The Impact of Online Dating on Mental Health

January 18, 2021
Online Dating Impact

We hear a lot these days about the dangers of social media, and how spending too many hours looking at a screen can be harmful to your eyesight.

So, where does online dating factor into the equation - and are there things you should do to protect your mental health?

Interestingly, studies have shown both positives and negatives, with benefits in the last few months often surpassing any potential pitfalls. In a disconnected world, having contact with other people is essential to us as naturally social creatures. It is doubtless that video dating has been a lifeline to singles around the world.

Here we'll consider the good, the bad, how to get the best from your online dating experience, and what to do if you feel anxiety creeping into your digital life.

Digital Dates - The Health Benefits

We'll start by looking at the plus points. Last year, a study by Big Think found that there are some key advantages to online dating:

  • 40% of respondents reported finding a serious relationship through a dating app.
  • 77% of people had met somebody new in person as a result of online dating.
  • 40% of people who have used swipe-based dating apps have reported a positive impact on their self-esteem.
  • 70% of same-sex relationships begin by meeting online.

These figures illustrate that, while focusing all of our time in cyberspace isn't ideal, there are some tangible advantages - particularly for people who struggle with traditional dating.

Anxiety, stress disorders, being non-CIS, a lack of confidence, fear of rejection; the list of reasons that so many people, of all ages, might be reluctant to try and chat up a stranger are endless.

Being accepted, receiving messages, having new ways to interact, and finding your niche where there are plenty of people who'd love to date you are all positives that can do wonders for your confidence.

For the LGBTQ+ community, online dating isn't only about finding compatible singles. It's also a way to connect, meet like-minded people, feel safe and comfortable sharing your experiences and have the support that may not exist in some communities and cultures.

Online dating is also a much safer option, particularly for younger people or vulnerable singles. 

Meeting someone you don't know in a bar, and then spending time alone with them can be risky for many reasons. One of the most prominent advantages of online dating is that it removes that risk, and gives you a chance to do your homework before deciding whether to meet somebody face to face.

However, there are also pitfalls, so let's think about why digital dating can sometimes have a negative impact.

Downsides of Dating Online

It's essential to distinguish between general social media and dating platforms. 

While there are certainly correlations, these are two different mediums. Therefore although it is necessary to understand where comparisons exist, it's also wise to evaluate how, where, when and why you might choose to interact with people online differently, between social media and an app designed specifically for dating.

Center4Research reports that around 25% of young adults aged under 25 have mental health conditions, and that same percentage feel that social media has had a negative impact on their lives.

Some of the trigger points do exist in online dating, with issues such as:

  • Spending extended periods on your phone, swiping through user-profiles and using apps is detrimental to your health in multiple ways.
  • 19% of swipe-based app users have reported symptoms of depression - compared to 9% of people who do not use dating apps.
  • Using a dating app for over a year makes it 3.5 times more likely that you will experience distress.

The issue here is primarily how much and how long you use dating apps for - and whether you're engaging with people on an authentic, respected dating site that seeks to match you with compatible people, or a more materialistic hookup app or swiping app that can often feel a little fickle and judgmental.

Many of the most concerning stats do relate to 'swiping apps'. I'm not going to say they don't serve a purpose, or that millions of people haven't found a relationship (or more likely a casual date!), but it is critical to consider how you feel when using such an app.

How to Protect Your Mental Health Using a Dating App

If you experience any of the following, it's time to give serious thought to whether your membership is adding value to your life, or sucking your self-esteem out through your screen:

  • Feelings of anxiety or stress when you log in.
  • Repeatedly checking for messages, comments or likes.
  • Not having any results or matches and feeling like it is YOU who is the problem (you're not, it's likely just the wrong app for you).
  • Comparing yourself to other profiles.
  • Losing track of how much time you spend on an app.

The Big Think study reports that of 5,000 people aged 18-30; the average weekly time spent on a dating app was 10 hours. Men, on average, logged in nine times a day, and women ten times per day.

Forming a habit of logging into any app that many times per day, checking if you have any matches, looking for messages, searching for friend requests is not healthy, and detracting from the real world around you.

Men spent around 85 minutes online, and women 79 minutes, so between an hour, and an hour and a half, every day.

Therefore, we can see that there are many benefits to opening up your social circle, meeting people you'd like to spend time with, and forming a community with like-minded singles.

However, relying solely on dating apps for your social interactions, and obsessing over messages, matches, and likes is a spiral of negativity that isn't going to be positive to your day.

My conclusion?

Get dating - it's a breath of fresh air to meet someone cute, line up a date, or just have a chat with a great person you've got something in common with.

But, always be mindful of your mental health, how long you're spending online, and whether any doubts or anxiety creep in that indicate it's time to log out - at least for a few days.

Lauren Edwards-Fowle
Lauren is a freelance writer passionate about how we develop rewarding experiences, and overcoming the barriers we face to living our best lives. Lauren writes regularly about the modern world of dating, relationships, parenthood, and social dynamics.