To swipe or not to swipe? Even though using dating apps has become a ubiquitous part of the modern dating landscape, there's no denying that they can become exhausting. And, at their worst, they may even do a number on your self-esteem.
"Online dating gets perceived as competition with the person above, below, left, or right of you," Clarissa Silva, behavioral scientist and author of relationship blog You're Just A Dumbass, tells Bustle. "You’re looking for a specific set of qualities that complement you. So is everyone else. At the end, you expect that you will get what you want and so will they. When we receive multiple messages from multiple users, it enhances our self-esteem. However, if the messages are from people you wouldn’t normally want to connect with, it impacts your self-esteem negatively."
And research has backed that up. CNN recently pointed to a 2016 study published in the peer-reviewed journal Body Image that looked at about 1,300 college students and found that those who used a dating app had lower self-esteem than those who didn't.
It's easy to see how a dating app can potentially mess with your self-esteem. It feels like there are limitless options out there so, if you're not finding what you want, you start to believe that the problem comes from you. Plus, as Silva points out, there's an endless amount of other people on the app that you feel in competition with. But dating apps are still one of the easiest and most common ways to meet people, with around 40 percent of people using online dating or apps, according to eHarmony. So can you have it both ways? How do you use a dating app in a way that doesn't mess with your self-esteem? Here's what to need to keep in mind, according to experts.
Focus On Who You're Talking To
The first thing you can do to protect your self-esteem is focus on the right kind of people. "When using dating apps, be very judicious about who you interact with," relationship therapist Aimee Hartstein, LCSW tells Bustle. "If you are looking for a relationship, you don’t want to become involved with people who are just looking for fun. So many people make the mistake of thinking, 'Who knows! Maybe it will turn into something!' But you really should believe what people tell you about themselves, both in person or online."
Sometimes we project our version of who we want someone to be onto them, even if that means ignoring obvious clues. "The person 'looking for something casual' means it!", Hartstein says. "If you really want to meet someone then pass over the ones who are just looking for fun. It can save you lots of pain and heartache. Also, if you see any red flags in their profiles, pay attention! Basically, take seriously who you start texting with or dating from the beginning so you can avoid some nasty surprises later on." Just be realistic and listen to your gut right from the start.
Take Breaks When You Need Them
Dating burnout is a real thing — and dating apps can very much be the root cause. “Dating burnout is a lot like job burnout. What was once fun and exhilarating has become exhausting, frustrating, and overwhelming,” Esther Boykin, licensed love and relationship therapist, tells Bustle. “Over the course of normal dating, people will experience moments of frustration or exhaustion but when those feelings become the primary response to even the idea of a date, burnout has definitely set in.”
If you feel like you're not enjoying dating, you're feeling low, or you just feel frazzled and overwhelmed, take a break. "I suggest a break to my clients all the time," dating and relationship coach Ravid Yosef tells Bustle. "Sometimes our energy is what's attracting others and if we don't have enough self-care in our life or get obsessive with our notifications, we start looking for validations outside of ourselves. Which in turn attracts the wrong kind of attention." Reset and get back to focusing on what you actually want.
Remember Your Worth
Finally, online dating and social media can make us grateful for tiny crumbs of attention and we start to lower our expectations. "[When] liking a photo on Instagram or Facebook is [a] signal that the game is back on... it’s probably the saddest and minimal amount of effort to demonstrate interest in someone," Silva says. So remember your worth. If someone texts you after three months with a, "Sry I've just been rly busy," then they're not worth your time. Remember what you actually want and deserve — and don't settle for less.
Online dating can take a major toll on your self-esteem, but it doesn't have to. Date more mindfully, give yourself a break when you need it, and remember what you're worth. If you stay empowered, your self-esteem can stay intact.