Dating site addiction is a real thing, and it’s becoming more and more common.
The first step to overcoming your addiction is admitting that it exists, which can be difficult if you don’t even know what you’re addicted to. But there are ways to figure out if you have a problem—and ways to get help.
If you find yourself spending hours on dating sites every day, but never actually meeting up with anyone in real life, then it’s possible that you’ve developed a serious addiction. If this is the case, then it’s time to take action before things get worse!
Here are some tips for getting started:
1) Don’t lie about your age or weight
2) Don’t post photos of people who aren’t you (even if they’re just celebrities)
3) Don’t use multiple accounts or fake profiles
4) Don’t give out personal information online (like your phone number or address) unless someone reaches out first
Dating site addiction
Have you ever wondered why you can’t stop using a dating app? Or why you keep going back even after you’ve met someone you like?
I’ll tell you why. Similar to major social media platforms, dating app user addiction is baked into the business model.
How thrilling does it feel to receive a like, a match, a note? You don’t even need to know who liked or commented. It’s a like. Someone likes ME!
I MUST therefore be…worthy, worthwhile, attractive, smart, clever, funny, cute, a winner, successful, a good picture taker, an epic prompt filler outer. Right? That other person must have scrutinized my entire, artfully crafted profile. Based on all of that “intricate” detail, they must have made a carefully calculated decision about why they see dating potential in me.
Or maybe someone with drunken pirate eye just wanted to get laid…but I digress.
Intent doesn’t matter now. What does is why you feel an irresistible lightning bolt of arousal and excitement when your dating app pings you with some form of digital engagement.
It’s not only validation and all the stories we make up about why someone “chose” us — the addictive stickiness is a result of the physiological cascade of neurotransmitters that are triggered when that dating app reaches out unexpectedly and touches our consciousness.
I’m no neuroscientist, but plenty have weighed in on the impact of dating apps. They make it very clear how this tech impacts neurochemistry and plays upon the pleasure circuitry within the brain. In fact, it activates the exact same circuitry as alcohol, cocaine, heroin, crack and OxyContin. In “The Craving Mind,” Dr. Judson Brewer offers a great example of how “like” alerts for Facebook selfies trigger the same system.
As someone in recovery who has been drawn in by the allure of the dating app dopamine hit, I can tell you from experience that these apps are addictive. This has been confirmed by my therapists and discussed repeatedly (sometimes weekly) in recovery groups.
Let’s dig a little deeper, shall we?
A digital dose of social crack?
Okay fine. Maybe that’s a little strong. You’re not likely to end up in a crack den bleary-eyed and delirious after disappearing on a sleepless, multi-day run that left you broke and beat. But it’s also not that dissimilar either.
Have you ever sat in a business meeting practically itching out of compulsion to respond to that sexy love interest before their attention flees elsewhere? If you’ve done this enough, you know that you’re “on the clock.”
There’s no question that dating apps rip you away from here-and-now responsibilities so you can frolic in their marvelous digital dating fantasyland where the pictures are airbrushed and the character defects come carefully concealed.
How many dates have you had in a single week? As a guy who still believes in paying for my date, I can assure you that dinner dates add up fast, particularly here in NYC.
How many conversations do you juggle at one time? Perhaps two or three might not be a big deal. But if you’re trying to keep five or more connections engaged and interested, that’s a tremendous emotional and cognitive load on what is likely an already strained attention span. If you’re not being shallow and superficial (which seems to only work on Tinder), you can very easily find yourself emotionally drained and exhausted.
When you wake up in the morning, do you check your apps before you go to the bathroom or while you’re going to the bathroom? There are only two options for a reason.
Yeah, I’ve done it. Honestly, it doesn’t matter what I’m doing. I could be sitting in a client meeting, working on a team project live on zoom, at Christmas dinner with family, mid-therapy session, frantically texting a note as my flight is taking off, on the treadmill…you get the picture. Nothing is sacred or safe from the desire to swipe.
I literally just stopped writing to check an alert…sigh.
Why am I so obsessed?
It’s all in the nature of dating app alerts and what they do to our brains. Essentially, the tech bros (and gals) in the Valley know how to use our physiology against us.
The brain is a marvelously sophisticated system that does all sorts of amazing things — like, say, automatically enhance cardiovascular and respiratory capacity in the face of danger — but it is also highly susceptible to manipulation by social technology design and engineering.
Dating apps use the same design tricks that big social media companies have used to vacuum up all of our personal data. And social media’s tricks, in turn, have been lifted from casinos, specifically slot machines. How?
First, there’s the infinite scroll. Prospective partner after partner lined up ad infinitum in the digital ether for you to judge with a split-second thumb swipe. Then there’s the uncertainty of who will pop up, just like the spinning wheels of a slot machine. You do, however, know that you will eventually make a connection.
When you do, that’s when dating apps extend their sticky fingers to reel you in with the alert notifications, sounds and vibration — just like those slot machines endlessly blinking and emitting the sound of a sweet, sweet jackpot. Except you probably didn’t really get the connection that you wanted — so why not “let it ride” and play on? After all, just like that slot machine, there’s no reason to stop.
