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Dating in the 21st C: Are Apps Helping or Hurting Social Development Skills?

In a post COVID world, the popularity of dating apps cannot be understated: match, message—and if progressing well enough—meet face-to-face and see how it goes. By 2027, the projected number of users on dating apps amounts to 11.71M, nearly 15% of the overall population. 


With multiple platforms to choose from (Bumble even stipulating women message first) there’s no denying a new way of dating has emerged. However, are there potential pitfalls to social development with this shift?


A number of well-known digital dating apps have only emerged in the previous ten years, including Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge. Before these ‘swipe and match’ platforms, online websites such as Match or eHarmony existed, but tended to have a more detailed process, and appealed mostly to older demographics. 


This swift change in dating has resulted in weddings, hook-ups, and friendships. Yet, this may not be conducive due to the inadequate socialization, misrepresentation, and unrealistic expectations


Lack of Socialization

The most common age demographic for online dating apps is ages 25-34 years old. The youngest demographic to use dating apps are eighteen year-olds (also the minimum age you have be to be able to sign up). A study by Newall in 2016 found 50 million individuals use Tinder for approximately 90 minutes per day, and may check it up to 11 times per day. That’s 10.5 hours a week spent messaging, swiping, or having digital social interactions.

Individuals who are fearful, anxious, or lacking confidence may substitute digital interactions for in-person romantic endeavors because the pressure feels less intense behind a screen. While this is great to develop confidence before meeting, it can also prevent necessary social skills from developing when presented with face-to-face social opportunities. 

It may also increase feelings of loneliness. A study by Peplau & Perlman found that ‘individuals who report high levels of loneliness tend to feel that their social networks are not sufficient to meet their social needs’. Thus, lonely individuals may exhibit high levels of reliance on dating applications in hopes of finding a satisfying romantic relationship and seeking to expand their social circle.

Likewise, despite its promotion of social circles beyond those one encounters in their day to day life, proximity and immediacy continue to influence dating app connections. A 2017 study by Sam Chan notes that dating applications connect potential partners in the ‘immediate vicinity’, giving users close romantic encounters. 

This instant gratification may cause users to grow more reliant on their smartphones and dating apps to communicate with people they are interested in as a result of this expectation of quick rewards, and develop a different type of socialization from that which is known to us.



Catfishing is a common problem amongst online profiles. Catfishing is when someone pretends to be someone different on social media, in order to trick or attract other people. According to a 2019 survey, 35% of online dating users encountered a catfish or a similar online scam. This statistic is a stark reminder of the prevalence of catfishing and other online scams that often have common threads with antisocial behavior. 

Trolling can also be a major issue. Dehue describes antisocial behavior as sending hate mail, threats, spreading rumors, and harassment. 

According to Buckels, Trapnell, and Paulhus (2014), trolling is the act of communicating online with the goal to be provocative, rude, or menacing in an effort to instigate conflict and discomfort among victims for the trolls' personal entertainment. Deception, hostility, disruption, and success are the four characteristics of trolling based on research by Claire Hardarker in 2010.  

By utilising a false identity, acting maliciously and provocatively, taunting, and disrupting others in order to get attention, people hope to trick their victims and succeed in trolling. Most notably, studies have revealed that being harassed online has negative psychological effects that are comparable to those of being harassed in person (Feinstein, Bhatia, & Davila, 2013). 

Those who have online dating profiles are at-risk for a more severe effect of trolling and catfishing, making it essential to keep looking into trolling conduct predictions across many online domains, especially online dating. 


Realistic Expectations

One of the biggest complexities of online dating is presentation versus actual presence. When creating a profile, you can choose to highlight your best features, leaving off the less desirable traits. 

A set of interviews done by Ward in 2017 found that the motivations for using Tinder ranged from ego-boost to relationship seeking, and that profile pictures were selected in an attempt to present an ideal yet authentic self. As a swiper, your main dictators of right or left are attractiveness, presentation, and profile language, all of which are in your control.

According to prior research, photos are chosen in an effort to convey an ideal yet genuine self. Users of Tinder frequently look for possible matches in order to get advice on how to present themselves in order to attract other users who are similar to them. 

Instead of focusing on responses to specific matches, users may change their profiles in response to individuals they find particularly attractive. This can ultimately be damaging to self-esteem as well as potential connections if looking for a deeper interaction that goes beyond looks.


Moving forward

By no means is online dating a negative option: it provides the chance to know people you would otherwise be unable to reach, can help to build self-confidence, and promotes a higher level of compatibility with potential partners. 

Despite the benefits, it’s important to keep in mind how it can hinder social connection by remaining online rather than developing in-person skills. This could also hurt potential matches because of lack of socialization. 


To keep a better balance, be sure to keep in social activities that are face to face, be mindful in your approach to online dating and most importantly, be authentic to who you are. Dating apps are what you make of them and will continue to provide a platform for individuals to meet and form connections with those they may have otherwise missed.


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Tags: #tinder #bumble #onlinedating #socialisation


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