10 Psychological Effects Of Online Dating (+ How To Protect Your Mental Health)

Are online dating websites and apps bad for mental health? That’s the big question.

If you haven’t tried dating this way, you’ve either been living under a rock or you’ve been in a happy relationship for a long time.

Or, just maybe, you’re sticking to the more traditional ways of dating—like meeting people in person, being set up with a friend of a friend, or dating someone from work.

However, if you have tried dating online, or you’re thinking about giving it a go, it’s worth having an idea of what to expect—and how to enjoy it!

There are a huge number of psychological effects of online dating that you should be aware of so you can feel and be safe.

In this article we’ll run through some of the most common issues that can arise during online dating, as well as how to protect your mental health and wellbeing when using apps or sites to date.

1. Not getting matches.

One of the most common negative effects of online dating comes when you don’t get many or any matches. After all, the whole point of dating apps is to get matches—mostly because it then enables you to message someone and get to know them, but also because it’s a big ego boost!

If you’re not getting many matches compared to your other friends using apps, or you feel as though you’re constantly liking people and never getting anything back, you’re probably feeling pretty depressed.

This can have a huge impact on how we feel about ourselves, of course! A lot of us equate our self-worth to external validation or how others feel about us. That means that when we feel unattractive, uninteresting, or unwanted, even by strangers, we can then start to question a lot more about ourselves.

We might start to question if we’ll ever find love with someone, as well as our own success outside of dating.

How to overcome this:

If you’ve not had any likes or matches recently, you’re likely to be fixating on this. The more that you think about it, the more important this will become to you, and you’ll end up feeling miserable about it.

On its own, this isn’t a huge deal. Would you expect to walk down the street and have 9/10 people find you attractive and want to ask you out? Equally, would you expect to walk into a bar and want to take everyone in there on a date? Exactly!

It’s easy to distort what getting matches actually means and to take it really personally—when, in actual fact, it makes complete sense that not everyone who sees your profile is going to find you attractive, and vice versa.

These apps have a huge impact on our mental wellbeing as well as our self-esteem. If you’re worrying about not being “attractive enough” or not getting matches, you’re not alone. This is something that we’ll all experience at some point or another. Remember that the matches you get aren’t indicative of how attractive you are, or how many people are interested in you.

For example, a lot of apps “shadowban” people for a number of reasons—that essentially means that they stop showing your profile to other users, meaning that you’re unable to get matches! The fewer people who get to view your profile, the fewer matches you’re going to get as a result.

Apps will do this for a number of reasons—for example, if they think your profile may be fake, or if you’re not using the app very often.

They tend to show the profiles of users who are active on the app as they are the people who are most likely to respond to messages or really engage with the app, which makes them more money. (This is often because they are able to show you more advertisements because you’re spending more time on the app than other users.)

If you’re not getting many, or any, likes or matches, it could be because you’re not engaging with the app enough—give yourself a couple of weeks of regularly interacting with the app and you’re likely to see these numbers go up.

Aside from beating the algorithm at its own game, you can also focus on other things that will make you feel better. For example, try not to focus your self-worth on dating apps or websites—instead, continue doing things that make you feel good, like spending time with family and friends, pursuing your hobbies, and looking after your physical and mental health.

It can be hard in this day and age, but given that the majority of us have felt negatively impacted by social media at one point or another, it’s really worth spending some more time offline when you can.

2. Anxiety around messaging.

When it comes to messaging someone who’s essentially a stranger, it’s really hard to figure out what to say—and how. You want to come across in a certain way, which means you’re probably overthinking the messages you’re sending.

This is completely normal, but it can lead to high levels of dating anxiety or stress. A lot of people will actually feel as though they’re having an identity crisis of sorts—this is common when it comes to using any kind of app where you’re “presenting” yourself.

For example, social media apps like Instagram can lead us to question who we actually are—we’re desperate to come across a certain way, and that can often feel distorted compared to how we may be in real life.

How to overcome this:

A lot of apps have forums or blogs that share tips on conversation starters when messaging people you’re interested in. If you’re unsure about where to start, there’s loads of content online focused on prompts, fun questions, and even icebreaker jokes to kickstart the conversation.

You can also speak to your friends or loved ones who are using apps and copy some of their ideas! Remember that most of us are all in the same boat—including the people that you’re messaging. None of us really know exactly what to say, so try to let go of the level of pressure that you’re putting on yourself when it comes to messaging over apps.

Test out messages with your friends before you send them to your matches—this kind of feedback from people you love and trust is invaluable, and will help you build up more confidence when it comes to sending messages.

Be yourself! It’s okay to acknowledge that you’re feeling a bit shy or unsure of what to say. Let your match know that by making a bit of a joke or telling them that you haven’t used apps much before. This will create a more level playing field and may help you feel more comfortable and confident in messaging over dating apps.

