When Should You Delete Your Dating Apps?
I admit I enjoy having options; the freedom to choose. I like to choose from a dozen different milks: cow’s milk, sheep’s milk, and almond milk; You can even choose the percentage of fat in your favorite protein drink. If you turn on Netflix, there are thousands of movies and shows in virtually every language and genre; If you’re not sure what to watch, Netflix has algorithms in place to recommend shows based on your viewing history and popular trends. In your search for a therapist, you may have been down a rabbit hole, flipping through page after page of therapist profiles, carefully sifting through each bio, but finding yourself unable to take the leap of faith over the seemingly bottomless pool of options.
In a capitalist society, our identity is intertwined with choices. Anyone who’s contemplated two nearly identical bags of pasta (or coffee beans – I’ll appreciate if you fill in the blank) in the supermarket aisle has battled selection paralysis, a phenomenon that plagues modern society. The choices we make range from the coffee we drink to the partner we share our lives with. Well, especially when it comes to partner choice. If Darwin were alive today, he would be fascinated, if not bewildered, by the modern mating dance: geological constraints are softened by online dating, and signals of attraction conveyed by the bravado of a forefinger. Dating apps as a profitable industry have changed the dating landscape. In 2021, Tinder had $1.6 billion in revenue (Iqbal, 2022), with 70% of its revenue coming from subscriptions (Bromwich, 2019).
More choice, more problems?
Many people are drawn to dating apps for their convenience; The expansion of virtual dating pools goes beyond the geological confinement and flexibility of relatively low-pressure interactions. We believe that more options will push us to find the match that is closer to our preference. However, as people pay for subscriptions to dating apps and still find themselves trapped in the dating slots waiting for the perfect match, maybe it’s time to ask: is it always better to have more options?
In a study in which participants were asked to imagine having to choose a potential partner from different sized dating pools (eg, 10 vs. 20 vs. 50 vs. 100), most participants preferred dating pools with 20 to 50 people versus dating pools that are larger or smaller (Lenton, Fasolo & Todd, 2010). Interestingly, participants expected that the larger the dating pool, the more difficult it would be to make their choice, and they expressed more regret and less satisfaction with their choice when they had more than 50 potential suitors to choose from. Because tribal animals were socialized to live in smaller groups, humans may not be evolving fast enough to keep up with the growing number of options that dating apps are offering. Therefore, as the number of options increases, we turn to the reliable search criteria that help us identify ideal matches, “6 feet and up,” “college degree,” “wants children,” etc. Search algorithms are absolutely loyal to one failure they follow the search terms closely instead of getting to know the real people behind dating profiles.
Dating burnout and the fear of missing out
The paradox of choice is that instead of regretting the choice we made, we mourn the loss of what we didn’t choose, the “what if”. Therefore, the allure of regret becomes even more powerful when we are presented with hundreds, if not thousands, of dating app options. “What if I just stayed there a little longer, maybe I’ll meet someone better.” Dating apps capitalize on our fear of regret through the relentless temptation of limitless matches, not to mention the initial lure of showing us attractive members. This could be a factor in why people in committed relationships struggle to turn off dating apps and seek validation for their mate choice while maintaining the mirage of a different future with a different partner.
Both the perception of having unlimited options on dating sites and the security of dating behind a screen make a refusal a less emotional decision. Researchers found that when there are more options, people tend to reject more potential partners (Pronk & Denissen, 2020). It’s the endless “chicken-egg” dilemma: you get fewer matches with more people who dislike you, and with fewer matches you may risk more disappointment in your decisions and pessimism about your romantic future, leading to you becoming more reject potential suitors.
Some dating sites allow members to pay for subscriptions to see who likes their profiles and go beyond a limited number of profiles per day. The “fear of missing out” is probably a strong motivator for people to cast wide net on dating apps and pay for subscriptions to maximize their chance of finding the perfect match. However, paid subscriptions can backfire by overloading our minds with handling too many matches, making us less happy with our choices and burning us out from dating. To mitigate the voting paralysis on dating apps, I have the following suggestions:
Add filters on purpose. Think about which qualities are absolutely important when looking for a partner. Focus on shared values (e.g. curiosity, open-mindedness) rather than superficial traits (e.g. 1.80m tall).
Digest profiles mindfully. If you know the dark side of selection paralysis, consider only traversing a small number of profiles (e.g. 20 to 50) at a time rather than mindlessly swiping. Instead of going through a “checklist” of traits, try reading each profile as a narrative and imagining the person behind it.
Like generously, but meet selectively. To avoid getting caught in the rejection-disappointment loop, try being more active on dating apps by sending more generous likes. It’s both a way to open yourself up to new experiences and adopt an optimistic attitude towards online dating. However, when it comes to face-to-face meetings, use caution and take precautions to ensure your safety.
In Western cultures, decisions are often viewed positively as a means of self-expression and autonomy. For many of us, freedom and choice are synonymous; Our individuality consists of a unique set of preferences, attitudes and opinions. It is an ingrained human desire to choose and control our destiny in order to be able to choose the better for ourselves and for generations to come. However, our attachment to choices can take us down a detour in our search for happiness. Choices highlight our differences and individuality, but they can also become an impenetrable shield that protects us from vulnerability.