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First person

The 2020 dating landscape: Rejection, games and the negative mental health impacts

By September 19, 2020No Comments

Online dating right now? A mess. An utter mess. But even before Covid, the gamification element had turned it from a great way to meet someone to a sink hole for self-esteem. Our anonymous writer discusses how it’s impacted her…


I knew I was in trouble when I found myself on the recent activity page of Instagram checking to see if the person I was dating had been online when there had been no contact for two weeks.

I had been actively dating using dating apps for four years when a six-year relationship had ended, and I was embarrassed and ashamed that I had let myself get to ‘that point’. For me ‘that point’ was the point of no return. I had become obsessive, checking the person in question’s last seen on Instagram, obsessing about messages being left ‘on read’ on Whatsapp.

Sometimes the anxiety and panic were short-lived. A message would arrive (phew) and after a thoughtful and considered reply had been constructed, a date would be arranged and I would feel at ease that I hadn’t fudged it up – yet. But admittedly, more times than not I would second guess every move, every interaction, every emoji.

The world of online dating is a minefield – nay, a battlefield – and the landscape has gone through some incredible changes in the past 20 years. Since their early inception in the 90s, logging into desktop-based websites like using dial up internet (I’m too young for that, I spent my time playing solitaire on the family desktop in the 90s….was that some serious foreshadowing or what?), to now, having myriad potential matches on dating apps in our pockets as we wander about our day to day lives, swiping through our coffee breaks and liking and disliking on the loo (we’ve all done it).

In my first few dates originating from dating apps, I joked with the other person about how we would hide the fact we’d met online “We’ll tell people we met on a night out” or they’d say “Coppers!” to explain how we’d circumstantially crossed paths. In truth, meeting people on dating apps has become second nature now, and there is much less stigma attached in the year of our lord 2020. That said, the millions of potential matches can lead users to feel overwhelmed by choice and as a result, unfulfilled. I can attest to this.

The regular rejection I experienced on these apps (ghosting, breadcrumbing, benching, cushioning…..I’ve lost count of the terms but they are all as ridiculous as each other) impacted my self-esteem massively. I tried to understand it, so I researched the concept of a rejection-mindset, which I thought might help to explain that while our dating pool seems larger than ever, people are more likely to be single. I’ve used dating apps for six years, and I find the longer I engage the more disenchanted I become with swiping to find my perfect match. I feel like the odds are incredibly low of me finding someone without actively engaging in the online dating scene. Still, in spite of it all, I like to think of it as a numbers game. You can’t win the lotto without buying a ticket.

The other stumbling block I’ve experienced is how much like a literal game online dating is. The gamification of the dating experience encourages ‘play’ but I’ve found that aspect of it can majorly jeopardise your chance of hitting on a genuine connection. That buzz we get when we see “It’s a match!” can become addictive and so we often continue to scroll to keep those positive brain chemicals firing. I’ve had friends in relationships ask if they can ‘play’ on my dating apps and I’ve even heard people brag that they have “completed Tinder/Bumble/Hinge/whatever”, meaning they have purposely scrolled/swiped/filtered through all the potential daters in their profile until there was no one left to chose.

How many of these people have they actually matched with? And how many of these matches have they engaged with for the purpose of dating? Users of swipe-based dating apps have reported higher levels of distress, anxiety and depression than those who do not use the gamified applications. The swipe and scroll based algorithms are designed to keep people engaged in these apps but it almost undermines the purpose of the platforms in the first place.

We all know well that social media has the potential to negatively impact our mental health and highlights the mismatch between our real selves and our virtual selves. Social media has been described as our highlight reel and this is also true of our dating profiles. It’s important to keep that in mind while scrolling through the profiles of our potential matches. We use our best pictures (#allthefilters), we tell our most interesting anecdotes and we try to strike a balance between wit and charm in a couple of hundred characters – virtual peacocking if you will.

It’s no surprise that in an attempt to shake our tail feathers the loudest, the online dating community are routinely guilty of misrepresentation and deception in our online dating profiles. From our filtered/edited/staged profile pictures to lies about physical attributes, many of us would have to admit to some embellishment of the truth. A study examining this phenomenon titled The truth about lying in online dating profiles reported 81% of people misrepresent themselves in their dating profiles. This stat doesn’t shock me in the least.

Dating apps have introduced prompts to help to encourage users to share some information about themselves to fill out and bring a bit of interest to their profiles. “The one thing you should know about me is….” “The most spontaneous thing I’ve done….” etc. This provides a tiny window into the person’s ‘real’ life and can give us some further information about their likes/dislikes before we even begin a conversation.

As an aside: It’s worth noting that the world is a TINY place and it is truly scary how few degrees of separation can exist between us.

I would be lying if I said I haven’t found myself up to my neck in a 2009 photo album called ‘Ibiza with the lads’ or scrolling through social media feeds imagining who these people are and getting attached to the people we think/want them to be. This can be a hazard of the online dating world.

Previously we might have been introduced to a potential partner through a friend or have happened to cross paths in a social setting where we might have had a chance to observe them with their friends or build rapport. The temptation to build a meaningful connection in the online space before getting to know a person in the flesh is enticing but harmful. Sometimes I think we’d be better off taking it all back to analog… But before I could sell my million-dollar dating idea, Covid hit. And, I guess, here we are. For a while anyway.

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash