The history of dating before the internet goes back for thousands of years. I don’t really know about you but, I’m not that interested in something that happened in the 1600s and I don’t think it’s directly relevant to online dating now. So, I’ll start with a brief outline of dating in the 80s and 90s before the internet reached the masses. If you don’t want to read through this, please feel to scroll on down to the “juicy bit”. Sometimes I approach writing too academically because I feel context and background information is useful in understanding something properly. Alas, not everyone else does.
A brief (it isn’t) history of dating
A lot of people believe (especially if you’re younger like me) that dating before the internet was a series of chance encounters as you see on so many romcoms. Think: Woman in a hurry, probably upset by something, drops her bag or a whole bunch of books and some mysterious handsome stranger helps her gather them back, smiles and they strike up a conversation and then they live happily ever after in a cute little cottage, after an amazing wedding and having beautiful children. Blah, blah, blah. While chance encounters did play a part in dating, it was much more likely that you’d have to actually go outside (how scary!) to a pub or a bar to meet someone or rely on friends and family to hook you up. We’d know virtually nothing about them, other than they seemed ok and what they looked like, sometimes not even that if it was a blind date – Oh the horror! Until now, you didn’t know their favorite colour, the name of their pets, or what they had for breakfast. You’d find most of that out on an actual date or a series of them. You couldn’t just google them or Facebook stalk them and find out. Waiting for the actual date to ‘get to know them. As someone who’s used internet dating in the past and more recently had an actual date with someone who I met in “real life” not online. I’ve found there’s a lot more excitement in ‘finding out’ things rather than knowing everything straight away because you’ve added them on various social media platforms. Back in the ‘olden days’ to arrange a date – where, when, and what? Was all done via the telephone. Yes, you’d actually have to dial and number and talk – Mind blown!
Talking to the older generation, when they reminisce about the good old days before internet dating, they seem to remember it as some sort of magical experience. The older they get (like my grandparents) often think that the internet is full of weirdos and you’re potentially going to meet a “nutter”. It’s true, you could. But you don’t really know a person when you meet them organically, in a bar for example. Do you? Back before the internet you couldn’t just go home and google them, join a Facebook group and ask about them. Potentially finding a horror story or a news article that could save you a lot of trouble or heartbreak. This is definitely a big pro for internet dating.
At the very beginning of internet dating, many people had the same view as my grandparents. It wasn’t accepted, it was for ‘weirdos’ and ‘losers’ and full of ‘nutters’. The complete opposite of how the majority of us feel today. Internet dating started on text-based bulleting style websites (aka forums). At first, they were designed for like-minded people to talk about hobbies and interests (gardening, music artists/ bands, football, etc). Of course, during these conversations, people would end up flirting and/or becoming attracted to each other. You might remember personal ads that you could find in newspapers? Well, this style translated well to text-based forums so it became a thing.
Then there were the creepy chatrooms where you could talk to people instantly and receive replies instantly too. Webcam chats where you’d mostly get to see penis and tits – Lovely. Then instant messenger clients such as MSN where you could chat privately with one person. Like texting and apps like WhatsApp that we have today.
As the popularity of the internet and internet dating gained in popularity, a plethora of websites such as Match.com, OkCupid, and eHarmony was created. These not only allowed you to create a text-based profile but the added bonus of uploading a photo or photos of yourself too. Tantalising the eye, the mind, and probably people’s genitals too – Gross. Internet dating sites now gave you the chance to pick people that you found attractive but also filter for people who had similar interests, lived in the same town as you, have the same religious reviews, and smoking status. There are a lot of pros to this: You get to see the person you’re talking to, so you know if you’re physically attracted, you don’t need to waste your time with someone whose lifestyle doesn’t match your own and if you’re looking for someone in your local area, it’s a lot easier to do with a filter. The negative I guess is that you can narrow it down so much that you could possibly be missing out on someone really special just because you’ve filtered them out due to a choice such as ‘smoking’ or ‘having children’. It’s your right to do that, but who knows what you might be missing out on because of something so minor.
Then came the rise of social media, starting with Facebook and the now-defunct Myspace. Social media allows and encourages you to connect with friends and family, ones that you’re currently in contact with and also people that you are no longer in contact with. It makes connecting with new people and forming new friendships easier too. There’s an opportunity to perhaps start new romantic relationships with old flames or maybe even someone you had a crush on in school. There are various groups created by users on Facebook specifically for dating. To talk about it, to meet someone… And more recently Facebook has created its own app for singles to find love… or a fuck.
