Antonio will spend this St Valentine’s as millions of other UK singles: swiping profiles on a dating app. He has been looking for a serious relationship for over a year now, when he moved to London. Antonio is good looking, hard-working, with pleasant manners and interesting to talk to, and yet got no luck.
Most matches he gets don’t reply to his messages at all, or their conversations die after a few phrase exchanges. Others just keep talking, and ignore his suggestions to meet up in person. To meet just with one girl, Antonio has to send over 100 messages, and do even more swipes. With his busy lifestyle, he finds online dating incredibly time and energy consuming.
Antonio is certainly not the only one feeling disappointed about the amount of time online dating takes from his life. Whether you are looking for love or sex, the return on time invested is quite modest, to say the list. Tinder users swipe through more than 1 billion profiles, but only make 12 million matches per day. I.e. only 1.2% of all swipes end up in matches. You’d have a much bigger chance of success to find a match of you said hi to 100 random people in a pub.
An average Tinder user spends up to 90 minutes a day reviewing their matches. However, only one in 500 swipes leads to a phone number being exchanged, according to Justin McLeod, CEO of dating app Hinge. We have more choice of partners than ever, and yet we end up lonelier than ever before. Instead of humans, it’s our phones we share our most intimate experiences with.
The three whys
One reason is too much choice. In an experiment by Sheen Iyengar, people who were offered too many varieties jams to choose from, preferred not to make any choice and walked away with no purchase. Those who had fewer jams to choose from, were more likely to make a purchase. Similarly, too much online choice leads to the analysis paralysis. Instead of talking to one person, we keeping swiping for more.
Another reason of why we end up spending so much time on dating with limited results is the very design of the dating app. Tinder and co are in the business of keeping you online, and so use various tricks to maximize your time spend on the app. For example, most apps are designed to keep you swiping, not messaging to people (you need to make fewer actions). You have very little reason to talk to one particular person, and not keep swiping. What if the next one is even more amazing than this one?
Most dating apps use the effect of “variable reward”. By endlessly showing you new matches, they make your brain release dopamine, the neurohormone of pleasure and anticipation of the reward.
Apps make it really easy to remove a contact, too. Just click a button, and there’s no person. So we end up objectifying people, and don’t care much about establishing the contact with current matches – they are all equal in our eyes. Researchers found that only 7% of male matches on Tinder would send a message, and only 21% of female ones (the study did not specify sexual orientation).
A vicious circle
Rejection hurts. A few men I interviewed for my book wondered, if there was something wrong with what’s written in the profiles, or with what they look like, that they didn’t get messages. (There was nothing wrong with any of them). Quite a few complained their self-esteem was going down, as a result of using an app, and thinking about removing it.
Another way to cope with this frustration for men is to start swiping even more women right to increase their chances for a response (there is even a program that does it automatically for you). On the contrary, women get even pickier as to whom to swipe or respond. So the vicious circle continues and the real winner in this race for love is the dating app.
What to do
Does this mean you need to give up online dating if you actually want to meet someone? Not necessarily. I’m sure you know as I do quite a few success stories. However, you may want to ask yourself about the return on the time invested in the app, and how many people you could have met in that time if you chose a different way.
If you still have hopes in online dating, being aware of how technology affects your behaviour and setting up yourself rules will help. You may choose to try talking to everyone you match with, get to meet them possibly soon, not spend more than 10 minutes a day or leave the app if you have no result in 1 month.
As to Antonio, he is still online, but now plans to ask his friends to introduce him to a nice girl, in an old-fashioned way. I’ve got his contacts in case you want an intro.
A young couple is sitting in a restaurant. He tells her something, which makes her smile, and they share a passionate look. The next moment, he shivers and reaches out for his mobile that has just vibrated in his pocket. Immediately, she reaches out for hers and starts checking the latest Instagram. The moment is gone.
How often do you see this picture? How often are you part of this picture?
An appalling 75% of women say that their digital devices ruin their relationships and intimacy. Conflicts within the couples, higher rates of depression and lower life satisfaction is the price we pay for staying connected all the time. Alarmingly, younger people are even more likely to report tension in their relationships over technology use.
The power of hormones
The main problem with digital devices is that they ruin intimate relationships invisibly, changing us on physiological level. Our relationships are mainly ruled by two key hormones – dopamine, the hormone of pleasure, and oxytocin, the hormone of bonding. Dopamine gets released when we eat chocolate, have sex, find interesting piece of information or get social recognition, and especially when we anticipate any reward. Dopamine is the hormone that gets you all excited when you are dressing up for the night to finally meet your date.
However, technology has made getting dopamine easier than ever. All you need to do is to post a picture on Instagram, get a like or two and bum! – you’ve got your dopamine injection! More likes – more dopamine! No need to even make any sexual moves. No wonder that some research shows that couples who have iPads in their bedrooms have little to no sex life. Our brain simply finds it more pleasurable (and easier, too) to get dopamine online than to engage into sexual activities!
Oxytocin, the bonding hormone, develops when people touch each other, share important experiences – and most importantly, when they are fully present for each other. However, when your device is constantly on and you are getting distracted, the quality of your bonding just cannot improve! Being distracted in a relationship means that we don’t have time or energy to build a deeper understanding of the person. Even worse, when your brain is overloaded with constant information (which happens to you when you are online), it has no time to develop so-called higher emotions, like compassion, that take some time to process information.
Save your love
Unfortunately, telling your darling just to stop staring at their mobile doesn’t normally help – they have already been hooked on a hormonal level. One option of saving your relationship is going on a digital detox trip, something more and more couples decide to do. According to Snaptrip, an online travel company, 70% of respondents are willing to go on a ‘digital detox’ weekend (i.e. limited phone reception and no wi-fi) with their partner to improve/save the relationships.
However, escaping for the weekend will give you a break, but it doesn’t solve the major “hook up” problem – if you want to keep your intimate relationship thriving, you first need to review your own relationship with technology.
Become more conscious about what you are doing on a daily basis and make choices all the time. For instance, stop putting your mobile phone on the table or anywhere visible when you’re with the loved one – it’s been proven that people perceive their conversations as less intimate if the device is present, even if on silent. Make certain areas of your flat i.e. bedroom tech-free. Try it at least this St Valentine’s weekend – being fully present with your second half will be the best gift for them.
PS Consciously Digital is running a special promotion with 20% off our signature Declutter Your Digital Life course this weekend. Making space in your digital life is a great step towards improving your relationship with those you truly care about. A couple can use the same access code.
Dr Anastasia Dedyukhina is a keynote speaker, author of Homo Distractus, professional coach and a pioneer of the Consciously Digital™ concept.