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Why I’m Never Going To Do Online Dating Again

The problem is larger than simply using hotness as your primary selection criteria.

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Elizabeth Brockway
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After I got divorced, I was excited to take online dating for a spin. Thanks to an older brother who’s a computer whiz, I was always an early adopter of technology, am more comfortable with online chats than talking on the phone, and personally know several happy marriages that resulted from swiping right. It took me all of one month to download an app and click on a profile, and that, it turned out, was all I needed. I ended up stumbling into my next long-term relationship just that quickly, dodging the string of nightmare dates and online harassment that for most women doing online dating can be the norm.

Despite that astounding initial success, now that I’ve recently become single again, online dating holds zero appeal for me. It’s not that I’m afraid that lightning won’t strike twice. Not to brag, but I have all the qualities needed to dominate these apps: I’m female, I take a decent selfie, and I’m in an age range that porn has made extremely desirable lately. Friends with considerably more online dating experience have taught me how to avoid catfishers and other scammers, so I’m not concerned about my safety. And certainly, in a post-COVID world, as someone who never loved crowds anyway, using an app seems preferable to masking up and hitting a bar.

But the very idea of creating a profile causes a visceral reaction I can’t explain. Or couldn’t, until I spoke to other, smarter people who study this for a living. “Online dating can be great for certain populations,” says Niki Davis-Fainbloom, a sex educator, writer and coach in New York City.

“If you’re looking for something very specific” — like no kids, say, or Weimaraner enthusiasts — “it makes it easy to vet for deal breakers.”

But, she adds, “It is not the most natural way to meet people, and it can feel forced.

“Most dating apps also use algorithms based on two primary things: physical location and physical appearance.” The latter, Davis-Fainbloom says, “sets you up to objectify people.”

I questioned this: Isn’t physical attraction the basis for approaching someone at a bar, after all? But in person, she points out, you also get a whole host of nonverbal cues and sensory input from someone — not to mention, you can see how they interact with others. That gives you a lot more information than what profile pic someone chose.

The problem, however, is larger than simply using hotness as your primary selection criteria.

“Swiping right and left on humans can put them in a box and start to affect the way you see people in the real world,” Davis-Fainbloom says. It’s basically making people into commodities and reducing finding a potential life partner to the same level as buying a cute new pair of shoes.

The sheer number of people on dating apps compounds this effect. A 2019 study in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science found that the “virtually unlimited” access to potential partners tends to make users more dismissive of their choices, and likelier to adopt what researchers dubbed “a rejection mindset.”

So, the longer you use apps, the less likely you are to find anyone you think of as a suitable romantic partner. Is it any wonder a 2020 Pew Research Study found that 45 percent of Americans who have used a dating site or app in the past year say the experience left them feeling more frustrated than hopeful?

And all of this — the objectification, commodification and increasing pickiness dating apps encourage — leads users to feel less empathy for the humans on the other side of it, and less accountable for acting decently IRL.

I’m not talking only about unsolicited pics of a certain body part here, but also rampant ghosting or using matches solely to stroke your ego. It can be a huge time suck, and a “confidence pit” when you’re on the wrong side of those actions, according to Davis-Fainbloom.

There’s even evidence that users of online dating services have higher rates of depression and social anxiety, according to a 2021 study published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. While the study did not identify a cause-effect relationship, it’s a fair guess that it might work both ways, says Ariella Lenton-Brym, lead author of the study and a graduate student in Ryerson University’s Anxiety Research and Treatment Lab in Toronto.

People with depression and social anxiety may be more likely to use dating apps, but dating apps may also exacerbate these issues. “In general, feeling rejected and neglected by other people feels bad,” Lenton-Brym says. “And online rejection can be less personal, but it offers the unprecedented opportunity for rejection on a much larger scale.”

In the end, it all contributes to a feeling that is the opposite of how I’ve always envisioned love. There’s something so amazing about an unexpected encounter where sparks fly, the feeling of a chance encounter that turns into the most memorable meeting of your life. Maybe I’m just a closet romantic, but I want to feel that way when I fall in love again — that it will be special, a once- or twice-in-a-lifetime event, or at least not something as commonplace as checking my email.