Online dating is a sign of the times, in that individuals of all ages, races, sexual orientations, and geographic regions around the world are choosing to search for casual and committed relationships through these social media apps.  Since the beginning of time, humans have instinctually connected with one another, whether in tribes, communities, places of worship, or marriage, and these social, spiritual, and emotional connections can provide a sense of purpose and belongingness.  The online dating culture has become the norm for young adults who are still learning about their wants and needs within a romantic relationship.  Middle-aged and older-aged adults are using online dating apps to find companionship often after a divorce, death, or other major life change.  For these reasons, psychological researchers have become increasingly interested in exploring both the positive outcomes and the potential harmful effects of online dating, such as physical harm, emotional abuse, and loss of self-esteem. 

     Researchers are also evaluating the difference between healthy use of online dating apps and unhealthy over-reliance on these apps to validate one’s sense of self-worth or to seek the “perfect” partner.  If you use an online dating app, I advise you to do frequent mental health checks by asking yourself, “Am I keeping my boundaries when on dates?” and “What are some behaviors or values which have been undesirable in those who I have met online?”  We bring our values and expectations  into our romantic relationships, in terms of how we view love, how we problem solve, and what we want for our future.  However, those who have experienced chaotic, abusive, or otherwise dysfunctional family environments may be carrying around “baggage” which can get projected outward to their romantic partners.  This is why it is important to protect your mental health by taking it slow emotionally with a romantic interest and not becoming dependent upon these dating forums for your self-worth.  Three common mental health problems related to online dating are increased social anxiety, emotional abuse (gaslighting), and differing views on intimacy.


     Online dating experiences can certainly cause a rise in social anxiety symptoms, and many online daters may already have social anxiety or other emotional problems at the start of their online dating experiences.  Social anxiety can cause an individual much difficulty with online dating success, due to being hypersensitive to others’ words and actions, fearing negative evaluations or rejection from others, and having a pattern of avoidance toward going on first dates.  Other challenges of having social anxiety are non-assertive communication skills during dates, poor communication skills when trying to verbalize one’s needs when in a committed relationship, less dating satisfaction, negative cognitions toward social situations, and negative cognitive interpretations of reactions from others during social situations.  Those with social anxiety must pay close attention to their perceptions of dating experiences and to their choices of partners, because they are more prone to deliberately avoid  social situations and to experience distress and discomfort during social interactions.


     Emotional abuse can have long-lasting traumatic effects upon an individual’s identity and well-being.  Within the online dating culture, it is wise to look for early “red flags” of emotional abuse, which is most commonly inflicted by those with an unhealthy level of narcissistic traits.  They tend to engage in greater frequencies of online dating, due to strong attention-seeking impulses and to unresolved emotional issues from which they subconsciously hide by excessive dating app usage.  They may “love bomb” in the beginning stages of dating but will then turn this amazing love and devotion into possessiveness, manipulating behaviors, and verbal abuse toward their partners when they don’t get what they want.  Narcissists protect their fragile ego and fragmented sense of self through control and perceived superiority over others.  They are likely to go online simply to look for extra attention and not necessarily for a relationship.  In fact, they may already have a partner in real life but feel unappreciated or undervalued, mainly due to their own inner void and lack  of self-love.  Emotional abuse by narcissists, as well as by other dysfunctional romantic partners, includes hypercritical and judgmental statements to a romantic partner (while behaving in a compassionate manner toward others), and minimizing, ignoring, or ridiculing a partner’s needs, thoughts, and feelings.  As the relationship progresses, emotional abuse can also progress to isolating one’s partner from family and friends and by constantly disrespecting one’s partner’s boundaries in the relationship.  The more subtle, and often unrecognized, effects of emotional abuse are desperate attempts by the abused partner to gain affection and acceptance, a lack of daily motivation, pervasive self-defeating thoughts, and being at high risk for developing an anxiety or depressive disorder.


Intimacy, or emotional closeness, can be feared by those with trust issues.  People with an anxious attachment style tend to fear abandonment and to seek closeness and reassurance from their partners. They may feel anxious and insecure when their partner is unavailable or distant, often seeking constant validation and reassurance.

  An avoidant attachment style is characterized by feeling overwhelmed by intimacy and often pulling away during the early stages of dating due to perceiving one’s partner as a threat to one’s independence and emotional defenses.  People with an anxious attachment style and those with an avoidant attachment style are often attracted to each other, just like magnets.

Why does this attraction happen when it appears that these attachment styles have such different needs?  The anxious partner may constantly feel on edge and insecure due to the avoidant partner’s emotional distance. In contrast, the avoidant partner may feel overwhelmed and pressured by the anxious partner’s need for closeness. This dynamic can result in a cycle of emotional distancing and re-engagement, causing stress and instability in the relationship.  A partner with an avoidant attachment may need a break from the relationship due to feeling overwhelmed, causing the partner with an anxious attachment to experience an intense fear of abandonment.

 Anxious people may be unconsciously drawn to avoidant partners, because they represent a challenge or an opportunity to attain the emotional connection they long for.  On the other hand, people with an avoidant attachment may be attracted to anxious partners because their pursuit and need for closeness reinforce the avoidant person’s need for independence and self-reliance.  Developing self-awareness, understanding attachment styles, attending therapy, and learning effective communication can help people navigate anxious-avoidant relationship dynamics and build healthier and more securely attached relationships. Developing secure attachment in a relationship takes both partners’ time, patience, commitment, and effort.   These are crucial points to remember within the fast-paced, immediate gratification world of online dating.  Self-care is non-negotiable!

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