It is the uncertainty of when you will make a match or receive likes that truly drives the addict-like seeking behavior. Just like user engagement on social media, dating apps rely upon something called “intermittent reinforcement.” Also known as variable-interval reinforcement, it has been found to be one of the most highly addictive forms of behavior modification.
It’s a behavior-reward feedback loop that produces compulsivity through the uncertainty of reward. In layman’s terms, this basically means that a behavior (say, like, swiping) will be rewarded (a match) but not on a regular or predictable schedule. It’s precisely the unpredictability that increases the draw and interest.
Basically, you know you’ll get a match, but you don’t know when. But you do know intuitively that the more times you swipe, the greater your odds of getting a match. It’s just a matter of time. So, what do we do? We swipe, like, heart and emoji the shit out of that eye candy.
I just need another hit
The other thing that happens when we get a match is that our brains release the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is associated with seeking, excitement and desire and typically is a precursor to the experience of pleasure. According to Dr. David Greenfield, founder and medical director of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction and assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at UConn School of Medicine, dating apps are essentially piggybacking on the primitive reward circuitry within the brain that evolved to encourage sex and procreation.
When we are attracted to a dating app match, we end up getting a John Wick-style double tap of dopamine. In other words, we become aroused and filled with desire when we see the alert signaling we’ve made a connection, and then, if the love interest is hot, we get another hit.
When the short-lived dopamine excitement inevitably wears off, then the user gets a craving for more (trigger). So, they resume fanatical swiping (behavior) or post more risqué statements and pictures (behavior). Once the user receives a like or a match (reward), the behavior is essentially reinforced and perpetuated. This is why users often become obsessed with getting as many likes and matches as possible. This is known as the dopamine feedback loop.
What this means is that dating apps hijack the reward systems in our brain and use it to keep us engaged and actively using the platform. The more we experience the feedback loop, the more hardwired the behavior becomes.
Imagine a hamster-wheel with a juicy morsel dangling always just out of reach. High on anticipation and desire, low on actual fulfillment and satisfaction. It’s like trying to get a full day’s nutrients out of a McDonald’s Happy Meal. Empty, fat-saturated calories do not a healthy meal make.
Aside from the empty satisfaction of this feedback loop, there’s another problem. All this endless swiping results in more potential partners to choose from. You’re shooting fish in a barrel that is continuously restocked. There’s always an unknown attractive person a few swipes away. Maybe she’s really “the One,” as opposed to the one I met yesterday.
Studies show that many choices can actually be demotivating in the decision-making process. The more options we have, the less likely we will choose one of them. So then, based on their own engineering, dating apps are actually not good for building long-lasting relationships.
This is a very good thing for the dating app business, as continuously seeking users with lengthy subscriptions pad their bottom line. This is not, however, a very good thing for their users, who may become trapped in endless feedback loop chasing more matches but not actually committing to anyone.
While many dating app companies market themselves as a “smart matchmakers” with genius algorithms that will facilitate meaningful, long-term relationships, the truth is obscured by their pitch. Just one in 10 Americans have been in a committed relationship with or married someone they met on a dating app or site, according to this Pew Research study.
The other downsides of dating apps
There can be no question that dating apps enable me to distract myself from the uncomfortable realities of the here and now (and also past trauma I’d like to avoid thinking about). Is that a good thing? I’m not so sure. It could be particularly problematic if you’re in recovery and need to focus on correcting the distorted thinking that lead to addiction.
Distraction is just the tip of the iceberg, however. eHarmony says that more than half of dating app users lie on their profile. Not entirely sure why they’d admit to that, but I’ll take it as fact. The number would probably be much higher, but we’re asking liars to admit they’re liars.
Authenticity and truth are just not the name of the dating app game. Remember what I said? It’s all about truth adjacency, filtering blemishes and pulling a Houdini on your defects. The user “markets” the very best version of themselves, which often ends up barely resembling the person you meet on date number one.
So, users try to sift through all the bullshitting and find someone real and authentic. The problem is that the clever, manipulative users know this and adjust their marketing accordingly. It becomes an exhausting game of duplicity and attempting to read the tea leaves about the truthiness of others’ statements.
This, of course, leads only to more frustration, burnout and fatigue. So, what do you do? You decide this isn’t working. You resolve to meet people the old fashioned away. You delete your apps. And then what happens?
The dating app you deleted sends you an email…Susie Q just liked you. Are you going to leave her hanging? If you’re like me, this temptation is just too much to resist. I want my dopamine hit. And just like that, after only two hours of freedom, we’re back on the hamster wheel of misery and death.
Let’s also not forget about how miserable it can feel to invest a lot of time and energy trying to connect with someone on an emotional level only to be ghosted the next day. And then there’s the catfishing, sending of inappropriate images, needing to block someone who made you uncomfortable and even concerns about safety, which research reveals happen much more frequently than you’d expect.
With downsides like these, it’s shocking how many Americans use these apps. Pew reported that 48% of 18 to 29-year-olds used a dating site or an app as did 38% of those ages 30 to 49. There are so many reasons why it’s not worth it, but reason is not often consulted when making emotional decisions.
For those in recovery, however, the stakes are quite a bit higher, as I’ll show in my next installment when I put my own dating app choices under the microscope. Stay tuned.