I’m a fan of online dating apps, and prescribe them to my patients to find all types of relationships, whether romantic, sexual or new friendships. Apps help people expand their social reach far beyond their local area, help build community and help connect various minorities. As we work to acknowledge and rid the app community of oppression, sexual racism, body shaming, STD shaming and femme phobia, there’s also a need to address the psychological struggle of “dating app burnout.”
Dating app burnout is a real thing that can seriously impact both your mood and self-esteem.
Apps were created to be used as a supplement to your social life, not as a substitute for a social life. The ease and accessibility of apps allows for a simplified version of interpersonal connection but often doesn’t meet the driving need for actual intimacy, leaving users online longer and still searching.
It’s the metaphor of hunger being satiated with a candy bar versus a home-cooked meal. One will feel like a simple working solution, only meeting your needs temporarily, leaving you looking again later, versus the latter nourishing you for hours and actually providing the substance you need. Often what you need is to call or go see a friend and get out of the house — that’s the home cooked meal.
Use the apps for what they are meant — a contained use for a small of amount of time, to engage and explore, but not to be used for hours as a replacement. Don’t use apps to cope with loneliness, because that’s a misuse. Use them for fun and for arousal. Use them to flirt, court and make contact, and then use them to make a plan to meet. Hours of sitting online and scrolling endlessly can lead to frustration and loneliness.
If you are not having fun or feeling good on the apps, take a break from them. Getting angry or frustrated while online, getting into arguments with others or logging off feeling depleted or sad all mean it’s time to take an app break.
Dating and sex apps are meant to add joy to your life, not misery. Boredom, frustration and aggression are definite signs you have dating app burnout.
The issue is not an addiction to sex or apps; it’s a failure to manage your use of them and to cope with loneliness and boredom. Mindful app use involves checking in with yourself about why you are about to go online. Are you happy, horny or looking to connect? Great, go online. Are you lonely, sad or feeing disconnected? Stay offline, and find a method that will actually help meet these needs, because the apps wont, and they could leave you feeling worse.
The issue isn’t with the apps themselves, which are a great evolution in the use of technology for social-sexual needs. They are easily misused when mindfulness is lacking, so use them when you feel positive and they will enhance that. If you turn to them when feeling negative, they will enhance that feeling as well.
Have you ever experienced dating app burnout?
Dr. Chris Donaghue is a lecturer, therapist and host of the LoveLine podcast, a weekly expert on The Amber Rose Show, and a frequent co-host on TV series The Doctors. He authored Sex Outside the Lines and has been published in various journals and magazines, including The New York Times, Newsweek and National Geographic. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.
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