Whether you’ve been spending your quarantine life watching a docuseries about an eccentric zookeeper or learning viral TikTok dances in your living room, it’s safe to say there’s plenty of activities to keep you entertained. There’s just one thing missing: human interaction — which FYI, is essential for survival. There’s been a surge in activity on dating apps amidst the #CancelEverything movement, and is that any surprise? These apps allow you to maintain some semblance of a love life from a safe distance. This begs the question, however: It OK to use dating apps to feel less lonely? Or is that somehow breaking some unspoken moral code merely to meet your own needs?
It’s a complicated subject. People are on dating apps for a whole slew of different reasons, regardless of whether there’s a pandemic happening: some join apps after a breakup because they're looking for validation, while others seek casual hookups or are on the hunt for serious long-term relationships. With social distancing in full effect, people are craving connection now more than ever, which means that some may turn to dating apps merely to feel less lonely — and not to find love. Tinder recently reported that there were 3 billion swipes from users on March 29 alone — that’s more than on any single day in the history of the app. Not only that, but Tinder reports that daily conversations have been up an average of 20% around the world.
Loneliness is not only totally normal but also understandable considering the current circumstances, and these apps are providing a safe, convenient way to meet people. The issue is that if you’re merely using these apps to mitigate loneliness, and you match with someone who’s using them with different intentions, that can obviously lead to a frustrating experience and hurt feelings. Considering that a 2019 YouGov survey, nearly half of adults use dating apps to find an exclusive romantic partner, it's likely at least a few of your matches are looking for long-term relationships.
That's not to say that there aren't plenty of people swiping out of pure boredom, for some much-needed attention, or other reasons. According to an October 2019 survey by MTV News & MTV Insights, 39% of people age 18 to 29 have chatted with someone on an app who they had absolutely no intention of meeting in person. Since the last thing you want to do is lead someone on or make them feel deceived, dating coach Jess McCann suggests making your intentions known from the get-go.
“You don't have to say this outright in your profile, but you should be open with those you communicate with, says the author of Cursed?: Why You Still Don't Have the Relationship You Want and the 5 Cures That Can Transform Your Love Life.
After you’ve had a few back and forth exchanges with someone, McCann suggests saying something along the lines of, "You seem really interesting and I'd like to keep talking to you. I'm not looking to date anyone seriously, but if you are up for a virtual hangout over drinks, I can promise witty banter and a few laughs that will make it worth your while!" This kind of statement is effective because it’s honest, so it gives the other person an opportunity to duck out if they’re only looking for connections with serious potential.
Online dating expert and coach Meredith Golden also suggests indicating your intentions right within your bio, so that you can let your profile speak for itself. For example, on Bumble and Hinge, you have the option of selecting what type of relationship you’re looking for, which allows other users to get a better idea of whether you’re on the same page.
Not sure what you're looking for? No problem. You can gauge your feelings after the virtual date. “No one really knows what they want until they meet someone,” explains Golden.
In fact, McCann highly suggests transitioning from messaging to virtual dates — whether via Zoom, FaceTime, or Skype — ASAP. “Dating apps are only going to mitigate loneliness if you use them as a vehicle to get on a virtual date,” she tells Elite Daily. “Just texting back and forth is not going to make you feel any less lonely because there is no human-to-human contact. While that can keep you busy for a couple of hours, it's not going to feed your soul.”
There’s no denying that matching with a new cutie, getting a compliment on your profile, or engaging in some flirty back-and-forth messaging can offer a nice ego boost. However, McCann says that quick dopamine hit only really lasts for about an hour or so, and what follows the high is typically a feeling of emptiness. The only real way to feed your hunger for human contact is to make meaningful connections, and the best way to achieve that is by hearing their voice and seeing their face.
“Get on the phone with someone, meet them over FaceTime, or plan to have a virtual dinner together,” says McCann. “This is how you can use apps to feel less lonely in isolation.”
It’s also worth noting that there are so many other ways to cope with your loneliness aside from going on a swiping spree. According to Golden, the best way to reduce oneliness RN is to stay connected with loved ones. McCann suggests throwing a Zoom party with friends, hosting a virtual book club, or calling family members to see how they’re doing.
“Take the focus off yourself in isolation, and put it on someone else,” she explains. “The more we think about ourselves and how lonely we are, the more down we become. The best remedy is to focus on others and give to them because it flexes our love muscle. And love is what really makes us feel happy and comforted.”
BTW, if you start to feel overwhelmed or fatigued from all that swiping (dating app burnout is a real thing), Golden says now is actually a great time to take a break.
“The people who are on the market today will be on the market when this mayhem passes,” she adds.
The bottom line? There's nothing wrong with using dating apps to feel less lonely, as long as you remain transparent about your intentions. Still, it's important to remember that there are lots of other ways to combat loneliness, like enjoying a joint Netflix screening with a sibling, having a virtual happy hour with coworkers, or cooking dinner over FaceTime with your bestie. Your need for human connection is not only valid but super important to tend to — and how you choose to fulfill that need is entirely up to you.
Jess McCann, dating coach
Meredith Golden, online dating expert and dating coach