As the saying goes, there are plenty of fish in the sea.
More and more, that quest for the perfect mate is happening in the digital sphere. Consider this: Tinder, the notorious swipe-left swipe-right app, reports about 50 million users worldwide.
Dating apps are the norm for younger adults like Brandon Sparks.
“I think for a lot of people … it’s one of the only ways to be on the dating scene.”
But Sparks, a PhD student in psychology at the University of Saskatchewan, wonders what sort of impact this new form of courtship might be having on our mental health. Sparks started digging into the question and found very little research in the area.
Unlike online dating, apps are always with you, right there on your smartphone.
“I’ve heard some really great and really bad things,” Sparks said of dating apps.
On the good side, if you are new to the city and have few ties to the community, dating apps offer easy access to potential mates. Apps also offer some comfort to people who are shy or too anxious to make the first move face-to-face.
But then, there are the downsides, where Sparks wonders about potential harm.
Dating apps may offer too much choice to sort out without becoming superficial.
“It would take a long time to thoroughly go through and inspect each prospective person,” he said.
“So we’re going to take a lot of shortcuts to try to save us time and generally that means we’re going to focus solely on people’s pictures and how attractive they are.”
Along with all that choice comes a boatload of rejection.
“You’re facing rejection at an unprecedented rate because within a matter of 20 to 30 minutes you can get a good indicator of who has and who has not liked you,” Sparks said.
Some users, in many cases men, lash out after being rejected, perhaps driven by a false sense of anonymity. Sparks said that you can see these sorts of negative interactions splashed all over various social media platforms.
“People will screenshot some of these violent or threatening messages.… There’s sort of a whole collection of these sorts of adverse responses.”
New versus old
What’s unclear is whether dating apps are harmful to one’s mental health. Sparks said it’s a good question whether meeting face to face in a social setting is healthier than starting with a dating app.
He hopes to shed some light on it through his research at the U of S.