When Should You Delete Your Dating Apps?

When Should You Delete Your Dating Apps?

Key points

  • Dating apps have transformed the landscape of dating, but it is important to ask whether having more choices is always better.
  • Dating apps seem to prey on the fear of regret through the relentless temptation of limitless matches.
  • To mitigate choice paralysis, consider adding filters intentionally and digesting profiles mindfully.

I admit that I enjoy having options; the freedom to choose. I enjoy choosing from a dozen different types of milk: cow milk, sheep milk, and almond milk; you even get to choose the percentage of fat in your preferred protein beverage. Turning on Netflix, there are thousands of movies and shows in virtually every language and genre; if you are uncertain of what to watch, Netflix has algorithms to recommend shows based on your viewing history and popular trends. In searching for a therapist, perhaps you have been down the rabbit hole of scrolling past pages and pages of therapists’ profiles, carefully weeding through each bio, yet finding yourself unable to take a leap of faith over the seemingly bottomless pool of options.

In our society, identity is intertwined with choices. Anyone who has pondered over two almost identical bags of pasta (or coffee beans-I welcome you to fill in the blank) at the grocery store has wrestled with choice paralysis, a phenomenon that plagues modern society. The range of choices we make goes from the coffee we drink to the partner we choose to share a life with. Well, especially when it comes to choosing partners.

If Darwin were alive today, he would be intrigued, if not puzzled, by the modern mating dance: geographical limitations are mitigated by online dating, signals of attraction communicated by the bravery of an index finger. Apps have transformed the landscape of dating, and done so profitably. In 2021, Match Group, which owns Tinder, Hinge, OkCupid, and match, among others, brought in a net profit of $922 million. Tinder itself generated $1.6 billion in revenue (Iqbal, 2022), with 70 percent of its revenue coming from subscriptions (Bromwich, 2019).

More choices, more problems?

Many people are attracted to dating apps for their convenience. The expansion of the virtual dating pool stretches beyond geographical confinement and apps offer the flexibility of having relatively low-pressure interactions. We believe that having more options will nudge us towards finding the match closer to our preference. However, as people pay for dating app subscriptions and still find themselves trapped in the dating slot machine waiting for the perfect match, maybe it’s time to ask: Is having more options always better?

In a study where participants were asked to imagine having to choose a potential partner from various-sized dating pools (e.g., 10 vs. Precios de latinamericancupid 20 vs. 50 vs. 100), most participants preferred dating pools with 20 to 50 individuals instead of dating pools that are larger or smaller (Lenton, Fasolo, & Todd, 2010). Interestingly, as dating pools got larger, participants expected it to be more and more difficult to make their selection and they expressed feeling more regret and less satisfaction with their decision when they had more than 50 potential suitors to choose from. As tribal animals socialized to live in smaller groups, humans may not be evolving fast enough to match the growing number of options presented by dating apps. Therefore, as the number of options increases, we turn to the faithful search criteria to help us identify ideal matches: “6 feet and above,” “college degree,” “wants children,” etc. Search algorithms are precise, but don’t tell you much about personality.

Dating burnout and the fear of missing out

The paradox of choice is that instead of regretting the choice that we did make, we mourn the loss of what we did not choose, the “what ifs.” The pull of regret grows even more formidable when we are presented with hundreds, if not thousands, of options on dating apps. “What if I just stayed on there a little longer? Maybe I will meet someone better.” Dating apps prey on our fear of regret through the temptation of limitless matches, not to mention the initial lure of showing us attractive members. This could be a reason why people in faithfully committed relationships may have difficulty deactivating dating apps, seeking validation of their choice of partner while preserving the fantasy of a different future with a different partner.

Both the perception of having unlimited options on dating sites and the safety of dating behind a screen make rejection a less emotional decision. Researchers found people tend to reject more potential partners when there are increased options (Pronk & Denissen, 2020). It is the endless “chicken and egg” dilemma: you get fewer matches the more people you reject, and with fewer matches, you risk more disappointment in your choices and pessimism for your romantic future, which leads you to reject more potential suitors.

Some dating sites allow members to pay for subscriptions to see who “liked” their profiles and go beyond a limited number of profiles a day. The “fear of missing out” is likely a powerful motivator for people to cast a wide net on dating apps and pay for subscriptions to maximize their chance of catching the perfect partner. Yet, paid subscriptions may backfire by overloading our minds with too many matches to handle, leaving us less satisfied with our choices and burned out from dating. To help mitigate choice paralysis on dating apps, I have the following suggestions:

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