On the heels of a bad breakup, Kristina, 27, wasn't ready to find a new partner just yet. She wanted an easy, drama-free way to boost her confidence — so she downloaded Tinder Gold, a paid Tinder upgrade that lets users swipe through people who have already swiped right on them. “I had a bruised ego ... so I loved the idea of getting to pick from men who picked me first," she remembers. “But most of all, it was a ginormous ego boost." Kristina found herself using dating apps for validation, with no real intention of pursuing anyone she met online. "Every single time I swiped on a hot guy from the group, it was a match," she explains. "I was so flattered."
Kristina was using apps mostly to feel good about herself — and it turns out, this practice is pretty common. According to an October 2019 study by MTV News & MTV Insights, 61% of respondents (ages 18-29) said they’re more interested in discovering who is attracted to them online than actually going out with anyone. That statistic suggests dating apps are basically a forum for public affirmation. And the reason why is obvious — it’s exciting to get that adrenaline rush when you receive a flirty message from someone hot. It’s similar to the validation you feel when you post a fire selfie that racks up tons of appreciative comments on Instagram. Everyone has insecurities, and hearing positive feedback from others can temporarily soothe some of that self-doubt.
“While we are using dating apps in the name of finding love, there’s also a selfishness that appears to be there,” Terron Moore, vice president and editorial director of MTV News, the site that conducted the study, tells Elite Daily. “And I don’t even know that you could blame anyone for that. I think we’re all self-interested in our own way.” He notes that although the study results showed a majority of people are looking for validation, this isn’t mutually exclusive with seeking out a partner. Forty-two percent of respondents said they’re looking for a long-term relationship, and 30% are looking to date people casually — even though they may be hoping to build their self-esteem as well.
Kristina admits that her dating spree made her feel “selfish” at times, but she still believes the experience helped her through a difficult phase of her life. “Using dating apps and seeing just how many guys there are out there who would date me helped me feel desirable again after being in a relationship that made me feel so unwanted and lonely,” she says. “I'm not proud of relying on male validation for confidence — and it was just one piece of the puzzle — but it definitely accelerated the process.” Though she planned on staying single for awhile, she met a guy after two months who she “fell hard and fast” for. Now, one year later, they’re still happily together.
Using apps as a confidence boost can also help people keep their romantic prospects at an emotional distance. For Courtney, 24, using Bumble and Hinge for validation is a way for her to protect herself from heartbreak. “I deal with a lot of insecurity [and] anxiety around my romantic relationships, so by using the app more so for validation, I can control the narrative and my feelings.” she explains. She recently matched with one of her college crushes, and she felt comfortable knowing she could end the conversation whenever she wanted to. “It works short-term, kind of like the junk food of a dating life?” she says. “It gives you the rush of knowing someone likes you, without having to deal with the actual relationship or risk getting hurt.”
According to relationship therapist Rachel Zar, many people use apps for validation because this practice feels safe and easily accessible. “The risk — both emotionally and physically — feels low,” she tells Elite Daily. “And the hit of dopamine we get — if short-lived — feels really good.” Without even leaving the house, you can access hundreds of potential matches who will tell you over and over again how attractive they find you. And there’s no real danger in chatting with them through the app, where you can always block their profile if you start to get uncomfortable.
It’s not inherently bad to feel flattered by compliments, Zar says. It only becomes a problem when external validation starts to affect the way you feel about yourself. “It becomes unhealthy when it feels as though you’re relying on how many messages or matches you get to dictate your entire self worth,” she says. “Self-esteem that’s determined by the opinions of others is precarious; it can just as easily be given to us as it is taken away.” You should have confidence in yourself regardless of how others feel about you — otherwise, swiping through dating apps might feel like putting a Band-Aid over a deeper wound. It helps momentarily, but it doesn’t actually combat your insecurities.
It’s not inherently bad to feel flattered by compliments. It only becomes a problem when external validation starts to affect the way you feel about yourself.
Tracie, 24, found herself in this predicament when she was trying to get over an ex. “My coping mechanism to deal with a breakup would be to distract myself with getting back on the apps instead of just dealing and healing my emotions first,” she tells Elite Daily. “I would quickly get back onto the apps and find myself a rebound … but it didn’t work! I’d still have feelings for my ex, and it would cloud up my new relationship.” She ultimately decided she needed to stop until she had healed from the split on her own. “I definitely was using the apps as a crutch to make me feel like I was still worthy,” she says. “If I keep bringing all the lingering vibes from my last relationship without clearing them, I’m not going to be able to fully commit to another person and be capable of having a healthy relationship. I wanted to stop the cycle and heal myself!”
Tracie was onto something, according to Zar: Seeking out validation can sometimes get in the way of finding a healthy relationship. “It’s important to try to develop self esteem that comes from within instead of from others,” Zar tells Elite Daily. “This means developing a sense of what it means to you to be worthy or to succeed based on your own value system.” And only you can really know how to walk that line. If it means you have to pull back from dating apps for awhile while you work on loving yourself, that could help you come back to the dating scene more aware of what you want in a partner.
Zar suggests setting small, actionable life goals for yourself that you can easily accomplish and can be proud of. "Set yourself up for success by creating goals that actually feel achievable," she says, "and have tons of self-compassion for the fact that sometimes we all fall short." Take care of your physical health by prioritizing sleep, social time, and mental space to pursue your passions. You can also consider resources like therapy to help you work through any painful past experiences that might be affecting the way you see yourself now.
Besides the fact that using apps for validation can make you feel worse, you might also be leading people on by doing it. According to the MTV study, 43% of people have swiped right on someone who they were not physically attracted to, and 39% have talked with someone they had no intention of meeting in person. For those people who really do want to meet up with their matches, this leads to a frustrating uncertainty about the intentions of others. By chatting only with people you're genuinely interested in, you can avoid deceiving them.
Moore explains that in some ways, having competing online dating goals — seeking validation vs. seeking love — can be counter-productive. “There does seem to be a gulf between being on dating apps to find love and being on dating apps to feel that self-validation,” he says. Focusing too much on getting that immediate confidence boost can detract you from your goal of finding a real relationship that translates off-line.
But first and foremost, make sure you aren’t relying on apps to mask an underlying feeling of unworthiness. You don’t need Tinder matches to make you feel beautiful, just like you don’t need a partner to make you feel whole. There’s nothing wrong with a little shameless flirting with someone you genuinely are attracted to, as long as it fills your cup rather than making you feel empty. The only person who can truly make you feel loved and valuable is you.