Health Agenda

Mental Health

How to navigate online dating

With online and app dating, judgement and rejection come with the territory. Here’s how to maintain perspective.  

Heather Millar & Charmaine Yabsley
June 2018

It appears that fewer single people are meeting through friends, on blind dates, at work, or a chance get-together. Thanks to technology, you don’t even have to leave your sofa to connect with other singles.

While there are no official statistics, it’s believed that around 4.5 million Australians use online or app dating each year, according to Relationships Australia. Dating app Tinder boasts 15% of the Australian population as users – making it the second-most preferred way to meet a new partner (the first being introduced by friends or family).

“Dating apps are an opportunity to connect with more people quickly, and from the convenience of our own environment,” says psychologist Natajsa Wagner. “We can use them to get a glimpse of who a person is, before taking the time to meet in person or go on a real-life date.”

This opportunity can present a world of possibility, especially if you have a small, or coupled-up, social network, work long hours or work from home, are a single parent or just want exposure to people you may not otherwise meet.

But while there are many advantages, it can be tough out there, and it’s worth considering the potential pitfalls. 

Online dating and your self-esteem

With app and online dating, people might be considered and discarded in seconds, for example with a quick swipe of a thumb, often based on the way they look in their profile picture.

Research from the University of North Texas suggests that dating apps could be affecting users’ self-esteem and body image. It found Tinder users were less satisfied with their face and body, felt more shame about their body, and were more likely to compare their appearance to others, when compared with non-users. The researchers concluded that dating apps may be contributing to the worsening mental health of some users.

Relationships counsellor Nicole Ivens advises to be mindful of how you’re feeling.

“If you’re starting to question your looks, or whether you’re good enough, then it may be a sign that your dating app may be starting to affect your self-esteem. If you’re considering changing your looks in order to please others, it’s a red flag your self-esteem is taking a hit.”

Keeping your confidence

App dating can feel like an invitation for rejection: people swipe you away in a flash, may not respond to messages, and dates may not go as you’d hoped. It can be hard not to take the process personally, but there can be many reasons someone decides not to take things further.

‘Ghosting’ – where someone you’re in contact with or dating breaks off communication without notice – can be a blow. But while this behaviour is unpleasant, you’re not alone. One dating site reported 78% of people aged between 18-33 have been ghosted.

As with social media in general, if you’re beginning to measure your value on the number of messages you receive, it could be time for a reality check.

“Whilst it can feel flattering to get complimentary messages, connections online don’t equal your worth. We need to stay securely grounded in the fact that only we can gauge our own worth,” says Wagner. “Having good and healthy relationships is also about ensuring the relationship we have with ourselves is first and foremost in order.”

Coping with rejection

Lauren Simpson, 34, says online dating has made her less trusting.

“You’re constantly rejecting somebody, or being rejected, with just a swipe on your phone. You may have a great rapport over text messages, but when you meet them in person, you realise how false it has been.”

Simpson says that many online daters also date multiple people at once. “You learn to develop a thicker skin about it.”

She says that she’s had to learn new rules on how to deal with online relationships.

“It’s not uncommon to just end a conversation online if you’re not into it… You just have to learn not to take the rejection personally.”

When it all gets too much, Simpson steps away from dating apps.

“I go on a Tinder detox and delete the apps for a while. They can be quite time-consuming, and it’s good to remind yourself that your life can be fulfilling without dating.”

Setting boundaries

It can be tempting to live your life through your online activity, but setting good boundaries is about continuing to prioritise real-life interactions, advises Wagner.

“Dating apps are a tool to use, not a tool to be controlled by,” she says “Don’t put your life on hold for an app; real-life activities should not be substituted for app time.”

Other, less pressured, ways of meeting people, like Meetup, sports and book clubs is a great alternative to app or online dating.

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