Unhinged: Online Dating and Mental Health - Handel Behavioral Health
Mental Health Blog

Unhinged: Online Dating and Mental Health

August 8, 2023

Feeling rejected and isolated, a woman covers her face in her dating apps profile. Online dating is affecting her mental health.

It’s been one year since I made my first online dating profile. 

Seasons of scrolling, swiping, back-and-forth messaging, and planning of what could lead to rejection or unification, have come and gone. A few memorable connections have blossomed from my digital efforts, and oddly enough, I’ve stumbled into matches in real life before messaging each other on the app. 

But after all the hours I’ve spent curating my online image, piling up matches, and orchestrating clever messages, I’m ready to take a break from digital romance, or at least rethink my efforts. 

The pursuit of external validation, combined with the absence of face-to-face connection, and the endless possibilities of rejection has been mentally and emotionally exhausting. It’s been too easy, (at the swipe of my fingertips) to overextend myself to potential matches, lose myself in the imaginative realm of what could be, and neglect my needs along the way. 

I don’t know if online dating apps, or matches/partners who have hurt us can be blamed entirely for feelings of depression, anxiety, and loneliness. And I also don’t see myself disappearing from online dating entirely. 

I believe that if we choose to engage in online dating, (or pursue any relationship for that matter), it’s our responsibility to connect with our values, expectations, wants, needs, goals, and intentions, and stay rooted in them. 

And I can say, through lived experience, that working with a therapist throughout my dating journey has helped me to define those fundamental parts of myself. 

So, here’s what I’ve learned from online dating, and here’s how I’m navigating it with a more intentional and self-compassionate approach:

Dating Curation

I’ve never been so careful about curating my image as I have been with online dating. No matter how impressive, funny, or creative I can make myself sound in the written prompts or bio, a person’s first impression of me comes down to a few two-dimensional images of myself. 

While I haven’t struggled to get matches, or receive compliments, I find it disingenuous to pursue or be pursued by someone based on looks. I have to wonder if I’m choosing images of myself which represent who I am, and who I’m proud of: or if I’m choosing images of myself to strike an attractive match. 

It’s a lot of pressure to place on your appearance, when you put yourself out there, only to exist as someone’s surface level impression of who you are. It can make you feel like you have to look as good as you do in your pictures. What happens when your body changes or your style transforms?

Of course, it’s easy to judge yourself when you know you’re being compared to thousands of other potential matches, and being compared to a version of yourself you’ve presented online.

Self Validation

I’m reminding myself that while it can feel flattering to receive compliments, and match with attractive people online, it does not equate to my own self worth. I’m learning to stay true to what makes me feel confident and secure in myself: hobbies, friendships, work, being outside, and staying engaged in the world offline.

Dating Rejection

Dating apps have made it so easy to reject, or be rejected by someone with just one swipe on your phone. You could find a promising match, develop great rapport over text, and suddenly, when it comes time to plan a first date, they disappear.

Or, too commonly, a consistent connection with someone off the app can end with ghosting- the sudden disappearance of a relationship without any explanation. And while technology is not to blame for this behavior, it certainly makes it easier for ghosters to avoid open and honest communication. 

I’ll admit that I have ghosted people before. But I’m using my past experiences for opportunities of self-growth. How would people and relationships evolve if we only knew how to deal with challenges or endings through avoidance?

Self Reflection

I’m learning to not take rejection personally through focusing on myself, and becoming the version of myself that I’m most proud of. If I’m going to remain in the game, I have to step out of the game, and engage with my life in a full and authentic way. I know that when I’m living a life I’m proud of, rather than living a life based on what others think of me, the fear of rejection starts to disappear.

I’m also learning that the foundations of a secure relationship are built on trust, honest and open communication, care, commitment, attention, and attraction. These foundations do not exist online. 

Dating apps can make it easy to find someone, but the foundations for relationships are built in person. If and when I’m ready for a serious relationship, I’m going to know what I want and need before getting absorbed in the bubble.

Dating Isolation

In my glory days of online dating, I was swiping, matching, checking updates, and messaging everywhere I went. Before falling asleep, after waking up, riding the train, waiting in line at the grocery store, even in the middle of conversations with friends! 

I was swiping past the here and now. Swiping past the potential for meaningful connection and conversation in real life. Swiping past time!

Self Integration

To protect my mental health while using dating apps, I have to set boundaries, take breaks, and engage in both self-care practices and social activities that remove me from swipe culture. These are the foundations for personal development and social development which lead to healthy relationships. 

I’m exploring alternative avenues for meeting people in person: joining hobby groups, spending time with friends, and attending social events.

Coming back to myself with support

When it comes to navigating relationships, whether they’re formed online or in-person, it’s not always easy to do alone or with your partner. 

I’ve found it essential to work with a therapist on understanding and building my relationship with myself, before, during, and after building a relationship with a partner: online and off. 

At HBH, our therapists, counselors, and psychiatrists are here to help you develop a relationship with yourself built on self-compassionate and self-actualization. 

We offer counseling services online across the state of Massachusetts, and in-person, from our Amherst, Franklin, West Springfield, and Wilbraham offices. 

Contact us today at (413) 343-4357 to schedule an appointment with one of our therapists and start your journey to self-acceptance.

About The Author

Nettie Hoagland Headshot

Nettie Hoagland is a writer with experience in local news reporting, nonprofit communications, and community development. She earned her bachelor of arts degree in Media Studies, Journalism, and Digital Arts from Saint Michael’s College in Vermont. Nettie believes in the healing power of the arts to create connection and community. She is passionate about using writing as an instrument for personal and social growth in the field of mental health. She is currently based in Brooklyn, NY.