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  • David Steingart, LCSW

The Mental Health Pitfalls of Online Dating

Updated: Jul 11, 2023

Swipe left or swipe right?

Swipe left or Swipe Right? Millions of people make this decision on hundreds of different online dating sites every day. At the present time, there are over 8000 dating sites across the globe. Thirty percent of U.S. adults have used or are using an online dating site during their lifetime. (Pew Research Center, 2020)

Why are these sites so popular? For one thing, they are convenient. Prior to the advent of online dating, people generally met potential dating partners through mutual acquaintances, at a local bar, a party or other event. These were face-to-face encounters, there were no “profiles,” and there were no screens or smart phones available to remotely find a soulmate.

With online dating, the task of finding someone is much easier. For the equivalent cost of one or two nights out with friends, you can purchase a monthly subscription to a dating site that will do the work for you, so to speak. It will help you find “matches” without having to go through the hassle and effort that was once required AND from your own home or wherever you choose to log in.

But how successful are these dating sites in finding you an effective match? In the United States, thirty-nine percent of users of these sites say they have found a significant-other that resulted in a committed relationship or marriage. (Pew Research Center, 2020) This is a substantial number of people! There is no doubt that for many, these sites pay off in terms of helping people find the results they are looking for.

But does this success rate mean that using these sites is necessarily good for everyone’s mental health? The answer may surprise you: For one, many users of online dating sites spend excessive amounts of time simply looking at the sites. The act of scrolling and tapping that is often required is a core behavioral pattern that is often connected to smartphone addiction. The sites are designed so that we spend more time on them, engaging in behavior that is more likely to lead to addiction. (G. Bonilla-Zorita, 2020) Research shows that spending more time on the sites may also lead to higher rates of anxiety and depression. Those with social anxiety are more prone to developing these symptoms.

For many people, online dating is not really about dating but about self-validation. Many people connect with others on these sites, not to date but for validation of their own self-worth. If someone’s self-esteem is hooked up with how others respond to them online, they may become dependent on a dating site to bring them the life satisfaction that they cannot find elsewhere. This may lead to depression as a person with this type of dependency is substituting online dating for finding healthier forms of happiness in their everyday lives. (G. Bonilla-Zorita, 2020).

In addition, those who peruse these sites often develop what is known as lower conscientiousness. This trait leads to higher sensation-seeking and sexual permissiveness; patterns that are often self-sabotaging and can become dangerous, increasing the chance of physical and/or sexual abuse. (G. Bonilla-Zorita, 2020).

Finally, there are pitfalls to online dating that are endemic to all social media connections: deceit and financial exploitation. Many online dates “complain” that the profile they are viewing is inaccurate and portrays information that is false in a variety of different ways that may lead to serious consequences.

Is online dating worth it? The answer is yes, however, it is advisable to be aware of the pitfalls; extended use may cause serious mental health issues, including the possibility of smartphone addiction and may lead to a greater chance of risky behavior and deceit. It is very important to evaluate (with the help of a professional if necessary) what your motives are in pursuing online dating. Are you looking to meet someone significant or are you looking for self-validation and to improve your self-esteem? Are you using online dating sites to avoid other important areas of your life and more healthy development? If your real motivation is not actually to date but for other unhealthy reasons, you will be spending your money on something that probably won’t lead to finding a healthy relationship and it may ultimately bring you more unhappiness and general frustration towards meeting other people.


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