How to Date Healthy in the World of Online Dating

I can still recall that fateful day about four months ago when I picked up my iPhone and decided to download Tinder. Within mere moments, I had signed up for an app that puts hundreds of eligible men and women ready to date (or simply “hook up”) at my disposal. The rest, as they say, is history.

Or, not really.

I met my significant other on Tinder two years ago when we connected via the online dating app, which allows users to quite literally judge one another based purely on looks (and often nonsensical, gross bios) and not at all on personality, goals, ambitions, interests, and other aspects of human beings which make us, well, human. I won’t “front” by saying I initially turned my nose up at Tinder because, truth be told, in a world where most of us have little time to sit in a cafe or cocktail lounge just waiting for that perfect stranger/would-be future wifey to approach, I too needed a little extra boost when it came to meeting potential significant others. Some use Tinder and similar apps for one-night stands, to seek out new friends, or simply to get back on the horse and begin dating again after the end of a lengthy relationship (read: yours truly).

When I met my now-ex boyfriend two years ago, both of us lived busy lives, which were somehow intersected by the world of online dating. Apps, like Tinder, allow young millennials (and just about everyone else in between) to meet new people and discover new things about themselves they may have previously never known. For instance, after my tenure on Tinder – both pre and post-ex boyfriend – I’ve discovered the following things about myself and most of my friends:

You may think you don’t have a type but, trust me, you do – thanks to Tinder’s feature of letting you swipe right or left on people based solely on looks, you’ll likely begin to see a pattern based on the people for whom you swipe right.

There will be a few disturbing moments where you realize you are not “better than Tinder” – if you’ve ever taken a dip in the world of online dating, you’ve probably discovered that Tinder and apps like it are not just for specific types of people, despite the fact that the gross pickup lines and overtly sexual requests from men will make you wish it were. Regardless, few of us can say we haven’t benefitted in some way (physically, emotionally, confidence-wise, etc.) from online dating.

You’re likely to have high expectations which won’t always (read: almost never) be met – I’m willing to hedge a bet that more than a few of us have approach online dating with high expectations and less-than-stellar outcomes. Diving headfirst into dating is never a “bad” thing, but your technique could benefit from some informed perspective

Online dating is a veritable mine-field of excitement, disappointment, anticipation, fun, sadness, and a plethora of other emotions rolled into one. After many successful dates – and just as many duds – I can attest to the fact that online dating will teach you a lot about yourself as it pertains to your wants, needs, desires, goals, and even your own limitations. Dating apps like Tinder, Bumble, and more, which keep us constantly connected to a melting pot of potential SOs, have been praised and prodded for their ability to connect single (and not-so-single) individuals with one another whilst making dating easier, more convenient, and less time consuming. Advocates for such online dating tools cheer on users who have found love (or just a late-night hookup) in a seemingly hopeless place, while those who condemn online dating proclaim it’s narcissism and lack of self-awareness keep us from forming real connections with others. Regardless, if you (like so many other millennials) are going to jump into the pool of online dating headfirst, there are a few healthier ways to do so without having to suffer the sink-or-swim approach that is online dating.

Start by considering what it is that you’re looking to “get out of” online dating

Many of us recognize the hookup culture, which is predominantly popular with just about everyone,  precludes most interactions through online dating apps. But, just because a tool like Tinder boasts a considerable reputation as a hub for hookups doesn’t necessarily stipulate that every Tinder user or gal on Bumble is just looking for a one-night stand. Some people utilizing these tools genuinely want a relationship with someone and may be taking advantage of these apps’ convenience in meeting others for various reasons. Whether you’re just looking for a casual friend to see or spend time with every so often, or are interested in something more serious, it’s beneficial for your emotional and mental health to know what it is you want from online dating before diving into it. Seriously consider whether online dating could provide you with the type of relationship you’re looking for without getting into a potentially unhealthy relationship with an app. If you’re not sure what you want from someone else intimacy-wise, maybe take a step back and think about your needs or goals before getting involved.

