it came to the subject pool, age and gender both played a significant role in the results: Millennials were a staggering 125 percent more likely to feel addicted to dating than older generations, while men were 97 percent more likely to feel addicted than women. As for the ladies, 54 percent of them reported feeling burnt out by the entire process.

Psychology professor Alejando Lleras conducted a 2016 study linking technology addiction to anxiety and depression, finding that those who are addicted to their devices are more likely to suffer mental health consequences. “People who self-described as having really addictive-style behaviors toward the internet and cellphones scored much higher on depression and anxiety scales,” he said. “With growing support for the connection between technology use and mental health, the relationship between motivation for cellphone or internet use and well-being warrants further exploration.”

If you’re a bit discouraged with online dating profiles, don’t fret. Ramani Durvasula, Ph.D., professor of psychology and licensed clinical psychologist, isn’t fully convinced about the relationship between online dating tools and mental health. “It is also possible that people who are more depressed and have lower self-esteem gravitate to these platforms too. These are associations, and unless we know their mental state before they start using these apps, we can only speculate,” she explains.

However, she does point out that it is the nature of these platforms to turn dating into a volume business, which “is a setup for chronic rejection, dubious motivations and the potential for watered-down intimacy” — none of which is good for our mental health. “And all of that can certainly erode a person’s sense of self,” she adds. “But there is always the possibility that people who are higher in certain personality styles may be more likely to use online dating and thus be more vulnerable to its effects.” Ultimately, Durvasula believes that more research should be conducted before any clear conclusions about online dating can be accurately drawn.

If you’re keen on meeting a mate the traditional way, opting out of the online dating scene entirely could be the right move for you. According to recent research, matching with someone doesn’t equate to a real-life love connection. “Attraction for a particular person may be difficult or impossible to predict before two people have actually met,” Samantha Joel, University of Utah psychology professor and lead author of the study, explained_._ “A relationship is more than the sum of its parts. There is a shared experience that happens when you meet someone that can’t be predicted beforehand.”

However, if you aren’t ready to give up on your online love search, there are ways to ensure your experience is as healthy as possible. Durvasula suggests managing your expectations (“if you are clear that you want a spouse or life partner, a right swipe may not be the wisest way to get there”), having fun with it instead of treating it like a job (for example, use your bad experiences as humorous banter at a cocktail party) and not being shocked when people don’t live up to their online profiles. Because, let’s face it, most people on dating sites appear too good to be true for a reason.

Also, if you are finding it to be a downer and your self-esteem is suffering significantly while you online date, she recommends calling it quits. “It may not be a healthy space for you. Give it a rest or perhaps find other online dating options that are more in sync with where you are in life,” she says. “Tinder may not be your groove — but there is more than one electronic matchmaker in town.”

What Do YOU Think?

Are you surprised science has found a link between online dating and self-esteem and depression? What are your personal experiences? Do you think there is a healthy approach to online dating? Let us know in the comments section.

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About the Author

Leah Groth is a writer and editor currently based in Philadelphia. She has covered topics such as entertainment, parenting, health & wellness for xoJane, Babble, Radar, Fit Pregnancy, Mommy Nearest, Living Healthy and PopDust.

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