How did you start your day? Coffee? Shower? Maybe you woke up early for a workout. I woke up early, too – to do some swiping.
Every morning, I lie in bed for 20 minutes, mindlessly sifting through an endless stream of smiling men patting tigers on their exotic holidays.
My days begin and end with dating apps, but the weird part is that I haven’t actually been on a date in about a year. Honestly? I’m not looking for love.
A survey found nearly half of millennials like me are now using dating apps to seek out “confidence-boosting procrastination” instead of romance. I can relate to this; I’m looking for a kind of validation when I browse dating apps, not a relationship. The ‘ding’ when you match with someone you’ve swiped right to feels good. You impressed someone out there (even if they only looked at you for a millisecond). It’s a validation for your ego; knowing that the hot surfer swiped right on me gives me a little boost.
A survey recently found that among the 26 million daily matches that Tinder claim occur on the app every day, only 7% of male users and 21% of female users send a message when we get a match. Apps are increasingly losing their original purpose, with users aimlessly swiping without intention.
Relationship coach Sara Davison says: “It has become accepted behaviour, and part of single people’s daily routine. You can do it from your sofa with no makeup, wearing your pyjamas, with no effort, and no cost to anyone. Most people are on at least two dating apps, and flicking through them has become a quick, easy mood-booster for when people are feeling low and unattractive.”
I used to be the most proactive person you could hope to meet on Tinder. Back in 2012 when it launched, I was newly single. I would message matches, making date plans within a day and meeting up the same week. At one point I was a five-dates-in-five-days type of gal. It was madly fun – but exhausting.
I had a few six-month-long relationships in that time, but dating culture began shifting around me. Subsequent years saw the rise of ghosting, breadcrumbing, and unsolicited dick pics, and I gradually lost my enthusiasm for engaging with other humans. It all got to be too depressing. And boring. And predictable.
Potential dates either asked for a tit-shot within a few messages, or would disappear just when I thought things were going really well. Or, on the increasingly rare occasions where we’d actually arranged a date, they would cancel, stand me up, or (worse) bore me all night. As everyone got used to treating each other as disposable, I did too.
I used to suddenly stop talking to people midway through a conversation, or ignore their messages. I would never treat my friends that way, but I didn't think of these potential dates in the same way - they were just faces who occasionally made my phone screen light up. Looking back, I'm ashamed of the way I treated them.
But, though I’ve now given up on meeting anyone from a dating app, I still use several of them compulsively. I’m addicted to the magic of swiping. People-watching is always fun, and when those people are all single men you can watch from the comfort of your own home – well, that’s even more fun.
Getting the ‘ding’ when I match with someone feels like winning points in a video game. It’s a time-killer in front of the telly when I’m bored (I have woken from a trance-like state many a night, realising I’ve wasted two solid hours swiping, with no idea what just happened on Doctor Who). Every ‘ding’ also contains the possibility of a person who might actually be all those things you want: kind, smart, nice to your dog. It’s a way to daydream without any of the downsides.
When I’m idly swiping rather than going on dates, I don’t have to make any effort or try to be my best self. I never have to worry about disappointing someone, about showing up looking a bit older or a bit fatter than my profile picture suggests.
But the creeping sense that this behaviour is damaging my mental health is becoming impossible to ignore. Chartered clinical psychologist, Dr Jessamy Hibberd, agrees it’s time I address my addiction – because that’s what it is.
“It’s fine in moderation, but it’s not good when you’re losing hours to it,” she tells me. “You’re relying on external validation to feel good about yourself, rather than building an internal measure." She believes that dating apps could be addictive due to the dopamine rush people can get from getting 'likes' and matches online.
In the same way, Natasha Dow Schüll, anthropologist and author of a book on the link between tech and addiction, says there are similarities between slot machines and dating apps. She believes you can get addicted to apps in a similar way to becoming addicted to gambling.
“The parallels are in the way experience is formatted, delivering or not delivering rewards. If you don’t know what you’re going to get and when, then that brings about the most perseverating kinds of behaviour, which are really the most addictive," she told the Daily Beast. “You build up this anticipation, that anticipation grows, and there is a kind of release of sorts when you get a reward: a jackpot, a ding-ding-ding, a match."
She believes the thought of getting that 'reward' - be it sex or a date - motivates people to go onto a dating app. "But what you learn from interacting with it, is it’s a rabbit hole of sorts, a rabbit hole out of the self," she says.
It means that people who are using dating apps just for the 'reward' could fall into this 'rabbit hole' and become addicted. Dr Jessamy says this could impact a user's mental health, as spending excessive amounts of time on apps could result in them being isolated from their real life.
The thing is, there are people on dating apps who want to meet someone for real. I’ve seen enough profiles that passive-aggressively comment about no-one replying to messages to know that: 'I’m here for actual dates, so if you have no intention of meeting me in person, don’t swipe right'.
And I’m aware that what I’m doing must be intensely irritating for those users.
I've been single for the last few years, and I don't really have any interest in marriage or babies, so I don't feel a sense of urgency to meet someone new. I go through phases of thinking, 'I do want a boyfriend' - hence I re-download all my apps - but then I decide it's not worth the bother of actually going on a date. So I just keep on swiping, and store up all my matches.
Relationship coach Sara says: “You need to shake yourself out of this habit. Try some old tricks. Don’t forget the old fashioned way of dating.”
She advises asking family and friends to set you up, getting out there – be it saying yes to parties where you don’t know anyone or finally doing that photography course - and only using dating apps to find a couple of matches at a time, and really follow through with them. “You’ll find real life dating takes up too much time to be sat on your sofa swiping all day,” she says.
I know she’s right, and I can no longer ignore how much time I’ve wasted on my mindless swiping. Those two hours a night really add up, and if I’m honest, I feel a bit ashamed of my addiction. It's taken up a lot of my time - and I'm not even doing it to get a date.
So the next time I get a match, I've decided I’m going to message them and suggest a real date. It might not end in the same dopamine rush I get from swiping on the sofa, but at least I'll be chatting to people in real life - rather than just looking at them through the pixels on my phone.