How to navigate dating apps

Health Agenda

How to navigate online dating

Updated January 2023 | 5 min read
Expert contributors Natajsa Wagner, clinical psychotherapist; Nicole Ivens, holistic counsellor
Words by Heather Millar and Charmaine Yabsley

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

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

Dating apps, like Tinder, eHarmony, Hinge, Grindr and Bumble, have surged in popularity in recent years. According to Statista, 3.2 million people were using dating apps in Australia in 2021, a number that's projected to increase to 3.4 million users by 2027.

Perhaps the most well-known dating app, Tinder, had 75 million monthly active users and 9.6 million subscribers worldwide in 2021. And 1.5 million Tinder users go on dates per week, making it a hugely popular way to meet a new partner.

“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.

How dating apps impact your self-esteem

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

In 2020, Western Sydney University and the University of Sydney conducted research into swipe-based dating apps – where users ‘swipe’ the screen to either like or dislike another user’s profile – and their impact on mental health.

The researchers found that:

  • 20% of dating app users reported significantly higher psychological distress as a result of app use (compared to non-users of dating apps)
  • 19% of dating app users reported significantly higher depressive symptoms as a result of app use (compared to non-users of dating apps)
  • daily users of dating apps were four times more likely to report psychological distress or depressive symptoms than those who never used a dating app.

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.”

Navigating online dating with 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. In the United States, between 13% and 23% of adults have been ghosted by a romantic partner, according to various studies.

Ghosting can be a very unpleasant and even humiliating experience. The other person may suddenly stop responding to phone calls or text messages, unfollow you on social media, or even block you without explanation. The impact of ghosting is that you're left to understand what the lack of communication means on your own, making it more difficult to close the relationship.

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 Natajsa. “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.”

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

She says 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, Lauren 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 with dating apps

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 Natajsa.

“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 and sports and book clubs are great alternatives to dating apps.

Support for your mental wellbeing

If online dating is affecting your mental wellbeing and you'd like some professional help, we’ve partnered with PSYCH2U to offer HCF members* easier access to mental health support through online video consultations with a psychologist.

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* Must have HCF gold level hospital cover for 12 months. Eligibility is based on clinical need as assessed by PSYCH2U. 

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