What to Expect When Starting to Online Date (and how to protect your mental health in the process) - A cell phone showing Tinder Dating App

What to Expect When Starting to Online Date (and how to protect your mental health in the process)

Paula Vexlir
May 15, 2023
May 11, 2023

This blog post was written by Paula Vexlir, Counselor at Nivati. You can see more of their content on the Nivati platform and on the Nivati blog. If you want to learn more about Nivati, click here.

Let's take a look at these people: 

Claire, 32, nurse, San Franciso, USA.

Diego, 42, lawyer, Florence, Italy.

Sofía, 28, Administrative Assistant, Cancún, México.

Chang-Ho, 38, pilot, South Korea.

Even though, at first glance, they may seem pretty different from each other, they all have one thing in common: they are all hoping to meet someone. And they are all using dating apps to do so. 

A few decades ago, we were meeting potential partners at real-life sites like bars and parties, getting set up with our friend's friend, or even at our workplace (depending on company policies, of course). Only a few of us tried those first websites where you had to create a profile, answer way too many questions, and either get automatically matched or offered a list of prospects to select from.

But there was some stigma around the concept. It even sounded a little sketchy, and we would rarely hear any success stories. 

Nowadays, everything’s changed; the exception is for couples to meet outside the virtual arena. We can't say precisely when this happened, but online dating has become the way to go in the last decade. 

It doesn't matter if you are into casual dating or looking for a committed relationship. You create your profile on your app of choice and start scrolling, swiping, and liking.

Read on to learn how online dating affects mental health and some common misconceptions you may have about online dating.

The Potential Impacts of Online Dating on Mental Health

Back to our friends from the beginning: although they are all using apps, Chang-Ho is the only one not dealing with increased anxiety. Why? 

He is interested in casual dating, so expectation management is less of an issue for him than it is for the others. 

The other three might tell you that they are not looking for something really "serious" meaning they are not planning to get married (or remarried) any time soon. Still, they seek a continuous, meaningful, and exclusive relationship.

For the purpose of this article, we will consider this a committed relationship. Please note that we are not disregarding the experiences of those who are casually dating or in open relationships, and we recognize the anxiety that can come with those situations. However, our focus will be specifically on some of the effects of online dating on those looking for committed relationships.

Social media has changed our lives in many ways, including how we interact with each other. We won't debate whether it is good or bad for us. Social media is here to stay, and it's on us how we preserve our mental health while using it.

But to do so, we must understand it has affected our self-image, how we relate to "time" (or responsiveness), and our attention span as well. Not only those of us doing online dating are figuring out how to promote ourselves. It's always happening while job hunting, home hunting, or even with most of our social interactions.

Too Much Information!

Even further, there is something else; social media allows us to look into someone else's life. A window that didn't exist back in the day when two people would exchange their "landline" numbers and wait for the other one to call.

So, Claire met with someone she liked for the first time in "real life" last night. They'd been chatting for a while on the app and decided to move it from the virtual scene. It wasn't exactly love at first sight, but it was an okay date. They added each other on social media platforms.

Now, she's feeling really frustrated because she sees him online, but he's not texting her.

Is he talking to someone else? Who is the girl in that group picture? Does he not like her anymore? What changed between last night and today? They aren't even a "thing" yet, so why is she getting so self-conscious?

This wouldn't have happened twenty years ago. She wouldn't know where he was or what he was doing either, but it wouldn't frustrate her so much.

Social media gives us access to a lot of information, but it can also be self-harming, leaving us filled with self-doubt and concerns.

The Trap of Comparison

At the same time, Diego is also struggling; he connected with someone through online dating, eventually met at a café a few weeks ago, and gave them his Instagram.

When he got home, he started scrolling through their profile out of curiosity.

Now this has become a habit. He opens it every day and can't help but realize that their following keeps slowly growing.

So, he checks out each of these new accounts, compares himself to them, and analyzes them, trying to get a sense of the people behind them and their relation with (his date).

Before he knows it, he obsessively checks the following of someone he barely knows. But then, he is so busy worrying and getting entangled in all this that he forgets to open up, have a more exciting conversation, and figure out if he is into them.

At the same time, Sofia checks her own dating profile constantly.

She is worried about how others can perceive her. 

She looks at it this way: most people only look at profiles for up to ten seconds, so she has to make them count.

She's set to create an exciting image of herself, look attractive, intelligent, beautiful, and still a little mysterious.

But then, she gets a match. So, they chat a little, "click," and arrange a meet-up.

She gets excited. The morning before meeting up, she gets in her own head. What if she can't live up to her online persona? What if they see her in real life and change their minds?

She cancels at the last minute and spends the whole day beating herself up about it.

Online dating is affecting their mental health; the three of them are anxious and self-conscious.

