February 06, 2017
We’re living in the dating 2.0 world. With immediate mobile access to a world of knowledge, resources, and people, the instant gratification that comes with this high frequency, instantaneous connection has changed the face of intimacy, dating, and the relationship world as we know it. Many view online dating as a resource that helps those with busy lifestyles connect to people who they otherwise may not have the time to go out and meet. In 2010, Dr. Patrick Carnes outlined the typical phases of courtship which help to keep balance during the exciting initial phases of a relationship. However, with the immediate access and increased volume of potential partners in the new dating reality, these phases have changed. While there are many benefits to this transformation, it is also important to consider how online dating impacts overall mental health and well-being.
While online dating increases access to people we otherwise would not have an opportunity to meet, there are isolative and avoidant aspects to it. Isolation and avoidance are key features of several mental health disorders and addiction, including anxiety and depression. Online dating can enable further isolation for someone already suffering from depression. Because an initial contact can be made through the internet or phone, there can also be a feeling of safety in not initially having to meet someone; you don’t have to leave your own bubble. However, avoiding this first in-person contact can also result in a spike of anxiety related symptoms; you may be concerned about how long it’s taking for the person to respond to a message, or worried you may not connect as well in person, etc. Dr. Michele Pole, Director of Psychological Services at Caron Treatment Centers states, “Maintaining your mental health involves reaching out and connecting. When people are in situations where there is less of an opportunity to connect with people, like using dating apps, emotional discomfort, such as anxiety, depression, and avoidance can arise and be reinforced.”
There is a polarity to dating apps; not only can they cause or enhance mental health issues like depression and anxiety, they can also increase happiness and self-esteem. Using dating apps can release chemicals in the brain such as dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and vasopressin. Not only do these chemicals play a role in the feeling of “falling in love,” but they are also associated with addiction. Furthermore, like addiction, people often use dating apps to produce pleasure and to provide an escape from internal discomfort. The excitement of meeting someone new feels good; few people would debate that. It can become addictive when large amounts of time are spent on dating sites; important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of it; family relationships suffer because there’s less time and presence with them; and/or there is a tolerance built up resulting in the need for more sites, more swipes, and more messages to help change the current mood.
Healthy relationships challenge and support us to be better versions of ourselves. Online dating can lead to this connection and has for many people. To support behavioral health and wellness, here are some things to consider when navigating the 2.0 dating world:
- Don’t compromise your values: Know what you value and what is important to you, and have a voice in making it clear. If you are communicating with someone who does not agree or challenges that, they are likely not the right person for you.
- Keep yourself safe: I’m referring to both physical safety (meeting in public places, making sure someone knows where you are going, etc.) but also emotional safety in keeping your expectations right sized and reminding yourself that your validation and emotional well-being are your responsibility.
- Take it at your pace: There are so many payoffs that come when we “slow down to see the scenery.” You get to be present enough to experience the excitement of a new relationship and aware of your openness to meet new people and have new experiences. You also have the payoff of slowing down enough to be aware of red flags, pressures from the other party that are outside of our comfort zone, and moments to check in with yourself to ask, “Am I happy and is this what I want?”
If you’re in recovery, whether it’s making the choice to remain single for a period to learn about self-love and acceptance, deciding to date, or choosing to start a relationship, these choices take risk, courage, and vulnerability. If you’re in recovery and considering using dating apps:
- Have a stable foundation in recovery; recovery from addiction and mental health disorders demands balance, emotional resilience, and an intimate connection with self and others.
- Make time to work on yourself and increase your personal awareness which will help pave the path to healthy relationships with yourself and others, allowing for recovery and relationships to be possible.
- Utilize your sober network: Engage a supportive network of people who understand the importance of emotional resilience, personal care, increased internal strength, and a genuine openness to healthy relationships.
Learn more about navigating the dating 2.0 world