~ March 2021 ~ Being stuck at home for months on end (Seriously, how are we at a year now?) I’ve spent more time swiping through the dating apps than ever before. I mean, how else am I supposed to meet people? But if I’m being honest, the dark hole of dating apps has been ruining my self-esteem—and it’s not just the rejection that’s bringing me down.
When I first hopped on dating apps, I was initially drawn to Hinge. With its curated combo of pictures and witty prompts, it seemed like the app where most people were interested in actual relationships. Their slogan is “The app designed to be deleted,” after all. I also really appreciated the fact that you could see who liked you first—a.k.a. less work for yours truly.
But because of that feature, I’ve been hit with a steady stream of disappointment. Though I do see some people matching with me, it can feel like I can go days without seeing one I’m interested in. Or when I do accept a match, they never message me. Or sometimes, I send a like and they don’t return it and we never match at all. What gives?
The same goes with Bumble, where women message first. It’s supposed to be empowering, but I’m left confused when someone doesn’t respond to my message. Did I say something wrong? Is my opener not witty enough? Is it too silly? Is this how men feel all the time??
What makes my own dating app issues feel all the more frustrating is seeing others around me have immediate success with just a few swipes. My friend is now engaged to the first man she met up with on Hinge—which is great for her, but leaves me wondering why I’ve been floundering on the same app for years now with no such luck.
In an attempt to sort through my feelings, I decided to turn to the experts to find out exactly why this was hitting me so hard. Here’s what they told me about dating apps and how to work through the self-esteem issues and rejection that come along with them.
Change Your Mindset
While I could be feeling down in the dumps about myself based on my matches, Dr. Jacqueline Bullis, Ph.D., an assistant neuroscientist from McLean’s Center of Excellence in Depression and Anxiety Disorders, explains that this (obviously) isn’t the best way to interpret my on-app experiences.
Rather than obsess over my own profile, she suggests to think of another perspective, where this match is also feeling frustrated after being repeatedly rejected by people, so they just swipe on everyone to see who bites. In fact, one study found that one-third of male Tinder users reported that they “casually like most profiles,” whereas zero women endorse this strategy.
“You might still feel some disappointment or frustration that it wasn’t a better quality match, but you probably wouldn’t feel quite so badly about yourself or ruminate about how others see you,” says Dr. Bullis.
It’s important to note that, while you can’t control the person on the other side of the phone, can changing your perspective on how you use dating apps. “You can create the best profile, you can answer the questions as well as you can, but you don’t have control over who’s going to respond and how they are going to respond,” says relationship expert Patrick Wanis, Ph.D. “But I say, view it as a social experiment and avoid becoming overly attached.”
Think About Why You’re Using the App
According to Wanis, another thing we need to reevaluate is why we’re on the apps at all. Is it for validation? (Because, hello, I’m already upset over a few low-quality matches, so validation is certainly not what I’ve been getting.) If so, we might want to rethink our choices, as dating apps won’t meet our needs. If anything, all they can offer is a temporary cure for loneliness.
Wanis also recommends having more compassion towards oneself—something that will ideally help build confidence. Not only will this help with apps not impacting your self-esteem, but hey, it might also help attract the kind of partner you’re seeking.
“If you want to appeal to anyone, self-assurance is very, very attractive and appealing,” Wanis says. “Self-compassion begins with accepting yourself where you are, acknowledging your limitations, and saying here’s where I can grow.”
Take a Step Back, If Need Be
If dating apps are truly wrecking your self-confidence, there’s nothing wrong with taking a step back to breathe and reevaluate what’s important to you. As Wanis explains, you shouldn’t give a stranger the power to make you feel happy.
“If the dating app is bringing you down, then step back and ask yourself, ‘what about this [is] bringing me down?’” he suggests. “It’s not the dating app, it’s most likely your approach.”
Dr. Bullis agrees and says to use the time you might’ve spent swiping to instead focus on doing things you enjoy. She also recommends creating SMART goals when it comes to using these apps, an acronym I can totally get behind. Smart goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-sensitive.
For example, if you say you’re going to limit yourself to looking at matches for 20 minutes a day, it’s much more measurable and reasonable than getting distracted on the app in the middle of the work day.
“By limiting it to a specific amount of time, it’s also going to limit your exposure,” Dr. Bullis says, “Like, okay, I did what I’m supposed to do today and it’s not going to bleed into all these areas of my life.”
Accept What Feels Bad and Move On
According to Dr. Bullis, questioning our own self-worth and experiencing rejection registers in the brain similarly to physical pain. So no surprise, it can really suck. Still, she recommends cognitive reprisal, a fancy way of saying we should be flexible when interpreting certain situations, instead of being quick to view them as negative. As Dr. Bullis explains, when we experience negative things, we’re much more likely to adopt a negative appraisal style and jump to conclusions.
Dr. Bullis recommends sitting with the emotions to let them pass—and just like Dr. Wanis, recommends that we not be so hard on ourselves. We would never associate a friend’s worth with the quality of their dating app matches, so why should we feel this way about ourselves?
“The more we accept our emotion—even if it feels really shitty—the sooner we’re going to move through that emotion and come into a place where we’re going to be more balanced in our thinking,” says Dr. Bullis, “and less likely to fall into those thinking traps that make us feel so hopeless about the future.”