Dating apps have turned users into "things", disposable after a few minutes of interaction. As a result, men report anxiety and self-esteem issues after using them.
After two years of fooling around, meaningless encounters, and ups and downs regarding self-esteem and body image, I have made the rather conscious decision of giving up on dating apps. I have not used them all, but I have downloaded enough of them to report from experience and make an “educated” judgement. My story is as old as time: boy got his heartbroken so boy threw himself into the sea of online dating. Using dating apps while heart broken hardly seems wise, but I am a sucker for peer pressure, and according to my friends and classmates the apps were not only fun and practical but also very, very easy to use. I honestly thought that my chances of finding someone worth my while were good: silly me. Instead, my anxiety, self esteem issues and depressive tendencies got worse, even days after using them. It is easy to see why: the increased exposure also results in an increase of rejection instances. Lucky me, I am not alone. A study conducted by the University of North Texas found out that many men who have used Tinder experience the same things I did.
The Ego-Boosted Or Non-Player-Character
Picture by @grindr
After so many of my friends told me how easy it was to meet people for a date or just a hookup in these apps, I caved. Hours into Tinder, Hornet and Grindr (maybe I took this research task too seriously) I had heard one too many questions and comments about the size of my junk, how I liked to be sexed up, or if I would be interested in fulfilling sexual fantasies I am pretty sure are illegal. I must admit I did feel flattered by the attention, but predictably, after the thrill of being “wanted” by a bunch of horny nearby guys ended, the downhill ride was not pretty. Whenever I talked to a guy I fancied on the app, wether because of his personality or his looks, I got rejected. Ghosting. The shame of not getting a reply was too much to bear: “maybe I’m just too ugly? Or too fat? I guess that’s why this guy will never want me as his boyfriend. I’m useless. I’m going to die alone and nobody is ever going to love me.” I became acutely aware of all these strangers: their looks and their lives; a world apart from me and my un-coolness, my un-prettiness. Counting likes and follows on Hornet didn’t help. The lack of immediate validation, the crack-like addiction of our generation, made me feel invisible, like an NPC.
Moment and the Center for Humane Technology ranked Grindr the top “Most Unhappy” app, but the feelings of inadequacy they elicit are not exclusive of gay dating apps. I remember a former roommate who mopped about the house after a few days on Tinder. He was tired of being single, so I showed him how it worked; he was elated after discovering the endless stream of possible partners. Two days later, the emotional toll was evident. He felt the rejection, and he felt it hard. “No one matches me. Am I too ugly? What’s wrong with me? Even ugly girls ghost me out.”
Picture by @grindr
I think the irony of his own behavior was lost on him: although he felt horrible for “not being good enough", he didn't think twice before swiping left on the women who clicked on him, they were just not “cute enough”. The way the apps behave also encourages this double standard: we judge a book by its cover, but when someone does the same to us, we feel hurt. According to the study, men are more susceptible than women to these self-esteem issues when using dating apps. Why? Perhaps because women deal with objectification on a daily basis. Men, however are not as used as women to being valued solely based on their looks and seldom face things that are par for the course for women: comparisons, body dissatisfaction, internalization of cultural beauty standards.
I experienced self-disgust: I felt I needed to become something -someone- completely different in order to be dating material. I pondered for days how could I possible reinvent myself to fit these absurd standards. What would it take for me to work for the camera and for the likes? This self-loathing was not just a random thought or even uncommon. People on gay apps such as Grindr tend to be incredible intolerant. “No fems”, “no blacks”, “no asians”, “6 feet or taller”, “no fatties” are just some of the phrases that appear in profiles. These dating apps have become spaces where bigotry, racism, ageism, and body-shaming are not only okay but become the baseline for interactions. As in real life, but even more so due to the megaphone quality of everything that happens online, the demand to be attractive seems to correlate with your ability of being lovable. No wonder 77% percent of Grindr users are unhappy with it -although I am not sure what to think about Candy Crush Saga users being so close behind.
"What's the difference between apps we cherish vs. regret?" chart by the Center For Humane Technology
The Old-Fashion Way Seems The Right Way
Picture by @lovegayfriend
I could write a whole different post on the many fails of my dating app crusade (I held onto the fantasy for a while). Not everything was bad. I got the chance to meet cool people I dated for a while, and some monthly booty calls. Regardless, a few months ago I finally decided to quit. I realized my interaction with guys had changed. I became more cynical, rough and emotionally detached. I played along with the shallowness of the game and without realizing it, I became trapped in shallow interactions, encounters of instant gratification; nothing but a reflection of my own insecurities. I had to stop.
It’s been three months since I decided to take it easy when meeting new people and, honestly, it has been very rewarding. All those insecurities and anxieties vanished. I am not saying that they magically went away once I deleted the app, but rather that I was no longer frequently reminded about those beauty standards I don’t fit in. Little by little, I recovered some self-esteem, and it is showing. And although I have had several (real world) flirty interactions with guys, I’ve decided to pass on the opportunity. Not because I vowed to keep my purity until true love shows up at my doorstep, but I no longer crave those ephemeral instances of validation; not everything in life has to do with ego-boosters. I have decided to give myself some time to actually meet people in the real world, to take my time and to no longer force myself to rhythms and ways of being in a society so full of relationships based on instant gratification.
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