3. Feeling unsafe online.

Dating apps can be a hard place to navigate—there are so many unknowns and you’re actually putting a lot of trust in complete strangers. You’re sharing your photos and personality with people that you’ve never met before.

It’s so important to feel safe when it comes to meeting people and using the internet or apps. You might find that you feel worried about sharing photos of yourself on your profile or that you’ve overshared or given too much away in your profile or messages.

Dating apps can also be bad for our mental health because we may get unwanted or abusive messages. You may also have experienced getting unsolicited photos or videos from people you’ve matched with, as well as inappropriate messages that may be sexual in nature.

Again, due to the horror stories that we’ve all heard from friends or read about online, a lot of us go into using apps feeling uncomfortable or nervous about what to expect. This anxiety builds and can really impact how we’re feeling overall in our lives, particularly if it’s based on something we’ve experienced in the past.

How to overcome this:

A lot of people feel that it’s “rude” to delete a match or block someone, but it’s not! It’s often an important way to ensure you feel safe using dating apps or websites. You deserve to feel safe in both offline and online spaces, and you’re well within your rights to remove anybody who’s affecting that.

A lot of apps have a reporting function, which means you can flag other users who are making you feel unsafe or uncomfortable. This may be because you’ve been catfished by them or received unwanted or abusive messages.

Either way, the apps will take it seriously—ultimately, they want their users to enjoy using the apps and, if you’re feeling as though your safety is at risk, they will do everything they can to alleviate and, ultimately, remove that.

Your mental wellbeing is always a priority over dating! If that means blocking people, so be it; if that means deleting your profile or stopping using apps for a bit, that’s fine. Do what you need to do to feel good about online dating, even if that’s taking some time out from it.

4. Worrying they may be catfishing you.

We’ve all heard about catfishing, and a lot of us may have experienced it without really knowing. For those unfamiliar with this term, catfishing is when someone pretends to be someone they’re not—this can present itself as fake profiles on social media or dating apps, where they often use stock photos or photos of other people.

This means that you may be talking to someone who’s pretending to be someone else—they may have the name and personality of who you’re talking to but just look different, or they may be pretending to be someone else entirely.

There are always stories of older men pretending to be young guys, or of exes creating fake profiles to lure their partners back, for example. This is toxic and inappropriate on so many levels, and the number of horror stories can put a lot of people off using dating apps.

How to overcome this:

There are a few ways you can check to see if someone is catfishing you. For one, you can ask for video proof. This can be a tricky one to navigate as you don’t want to come across as demanding, we get that, but there are ways to manage it—you could send them a video of you with the suggestion of them sending one back.

This makes it feel less like a serious demand and instead creates a level of mutual respect and trust that means you can both feel more comfortable chatting before you meet.

Take a video of yourself saying something like, “Hi X, I’m Z—just thought I’d send a video so you can see me in person!” You could even make a joke about proving you’re not a catfish—this again eases the potential tension and is a lighthearted way to broach the conversation.

If they don’t send one back, you could try another joke like, “Are you camera shy or catfishing me? Haha!” and see what they come back with.

You could also try checking them out online—to be clear, we’re not advocating stalking in any way, but you may feel more comfortable if you do a little bit of background research first!

That could be Googling them and looking at the images to see if they match up with what you were expecting—some people have their full names or where they work on their profiles, so you can have a quick look on somewhere like LinkedIn to see if they are who they say they are.

Avoid clicking on their full LinkedIn profile as they’ll get a notification that you’ve visited their profile—instead, check on Google images as it will pull through their name, company, and profile picture.

A lot of people link their Instagram accounts to their dating profiles, which gives you another opportunity to check them out. You can always ask to chat on Instagram or Facebook instead of over the app or website if you’re not feeling comfortable.

This gives you another opportunity to see more of them and how many followers they have, how many people tag them in posts, and so on. You can also message them over Instagram to check that the person who’s on the dating app actually owns the Instagram account!

You can also suggest swapping numbers if you’re not feeling all that confident that they are who they say they are, as this will, again, give you a bit more insight into whether or not they’re legitimately who they say they are.

5. Being ghosted during messaging or after meeting.

Another of the major psychological effects of online dating occurs when you are ghosted—whether this is while you’re messaging or after meeting in person. This can be bad for your mental health, so don’t feel silly or alone in worrying about this happening to you.

Often, we’ll be talking to someone, maybe even arranging to meet up, and we’ll then never hear from them again. This can be so upsetting; it is a very valid concern when it comes to online dating.

If this happened in real life, things would be very different. However, online, it’s easy to ghost someone and stop talking to them or even block or remove them. There are different rules, behaviors, and assumptions around dating online that we’re all still navigating.

