The Real Reason Dating App Rejection Sucks So Much
by Laken Howard
Young black woman looks stressed while reading a message on her smartphone in her living room
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As a former online dating fanatic — the kind with an entire folder of dating apps on her phone — I know exactly how much it hurts to experience dating app rejection. Even if you hardly know the person, it still stings to form a connection with someone, only to have your romantic hopes dashed when a potential match eventually fades out of your life. Meeting someone worthwhile on a dating app or site will take time, but it's easy to get overwhelmed and feel like you'll never find someone, especially if you're not getting many matches or messages.

"When you don't receive as many messages as you hoped, it is perceived as rejection," Laurie Davis Edwards, founder of eFlirt and author of Love @ First Click, tells Bustle. "But here is what is important to know: You cannot be rejected unless you can also be accepted. And on an app or a site, you cannot be accepted because the other person doesn't yet know you. You're only a profile or a few photos. It absolutely can feel like rejection online when someone doesn't reply to your message, but they cannot actually reject you when they cannot accept you."

Because of the high rate of (perceived) rejection online, it might seem smarter for dating apps to offer a virtually unlimited pool of matches (like on Tinder or Match) so people always feel like they have options when it doesn't work out with someone.

Fewer potential matches means fewer potential rejections — and hypothetically, fewer dejected, jaded online daters.

But a new study suggests that limiting user choice on dating apps might actually offer a better experience: fewer potential matches means fewer potential rejections — and hypothetically, fewer dejected, jaded online daters.

Having More Choice On Dating Apps Isn't Always A Good Thing

For the study, researchers from New York University, IMD Business School, and the University of Pennsylvania created a "stylized model of online, heterosexual dating" in order to see how different models of online dating platforms perform. Interestingly, they found that increasing the number of potential matches has a positive effect — because users have more choice of partners — but also a negative effect, because it creates competition between users of the same sex.

"When a user has more potential matches, she or he is more likely to find someone who they consider to be the best match for them at that point," study co-authors Hanna Halaburda and Mikolaj PIskorski tell Bustle. "However, when the user has more matches, these potential matches are also exposed to more potential candidates with whom to establish a relationship. This means that when a user initiates a conversation with his or her match, that match is less likely to respond, as that match has more candidates with whom to interact. This creates a trade-off: on the one hand, a user has more choices to start with, but on the other hand, these choices are less likely to respond."

"When you're in a large pool, things are skewed — access to many makes it feel like you should be getting messages from more people."

So even though it's nice in theory to have a ton of options on dating apps, it can be stressful for users to be overwhelmed with choice — especially because they might also feel pressured to "compete" with all the other users on that app or site, and then feel "rejected" when they aren't getting as much attention as they'd hoped.

"Being in a large pool of people seems great — and it is in many ways," Davis Edwards says. "But it also means others have access to a large pool, too. Everyone has many options. In reality, we only have the capacity to create meaningful connections with a small number of people. Yet when you're in a large pool, things are skewed — access to many makes it feel like you should be getting messages from more people."

How The Feeling Of Competition Impacts Online Daters

The old adage "there are plenty of fish in the sea" are words that are usually intended to bring comfort to someone who's been recently dumped or rejected. But when you're single and swimming in the massive ocean that is online dating, all those fish start to seem a little bit intimidating, especially if your self-confidence has been recently shaken. It's understandable to feel threatened by the amount of hypothetical competition, but it's important to remember that dating apps are just a tool to meet people — not the end-all-be-all measure of your value and self-worth.

"There are a lot of singles who are ONLY using dating apps, and in the absence of other methods of meeting people, it feels like the only way to interact," Davis Edwards says. "When interactions don't go the way you hoped — either by receiving a reply or getting on a date — there is often a loss of hope. We judge rejection in numbers, but acceptance is judged through quality. So rather than worrying about how many messages you're receiving (or NOT receiving), take a look at the dates you're having. Even if they haven't been relationships that have worked out yet, have you met quality matches? This is the best way to understand your 'results.'"

Here's How To Feel Happier When Online Dating

Whether you're the kind of person who prefers an app with limitless options or whether you'd rather try more niche dating apps that have fewer (but perhaps more quality) potential matches or limited options per day like The League or Coffee Meets Bagel, you can find love online... it just takes some patience, and a willingness to get out of your dating comfort zone and be open-minded to new people and experiences.

"No matter what dating app you're on, there is more choice online than offline," Davis Edwards says. "You have access to thousands of people in one evening online, whereas you may generously encounter about a dozen if you were to go to a party in that same evening. With this comes the paradox of choice. People often become more selective because there are so many options, which is why I encourage people to say 'yes' to people who they consider 'maybes.'"

The bottom line? Any "rejection" you experience on dating apps is really NBD: as long as you're keeping an open mind and trying to form genuine connections with people online, it's only a matter of time before the stars align and you connect with someone awesome. Ultimately, your experience on dating apps is what you make of it — so if you're feeling burnt out, it might be time to switch up your dating routine and try a new approach (or at least download a different dating app).