The most important innovation was smartphones reaching the mass market in 2007. It took internet dating from your desktop or laptop to your pocket. Creating accessibility from anywhere at any time. Location-based dating platforms became a thing – allowing us to sort through potential partners based on where they are located at any given moment. ‘Grindr’ being one of the most notable dating apps because it marked the start of a more LGBT-focused dating service. 2010 marked the debut of Tinder – One of the most popular places for young and older people to find love. Of course, like all of the apps and dating services, it can be used just to find sex too. Tinder brought the idea of ‘swiping’ to find love into play. It kind of makes me want to puke in my mouth a little bit – but meh. Bumble and Badoo, I’m told are also very popular right now too.
Getting to the point…
So, what’s this got to do with Mental Health? Recently, I’ve noticed groups on Facebook that are dedicated to exposing men on dating sites. Whether that be because they are fake / catfish (using someone else’s photo), a scammer (looking to gain money), or just a plain dickhead that they’ve experienced in their dating journey. These groups all have their faults. One is that women can also post their ex-boyfriends too. Positive because they are potentially exposing domestic violence, sexual assault, a serial cheater or a deadbeat dad, etc. Unfortunately, the negative of this is that it also allows women to post untruths to try and get back at their ex too. There’s no real way of knowing which is which. Every story has three sides… Their side, the other person’s side, and the truth. That’s worth remembering if you do use these groups. Another thing that sometimes gives me the ‘ick’ is when women post about men that they’ve had a bad date with – some definitely are worth posting about. But others, I read them and wonder if it was just a bad date, was anyone really at fault? Sometimes we can go on dates with people and we just don’t connect or it becomes obvious that we want different things.
While reading through these groups, as well as contributing I also came across posts that included women’s thoughts and experiences about the dating world too. This is what actually sparked his blog post, to begin with. Some of them were so sad to read. I hope I never have to date again, and if I do, I think that I’ll probably give online dating a miss. One of the most recent posts I read was a woman questioning “What is wrong with me?”. She told a story of being ignored by men in real life, dismissed, and treated poorly online too. She mentioned how bad it had affected her confidence and that she was ready to give up. The women in these groups are usually very supportive and the replies to this post were no different. A lot of them suggested that she delete the app and begin working on herself, building up her confidence, finding a job, enjoying her freedom, and making new friends. All very good advice, I think. As well as offering advice, many of them replied with their own experiences of the online dating world. A common theme in these replies echoed the original poster “What is wrong with me?”. They’d also ended up deleting their profiles too because it was having a negative effect on their mental health. One woman really hit the nail on the head for me “It’s too easy to swipe left, no effort required to get to know these people”.
Before going too bleak in this post (and it will get bleak) I wanted to give some balance and show that I did receive some really positive stories too:
“I met my partner online, we’ve been together for 4 years now and I’m extremely happy. It was an eye opener when I first went on there tho!”
we’ve been married 7 years now. There are nice men on these sites but there are chancers and liars too. The agencies you pay for tend to attract the more serious men rather than the ones that just want a friend with benefits!”
“Met my hubby 14 years ago married 11 years met a few strange ones as well before I found him”
Just saw your post on “Ladies who Chatter”. Didn’t want to get lost in the comments. Both my and my sister met our husbands online. We’ve been together 10 years this year, married with one child. My sister and hers is 8/9 years and married with three children. Xx
met my other half on plenty of fish almost 7 years back now. We have a two and a half year old daughter and although at times it’s been tough and we have had rocky patches, he’s my lobster
How heart-warming is it to hear these amazing stories? – there is definitely hope out there! Unfortunately for every positive story, there seemed to be so many more bad ones. The negative ones seem to go far more in-depth and you can feel the emotion and the damage that these experiences have caused:
The amount of sexual pressure… sending and receiving pics of body parts is made out to be the norm! I wasn’t interested in that and was called all sorts
I went onto online far too early after losing hubby. People kept saying “you need to get out there” I met one man who was only interested because he thought “widow…house…money
Met another who treated me like a queen. 4 months down the line bought a caravan. Attitude changed instantly, no cuddles, no words of endearment, no flowers. Went on holiday and one day realised what a fool I’d been. Parted company, £7000 loss. Mentally, doubted myself from then in and still do. I would love to meet someone as I have so much love to give but too scared x
I went on an initial date with one chap whose previous 2 wives had been called Christine . Apparently I was to be his lucky number 3!