Don’t dive in if you aren’t sure how to swim

After a breakup, no matter how difficult or easy it is for you to move on, sometimes online dating can help you realize (or give you a big ol’ slap in the face) that you are indeed not ready to get back out there and start dating again. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But if you are interested in getting back on the horse and seeing what’s out there, even if you’re not ready for another relationship, ensure you remain upfront and clear about your expectations and don’t feel you have to give into the pressure of trendy online dating. There’s no harm in exploring your options, but leading someone on or convincing yourself you’re ready for something new when you may not be will only hurt in the long run. Take it slow and get a feel for the water before wading out farther.

Take a no-expectations approach

As bleak as it may sound, approaching online dating with seriously high expectations of “what could be” often sets us up for “failure.” Like many things in life, online dating is just as unpredictable, and we have no way of knowing whether we will have a positive experience with apps like Tinder or feel completely put off after a short time on Bumble. You know the saying, “The higher you climb, the farther you fall?” Online dating is sort of like that; setting your expectations too high may result in emotional lows when you, say, get ghosted for the first time by someone on Tinder or go on a date with someone you feel you connected well with online but don’t vibe with in person. Aspects of online dating, such as rejection or disappointment, are par for the course, but they shouldn’t put you off of it; instead, you should approach online dating with an open mind and the understanding that not everyone you meet will be your Tinder Prince or your Tinderella.

Be realistic about the process

There’s no easy nor smooth way of connecting with someone online; often, we have no choice but to strike up a conversation or take the plunge and make the first move. You may receive a positive response or nothing at all, but most people in this day and age are forward about their reasons for using apps or online dating tools. It’s important to be realistic about these tools and to recognize that what you want from a partner or relationship (casual or no) may not align with what many other people want. If you make an effort to approach online dating with a realistic perspective, you may have an easier time in connecting with and meeting people who share your similar desires for online dating without experiencing constant disappointment when you connect with those who don’t. Be positive but realistic about the process, and remember that these tools cater differently to every user. You may not find your future spouse on Tinder, but you might just meet a few cool people along the way, which could open you up to new experiences.

Reflect on whether you’re using these dating tools for the right reasons

Recently, a friend and I were chatting about Tinder and quickly came to the mutual agreement that, despite all of the bad dates and sometimes creepy messages we’ve experienced through online dating, one thing is indisputable: it’s an awesome confidence booster. And I’m sure if you were to ask most users on these apps if they agree, they likely would. Because so much of online dating revolves around physicality and the initial “attraction” we feel to someone based on their photos, Instagram feeds or Snap Chats, it inevitably feels good when someone we find attractive feels the same way about us and wants to connect. But, a confidence boost here and there is unlikely to be a good enough reason to dive into online dating. For one, these boosts are fleeting and are derived from an artificial attraction through a mere 3-5 photos of someone; sure, attraction matters, but so does personality and human connection. We can only sustain ourselves emotionally for so long by conversing with people we clearly know find us attractive based on their dating preferences and “swipe right” attitude. If you’re only in it for the fleeting, feel-good moments that come and go, it might be time to reflect on whether you’re using the tools for the right reasons. The same can said for those of us who use online dating as an escape from real life, to help us “get over” an ex, or to “cure” our loneliness. There are healthier outlets for these things and online dating may not lead to the healthy solution you’re searching for.

Regardless of why we online date, approaching the digital dating phenomon that is Tinder (and tools like it) with a healthy mindset and attitude allows you to better understand your reasons for wanting to online date and how you can have the most positive experiences. Whether you dive in “head first” or test the waters before taking a dip, remember to give online dating a fair shot without putting your emotional health (or otherwise) at risk. 

What are your tips for connecting in a culture fixated on apps and online dating?

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Jacalyn Beales
Written by Jacalyn Beales
Jacalyn is a Canadian freelance writer and content creator with a focus on environmental conservation and sustainable living. When she's not busy crafting beautiful content, you can find her hitting the trails and exploring the great outdoors. You can follow Jacalyn's adventures on Instagram @jacalynbeales.