Common Online Dating Misconceptions and What To Do About It

Not only can using social media while dating or using apps (which are a way of social media as well) affect our mental health, but there are a few misconceptions that can complicate our experience even more.

Read on to learn some more ways online dating affects mental health, and what to do about it.

The Language Around Matches

Our brains are wired in a certain way, so, for example, back in the day, we would leave someone a message on their machine. Then, if we were to meet them on the street, we would assume they have the information we gave them in the message. So, even if we realize that maybe they haven't been home since and therefore have not listened to it yet, still our mind's first thought will be to consider the message has been delivered (which makes sense if you think that the transmitter has already sent the message), the only issue is that it was left on the machine, and we don't automatically consider that extra step.

As you can see, our brains tend to interpret things in a certain way. That way, when an app says you have a "match" or "crush"—or the term that your app of choice uses—it's difficult for us not to think that someone has a "crush" on us!

But, truth be said, a match is the equivalent of checking someone out on the street and having them check us back. It's not necessarily the beginning of a love story (although some apps claim that is precisely that).

This is important because many people feel uncomfortable having more than one match or liking more than one person (especially those starting with the apps coming out of a long-term relationship). 

But to be fair, there are more significant issues here. Instead, it's the fact that our brain will consider these people as really "crushes" or "matches" and, therefore, will forget that these are total strangers and that the chances of not liking them in the first interactions are pretty high.

This phrasing only feeds our already existing tendency as humans to romanticize or fantasize about things or people we don't know much about.

Expectation Management

Even though there are a few exceptions, most people refer to having started many conversations and a substantial number of dates before meeting someone they would like to know in a more committed and deep relationship. And since our expectations frame our experiences, if we expect to chat with our "crush," the lack of connection will most likely leave us with frustration and anxiety.

Most of us forget that via online dating, we end up meeting people outside our social circles that, most likely, we would have never spoken to in real life. Although this isn't trivial, we need to work on our expectations and understand that not all the "likes" we receive, or the matches we have will be possible in real life.

It took Claire some time to accept this reality and deal with the fact that she would have not only many matches that would end up in nothing (no date, no chat, no real connection) but also that she will also be having multiple conversations. In the beginning, she felt this was cheating. 

After a match with someone, having a conversation before jumping on a date is recommended. It's relevant to find out if you have something in common and how you feel through the exchange and, only after that, take it out of the virtual scene. 

Therefore, having multiple conversations is inevitable. Of course, it's better not to chat with 20 people simultaneously because your attention will be compromised, and those interactions won't receive your most accurate version. Still, there is no need to feel like a cheater if you are talking with more than one person; think as if you were at a bar or a party; you would most likely talk to more than just one person throughout the night.

Furthermore, if you allow yourself to have more than one match and chat with more than one person, you'll most likely experience less anxiety and frustration if you discover you are not a "match-made-in-heaven" after five minutes of monosyllabic conversation.

Going back to how to protect your mental health while using dating apps. It's crucial to remember that social media's objective is always the same, to get our attention. And unfortunately, dating apps are not an exemption from the rule. So, remember that the app language, narrative, and notifications are not necessarily in place to lower your anxiety levels, make you feel better about yourself, and, mainly, delete the app. 

On the contrary, some apps will forecast the profile that received more likes during the week, like if that could help you meet someone that would be a good fit for you. Or it will continuously send notifications and tell you that there are more fish in the sea (actually, one is even named after the concept).

As with all social media, we can't expect our digital wellness to be their goal. It should be us in charge. And we can start by having more realistic expectations, understanding that we most likely will meet (at least virtually) many people before we find someone we click with (for sure, if you find your true love sooner, we will cheer for you!). That if someone unmatched or uncrushed you, that is not saying anything about you; it's saying something about them and how they relate to others, but it could also mean that they have met someone and deleted the app.

So let's remember to be gentle with us, with our feelings, experiences, and processes (and also with others, but we can talk about that some other time). Accepting the anxiety rise but also trying to understand what is triggering it so that we can help decrease it.

Dating apps also allow you to meet people outside your current circles, interact with many others you wouldn't have had in the past, and adjusting your expectations can make it a fun and enriching experience. Once you learn how to manage your expectations (and also maybe set some digital boundaries for yourself), it’s easier to embrace the fact that finding a meaningful connection takes time and effort… and it’s absolutely worth it!


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Paula Vexlir
Paula Vexlir
Paula Vexlir is a Registered Clinical Psychologist. With interest in innovation, she started supporting people living worldwide 20 years ago, and was one of the first to start with online therapy (yes, before the pandemic!). She specializes in helping individuals navigate their struggles with relationships, anxiety, stress management, grief, parenting, and most human challenges. Paula loves doing research and creating content that can help people lead better lives.