Social media and movies often portray a version of online dating that then feeds into how we all feel and the expectations we have. For example, people can be really blasé in TV shows or movies when it comes to ghosting people, which can make it seem more acceptable in real life.

That means that some people think it’s appropriate to ghost someone they’ve been on a date with, while others will find it unacceptable—largely because of a difference in exposure to certain behaviors.

How to overcome this:

The impact of someone ghosting us, whatever the level of interaction, can hit us deeply. That’s because it feels like a huge rejection—”feels” being the operative word there.

Often, other people’s behaviors aren’t a reflection of us, or even how they feel about us. Someone ghosting us can be a result of something that sits deeply in the other person that we may not have picked up on.

We’re often so quick to jump to the assumption that it’s all about us, when there’s normally something else going on behind the scenes. Rather than it being a rejection of you, the other person could be ghosting you because they don’t feel good enough for you and are anticipating you ghosting them.

It may also be that they’re embarrassed by how they behaved on a previous date and, rather than addressing it or having to apologize for it, they would rather pretend it never happened by ghosting you.

Going on a date may also have forced them to deal with some issues they weren’t aware of or didn’t want to acknowledge before. They may have realized that they’re not actually ready to date anyone or discovered that they’re not over their ex, for example.

All of these issues are to do with them and not with you. It’s not a rejection of you, it’s a rejection of dating in general. They may think you’re amazing, but they may not be ready for whatever reason.

Ultimately, there is nothing you can do to avoid being ghosted—it’s basically a byproduct of dating in this day and age, as well as a rite of passage.

6. Fear of the “real you” being rejected.

Most of us put a fair amount of thought and effort into our profiles on dating apps or websites. We think about how we want to come across and try to put our best self forward.

This can sometimes lead us to worry that we’re not presenting an accurate depiction of ourselves in our profiles. Maybe you’re using older photos where you look younger or, in your opinion, “better.” Or maybe you’re using photos that have a heavy filter on them.

Equally, it could be less looks-focused and be more about the fact that you’ve embellished your job title or personality. You might be slightly misleading people by pretending to be interested in something because you think you’ll get more likes or matches for it, even though it’s not actually true.

This can lead to huge levels of anxiety around actually meeting up. You might worry that you’ll turn up and your date will have been expecting someone totally different.

You might be concerned that you can’t measure up to your profile in real life or that you’re going to be rejected for not looking exactly the same as you do in your photos.

Either way, you’re probably feeling worried about meeting up with someone because they’ll be expecting the person from your profile to turn up!

How to overcome this:

It’s normal to want to come across well, especially to people you don’t know but want to impress. In these situations, remember that it’s important to retain a sense of authenticity. If you’re presenting a version of yourself that isn’t accurate, no wonder you’re worrying about meeting up in person!

Remember that you have huge value exactly as you are! Whatever persona you adopt on your profile, your date will see you and get to know you as you actually are in person.

Regardless of the profile you create for yourself, they will always be meeting you as you truly are—that means that, if you’re not being honest on your profile, one of two things will happen:

  1. They’ll find the fact that you lied unattractive, regardless of how much they may find you attractive in real life.
  2. The pretending will only get you to a first date as they’ll get to know the “real” you and make a decision based on that, not on your profile.

So, really, it makes the most sense to be yourself! You can only keep up a disguise for so long, and they deserve the opportunity to get to know who you really are.

7. Worrying about meeting up.

Chatting online and meeting in person are two totally different things, and they will bring up completely different feelings or insecurities. A lot of us get really stressed about going on dates, so you’re definitely not alone in this one.

The anxiety you feel about going on a date may come from having to make conversation, feeling nervous about how you look or come across, or because of an underlying fear of being ghosted/dating trauma. Most of us have felt at least one of these emotions before, so you shouldn’t feel any shame or loneliness in this!

How to overcome this:

Speak to your loved ones before you go on a date with someone you’ve been chatting to. They’ll be able to give you a confidence boost and help you “prep.”

It will be useful to have people who know you well that can brainstorm things to talk about, as well as give you a confidence boost and remind you of just how great you are!

We all get nervous before dates, and this can have an impact on psychological wellbeing, but it can be managed to an extent if you surround yourself with love and support beforehand.

Safety first. Let close friends or people you live with know where you’re going for your date, and always go somewhere public. Ideally, you want to choose a place that is busy for your first date. This will make you feel more confident and safe as you know that there will be other people around should you need them.

This also holds your date accountable to certain standards or expectations of behaviors, which means that you can also feel better about meeting them for the first time.

8. Worrying about how you come across on a date.

It’s totally normal to feel concerned about how you were perceived on a date—you may be left thinking that you came across badly or not like your normal self.

You might also panic about how you left things—goodbyes are notoriously tricky to navigate on first dates, for example!

