Sex therapists on deleting Tinder and finding love in the real world
Tinder’s instant gratification and endless supply of singles come at a cost, experts say.
We simply have too many matches, and not enough connection. We scroll through too many profiles, without looking enough people in the eyes. Tinder is the Spring Break in Daytona of dating: fast-paced and full of easy hookups, but ultimately empty.
Sure — Tinder revolutionized dating. It expanded the puny dating pool of our immediate social circle into a vast ocean of potential partners. It eliminated our miserable sense of rejection every time someone turned us down, and bumped up our egos every time someone else deemed us hump-able.
But we spoke to several sex and relationship therapists about the ways online dating can cripple our search for a long-time lover. The professionals agree: these platforms are fine for finding a good time or a several-night stand, but for a partner we hope to settle down with — hope to spend a lifetime of sharing our farts, our deranged sexual fantasies, or a minivan full of ungrateful little heathens — there are important reasons to search outside of cyberspace, in meatspace.
WE’RE ONLY GETTING HIGH ON MATCHES
“The worst thing about Tinder is that, like other social networking platforms, Tinder is designed to keep you chasing dopamine hits but to never feel satisfied,” explains Indigo Stray Conger, Denver-based sex therapist.
“Tinder wants to keep you on the app for as long as possible, not help you find a satisfying partner — or two. Users of the app start out with the goal of meeting someone, but the reward center in their brain keeps swiping right for the ‘reward’ of a message or a match. Users will continue to chase that high without ever feeling satiated.”
Those consistent boosts in self-confidence might seem like an ideal way to keep your head high in the disheartening dating world. But making hundreds of matches doesn’t empower us. It exhausts us.
“When a Tinder user ends up feeling drained, they equate it with their ability to connect to other people and meet their initial goal of finding a partner — or a few good hook-ups,” Conger says. “Actually, that user is drained from using the app itself, regardless of whether they met up with someone or not through the app. Tinder users often report that even after a good date they will go home and keep swiping in search of another hit.”
It’s a sad reality that we all too often assume our Tinder failings are reflective of our personal failings. For the confidence boost necessary to overcome that state of mind, where better to turn than Tinder? And the vicious cycles ensues.
“Tinder, in particular, is an ego boost,” explains Tara Galeano, Boulder-based sex therapist. “Those that need that superficial boost on a regular basis by swiping right can be caught in a false hope cycle and often times don't put the energy into creating a real relationship.”
TOO MANY CHOICES MAKES ALL OF THE OPTIONS LESS APPEALING
When you’re swimming in hotties, it’s hard to make any one person your priority. Apps give us the impression that there are millions of potential mates out there, which has a serious impact on our psychology.
With a perceived surplus of possible partners and without any pressure to commit, the whole system tends to shift toward short-term dating. Attractions and connections aren’t as valuable as they used to be. We’re overindulging in sexual partners, and the emotional intimacy of sex is evaporating.
“The apps create an emotional fatigue. With hundreds of profiles to fish through and respond to, we exhaust our brain with decision fatigue when you need to make multiple decisions as to whether it’s a ‘yes’ or ‘no’,” explains Dr. Chelsea Holland, Boulder-based sex and relationship therapist.
“The apps also act in a way that tricks the mind into a game-type aspect rather than cueing the brain into a space of connection, which is crucial for developing a long-term relationship.”
We’re relationshopping — researchers have called it — and treating dating like we’re picking out a box of cereal at the grocery store. With 58 different varieties to choose from, we get overwhelmed, and we’ll start narrowing down our options any way we can. Nothing fruity. No cinnamon. Nothing with an apex predator as a mascot.
The same goes for picking out a partner. No men under six foot. No women with tattoos. No one who says they’re “fluent in sarcasm.” Unfortunately, this emotionally-detached approach is a necessary evil of using dating apps to search for our soulmate.
TINDER IS TURNING US INTO COWARDS
Bringing Tinder’s flaws to light isn’t intended to be a criticism of hook-up culture. Un-artistic dick pics, 2 a.m. “you up?” text messages and sneaking out before the sun rises with that after-sex glow are a lifestyle we can all appreciate.
It is, however, supposed to serve as a wake-up call for those searching for their better half, only to agonize over the realization that Tinder is a dead end. It’s too shallow to allow us to dive deep into profound interdependence. It protects our fragile self-pride too much to take any chances on a romantic risk.
“Dating apps keep things on the surface with less opportunity for vulnerable connection,” explains Dr. Chelsea. “You need more than the app persona or text persona of someone to develop a deep, lasting connection.”
What’s worse, when we’re under the impression that all our romantic potential is stored in the archives of our Tinder matches, we’re less likely to pay attention to real-world opportunities for romance.
“The apps can then blind us from the connection potential right around you. When you have a phone with hundreds of potential mates being held in your hand, it’s a lot easier to say “eh” to the person trying to talk to you in line at the coffee shop or to not take the vulnerable step to say hi to that cute gal eyeing you from the other side of the airport lounge,” Dr. Chelsea says.
“The key part is that it is a vulnerable step to reach out in person and the dating apps help us to avoid that. You don’t want to train yourself away from vulnerability but rather toward vulnerability, even if it can at times be painful.”
Tinder may have revolutionized dating, but the shallow culture spawned from swiping for romance isn’t right for everyone.
“You may feel the release of endorphins as people endorse your looks, but that may be as deep as it goes — which isn't much. So for a good time? Dating apps maybe. But for a relationship? Try something different, like getting to know yourself and then someone else,” Galeano says.
Dr. Chelsea adds, “You have to take your head out of the app sand and focus on those physically around you. Finding a mate on dating apps like Tinder are the exception, not the rule.”