another “ lovely “ chap had cottoned on to the fact I was a nurse from chatting online . When we met in person he told me he was due to have major surgery and had no one to care for him at home afterwards . He hoped if we” got on” I might let him move in with me for his recuperation period!
i have been on and off Internet dating for 13 years ..and its the lies really that gets you people pretend.. the amount of married or men in relationships I’ve encounter to find they are married ..and often they ghost you and thar makes you feel rejected ..but then you find out they are married..I think that alot play games for the ego boast …but its the genuine ones that are left feeling rejected and feeling that something is wrong with them ..
“I was very reluctant to try online dating, my daughter’s made a profile at first. Then when I returned from a life-changing trip to the USA I tried again. I had some very rude messages. I had some purely sex related ones also and stopped for weeks at a time when that happened. I also had a few dates that where weird. But a particularly awful one was when he left to say he was going to get his phone and never returned.. it seriously affected my mental health. It was a big blow when that happened. I started to doubt myself in everything. I’ve never felt pretty in my life but average looking I suppose but I lost confidence in my appearance altogether. I continually put myself down and still do it’s never really recovered. I doubt any compliments given as teasing and doubtful. I struggle to accept them. I had 3 months away decided to try again. I found my partner now through an online site but we talked and text for months before we met. This gave us both time to adjust and to reassure each other. I found it hard at first and doubted myself and him. I really believe it left a mark on me and still sometimes sink down when I really do think I am horrible inside and out. I don’t think it works for everyone and I don’t think I would ever do it again it’s affected me because I struggled before with depression and still do to some degree. It’s not easy to open yourself up to date or a relationships for me. I’m older, have health issues a stressful job. That also can strain my mental health and my self image.”
Others were too scared, embarrassed, or worried to post their experiences publicly but did private message me. For that reason, I won’t quote them here, but they were equally as awful and sad. Some of the women actually told me that they had ‘given up’ and had resigned themselves to be ‘alone for the rest of their lives’. How sad is that? That, internet dating has created such awful and negative feelings toward themselves and their dating lives that they would rather be alone than endure any more suffering. They questioned their looks, their bodies, their personalities, and whether they were actually loveable – I can tell you right now, that yes you are.
Yet even with these experiences being so common, people are spending more and more time online looking for a relationship and love. Research into the online dating phenomenon has shown that online daters are more likely to experience depression and anxiety. Compared to non-users of online dating services. More and more studies are being published, linking time spent on dating apps, to negative mental health outcomes. It’s quite scary reading. So why is this happening? What causes this negative mental health outcome? From my research I’ve come to the conclusion that are four main reasons:
Swiping away self-esteem
As I mentioned earlier Tinder is the app that started the swiping culture. A profile appears, the picture of the person being the main focus with location and a small bio below. You swipe right if you like them / or want to talk to them. Or left if you don’t (I think). The way Tinder, in my opinion, is very ‘looks’ based in the way that it is designed. More so than some of the other apps. It’s quite easy to feel depersonalized and disposable in apps like this. Women become more aware that men are judging them by their looks and bodies and then they more often than not become more critical of themselves and their bodies. Let me just take a minute to tell you, that you are beautiful. No matter your size or what you think may be wrong with you. You deserve to be loved and treated right. It’s cliché but I’ll say it anyway because I truly believe it. Being beautiful and happy inside shines on your outside. Beautiful to one person isn’t beautiful to another. Work on yourself for you, not anyone else!
I’m being quite negative about Tinder (sorry). I should probably make it clear that I’ve spoken to people who have found love on tinder, or at least something meaningful. All dating sites will have an effect on your mental health, it’s just that find Tinder was the first to bring in this ‘swiping’ culture. Dating sites in general have become a bit of a buffet. So much to choose from. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been at work and watched guys (and women) swiping right or left and making comments; not always complimentary. The phone gets passed around and others comment too. How gross.
