Dating has always been an isolating and for most people, a nerve-wracking experience.
But new research suggests the shift into swiping apps has made it all the more lonely.
In a study of 269 undergraduates at Ohio State University, researchers found those who already felt lonely and nervous about meeting people in person – as is common for would-be daters – were more likely to get addicted to their phones, swiping compulsively for hours on end.
Not only did it exacerbate the loneliness and anxiety they were already feeling, it started to encroach on other aspects of their lives.
‘It’s not just that they’re using their phone a lot,’ lead author Kathryn Coduto, a doctoral student in communication, said in a press release for the study, published today in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.
‘We had participants who said they were missing school or work, or getting in trouble in classes or at work because they kept checking the dating apps on their phones.’
Coduto added: ‘I’ve seen people who use dating apps compulsively. They take their phones out when they’re at dinner with friends or when they’re in groups. They really can’t stop swiping.’
To explore this issue, Coduto asked her study participants, who were all single and each using at least one dating app, to say how strongly they agreed or disagreed with certain statements.
For example: ‘I am more confident socializing online than offline,’ or ‘I am unable to reduce the amount of time I spend on dating apps.’
Many told Coduto they had turned to dating apps out of loneliness and social anxiety.
It holds so much promise: no matter how much you crave a partner, social anxiety can be crippling.
Thought of going out to bars, or dinners, or clubs, or parties, and forcing yourself to strike up conversations – and the fear of rejection, ambivalence, or embarrassment in person – can be overwhelming.
Online, you can check people out, and even get a stamp of approval of ‘matching’ with someone – a small sign that you’re appealing to people out there – without having to talk.
You could even chat on the app from the comfort of your bed, or sofa, without them seeing the nerves on your face, or how long you’re taking to compose the right response.
But as Bumble, a rival to Tinder, tweeted recently: ‘Dating is not “a numbers game,” it requires intention. Too many matches can be overwhelming. Once you’ve matched with a few people, pause the swiping and make moves to truly get to know people.’
Coduto found that to be sage advice.
Swiping through profiles of potential connections did not help alleviate those feelings of anxiety. In fact, it tended to make them worse.
Coduto found they were more likely to spent more time on the app. The more time they spent on the app, the more it negatively affected their wellbeing, their sleep, their work, their attention, and their social lives.
It wasn’t a strong association, but strong enough, Coduto says, to warrant concern, and for dating app users to actively set strict limits on how much they swipe if they are already dealing with feelings of isolation.
‘That combination led to compulsive use and then negative outcomes,’ Coduto said.