You might be anxious that you came across as either uninterested or too keen—and you might just need some more time to work out how you actually feel.

This level of self-assessment can be really damaging to our mental health, and it can take up a lot of our time and energy. Being so introspective, especially in such a critical, overly negative way, can have a large psychological impact on us.

How to overcome this:

There’s not much you can do about this, unfortunately. The main thing is to own how you behave and who you are. If people don’t like it, provided you’re not being inappropriate or offensive, that is just something that you need to accept.

As long as you’re being as authentically yourself as you can, you can’t change anything. Pretending to be someone else will only ever work short-term—the real you will always come out at some point. Your date will either be frustrated or upset that you lied, or they will no longer feel the same way about you because they thought they were dating someone else entirely.

9. Thinking there may be better opportunities.

A somewhat paradoxical reason why online dating is so depressing at times is because there is so much choice.

Comparing your date to previous dates or ex-partners is pretty natural, especially if you’re new to dating. That being said, it’s not always healthy.

While it’s great to think about things in a practical sense—how this date is going, how they match your expectations or non-negotiables, and so on—it may be negatively impacting your experience of dating.

You might not be able to be fully present because you’re so busy thinking about where this could go or if there’s someone better matched to you out there somewhere.

This is one of the downsides of dating apps. There is so much choice and so many options that it can be difficult to commit to one person or focus on one date at a time!

How to overcome this:

Online dating anxiety is real, as is the feeling of commitment phobia that it can bring out. There is so much choice that it feels difficult to be present when you’re on a date.

Do your best to think more about the benefits of the date you’re on. How do you feel about the person in front of you? Are you having a good enough time on the date to just enjoy it? Does this person meet your needs, or are you too busy thinking about someone you’ve yet to meet who could be a better match?

Try not to let this impact your mental wellbeing. There will always be options in life, and every time you choose something, you’re choosing to not choose something else. This is just how life works, and you’ll have already been working on getting used to this notion in other areas of your life, even if you’ve been doing it without realizing.

For example, by choosing your job, you’ve chosen to not take other jobs; by choosing one restaurant over another one, you’ve chosen to not go to other restaurants. Such is life; and such is dating!

Once you realize that you’ve already accepted that this is just how life works, you may find it much easier to deal with in a dating-specific scenario.

10. Not knowing where things stand.

Being unsure of where things stand while chatting or after a date is really common, especially when it comes to online dating. This is because there are so many elements at play. And because you likely don’t have any mutual friends, there’s not an expected way to behave or anything to fulfil.

When you meet someone in person through a friend, most of us want our friends to feel comfortable with the arrangement, so we’ll make more of an effort to handle the situation well—that means not ghosting their friend or doing anything that might upset them.

When it comes to online dating, there’s essentially no “need” for this to happen, which is why things can be tricky to interpret or manage.

This can cause a lot of anxiety and have a negative impact on our psychological wellbeing. We can expend a lot of energy worrying about how we behaved, how they behaved, and what the outcomes could or will be.

A lot of us find dating draining purely because of the uncertainty of it all—you may be someone who needs to know where things stand, which can mean that dating is very stressful and can start to affect our daily lives.

If you’re someone who likes regular messages and checking in, you might really struggle to navigate all the ambiguity that comes with both online and in-person dating.

You might find it hard to focus at work. Are you constantly checking your phone, looking at their status/”last seen” on WhatsApp, or analyzing their social media for any updates or signs that they’re not interested?

Either way, this can cause a lot of obsessive behaviors and negatively impact how we feel about dating and our day-to-day lives. It’s a big reason why dating apps can make some people feel depressed. 

How to overcome this:

It’s important to remember that not everything that happens on a date is reflective of you or how someone feels about you. Have you ever met someone who, on paper, would be absolutely perfect for you but there’s just something missing that you can’t quite explain?

That doesn’t mean that person isn’t funny or attractive or interesting, it just means they’re not quite what you’re looking for—and that’s nobody’s fault!

Online dating is complex, there are no two ways about it! There are always going to be tricky decisions to make, uncomfortable situations, and outcomes that are less than desirable. By choosing to actively participate in online dating or dating apps, you’re acknowledging and accepting that this may all happen.

Of course, that’s not to justify any behavior that is abusive or unwanted! It’s simply to say that it’s important to be aware of all the potential psychological effects of online dating before you decide to try it.

Remember that it’s entirely your choice how and who you choose to date, as well as when to take a break or take a step back when needed. You’re in control of how you approach and manage the situation, and that is why the power lies with you. Do what is best for your wellbeing and accept that what’s best may be not dating at all!

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About Author

Lucy is a travel and wellness writer currently based in Gili Air, a tiny Indonesian island. After over a year of traveling, she’s settled in paradise and spends her days wandering around barefoot, practicing yoga and exploring new ways to work on her wellbeing.