The rejection is real
Another reason online dating affects our mental health is rejection. It’s a widely shared emotion amongst humans. We’re fearful of it. Social rejection is painful. In our brain, it actually activates the same pathways that physical pain does. It affects your emotional, cognitive, and physical health. Now, rejection isn’t only something we experience in online dating; we often experience it in a variety of social relationships offline. Friends, family, colleagues, etc. It doesn’t always have to be a negative thing (even though it feels like it). It can help us better understand ourselves and perhaps realise which personality types we are more compatible with. Try and remember that while you’re internet dating. You don’t get on with everyone in the ‘real-world’ so the same applies online.
The obvious pro with internet dating is that you can reach so many more people (potential matches) than you can in ‘real-life’. That’s also the biggest downfall too. Exposing yourself to so many potential matches, means you are also exposing yourself to many rejections. Rejection, I guess, becomes easier the more times you receive it. Dusting yourself off and starting a search for a better match. Though for some people they really do take it to heart. I worry that people these days have too much of a preoccupation with finding love than really making a deeper connection – surely finding and making that deeper connection is the most important thing in finding love in the first place?
Sometimes you may not get many matches, or maybe you aren’t getting as many as your friend. This makes you self-conscious about your profile, in time impacting your self-esteem. Do I look ok? Is my profile interesting enough? Am I interesting enough? Why am I not good enough? When it comes to actually matching with someone, meaning that you are both interested in each other. A study found that actually only around 50% of matches actually never receive a reply back. Intensifying the feeling of rejection.
Disappointing first dates – it happens.
First dates can also be disappointing – I’ve been on a few. This is usually due to the online profiles or chats not being representative of the actual person you meet. Whether that be physically or emotionally. Sometimes, there’s a very clear difference in expectations – I’ve seen a lot of women post about dates with things like “Don’t bother, says all the right things. Says he wants a relationship but actually he just wants sex”. This then leads to a sense of dishonesty or manipulation which feeds into the feelings of stress, depression, and anxiety they probably already have about dating.
I have actually had the same experience as some of these women when I used online dating services 10+ years ago. I met men who look barely anything like their profile picture, have lied about their intention for the date – wanting/ expecting sex afterward and just men that I didn’t click with. On the flip side, I have also used internet dating for casual sex/hook-ups myself during a hypomanic episode. Most men, if not all were actually happy with the arrangement, some men I continued this arrangement with for many months. Ladies, you are also culpable of this too – it’s not just men.
“I ain’t scared of no ghost” – Ok, I am.
Another topic that comes up a lot with online dating is “Ghosting”. Ghosting is the sudden disappearance of a person after previous chats or dates. And/ or not responding to attempts to communicate. There are many reasons for this some because they may actually be married or in a relationship, found someone that they feel is more interesting, or they’re just blatant rude assholes. I think (or hope) a lot of ghosting is due to the ‘ghoster’ feeling uncomfortable with letting the other person down – getting a negative response back, maybe? A study has shown that approximately 50% of online daters have experienced ghosting, and a similar number of people have done it themselves. ‘Ghosting’ has such a negative effect on the person being shunned due to the inability to get an explanation or closure. Is there something I’ve done wrong? What could I improve on?
The Conclusion – Phew?
This post has got hella long – well done if you got to this point! I think the main conclusion we can draw from this post (and my research) is that dating in the modern world (especially online) can be really rough. For every positive outcome, there is a negative one. But if we reflect on the world before the online dating phenomenon. It was very much the same. Only now do we have the chance to meet more people, go on more dates, and risk more rejection and unkindness. If you take anything from this blog post then please realise, it’s not your fault. You are worthy and you don’t have to change yourself just to suit other people. When it starts getting you down, take a step away. Delete those profiles and take time for yourself. Love doesn’t always have to be found online!
If you’re a guy reading this post, I realise that it’s quite heavily biased – Ok, it’s really heavily biased. Because I’m female, I’ve only ever had experience from a female perspective and I don’t have access to the men groups that you do. If you’re one of my male friends, chances are I’ve recently messaged you and asked you about your experiences. I’m planning on writing a follow-up post to this one, which is hopefully less biased than this one. With a male perspective and the effect, it may or may not have had on your mental health too. By responding and giving me your experiences, you’d be really helping me out and hopefully other men too!
Because this blog post has got hella long, I’m hesitant to add any more to it – although I feel like I could talk forever on this subject. As well as writing a follow-up post for men. I’m also working on a post that talks about steps you can take to stay on top of your mental health while using online dating services. Please keep on an eye on my various social media sites for updates.