Are we suffering from dating-app burnout? 


To anyone born after 1990, meeting a partner online is just as normal as meeting in real life. But online dating, particularly apps, has only been around a relatively short time when one looks at the world’s grand history of love.

The first online dating site was launched in 1995. Geolocation-based Grindr was set up in 2009, swiping app Tinder launched in 2012, with Bumble appearing on the app store in 2014. In just over a decade apps have revolutionised how we meet potential life partners. 

But are we growing disillusioned with this technology already?

A Pew Research Centre study published in 2020 found that almost half of Americans believe dating has gotten harder in the past decade.

Those who used a dating site or app said the experience left them feeling more frustrated (45%) than hopeful (28%). 

There are Reddit threads dedicated to dating app burnout — people describe endlessly swiping and scrolling through potential lovers, mind-numbingly boring text conversations, going on multiple dates per week, yet unable to find a meaningful connection.

Last October, the Australian Institute of Criminology published a study which found that 75% of the dating app users surveyed were victims of some form of online sexual violence in the past five years. Indeed, I know women who have been sexually harassed by men they met on dating apps, including receiving unsolicited sexually explicit images. 

We wouldn’t tolerate people flashing a stranger in the street — but sadly, cyber flashing is seen as par for the course in online dating, leading to growing disillusionment among women.

Full disclaimer: I have been in a committed relationship since I was 19, so have very little experience of the modern dating world. Speaking to others, their experiences with dating apps vary wildly, from beautiful, rom-com-worthy first dates ending in a happy partnership, to scarred for life due to their date’s sheer awkwardness or their downright creepy behaviour.

Lots of my friends have been mismatched, their first dates stilted, with no common interests, or they matched with a person looking for a serious relationship when they were just interested in something casual. 

All agree that most apps are based on physical attractiveness and are not advanced enough to pair a soul connection. Is all this swiping destroying true love?

Killing romance

Dr Helen Fisher, a US-based anthropologist who has studied love extensively, does not believe dating apps are killing romance. The problem is people don’t know how to use them effectively. 

“Our brains are not built to binge — there are studies to show the brain can only cope with five to nine options, then it’s cognitive overload,” she says.

Fisher suggests that after matching with nine potential suitors, stop using the apps and video chat or meet at least one or two of the matches. 

“Think of reasons to say yes and stay open-minded — we tend to think of reasons why things won’t work out. 

“If the guy says something stupid on the first date, cut him some slack and don’t write him off. 

“If you are a musician and she works in tech, it doesn’t mean it won’t work. Overall, try to be self-confident and happy.”

Caroline West

Dr Caroline West, an Irish academic and Bumble Ireland’s sex and relationship expert, advises people feeling drained or overwhelmed by dating apps to take a break. 

“Bumble lets you snooze your account. Don’t just swipe mindlessly — set time limits and read people’s bios. 

“If you can find one or two people you have a connection with, that is enough. 

Meet in person within a week to see if the chemistry translates to real life.

West believes dating apps have led to some positives from an Irish perspective, such as sober dating.

“Traditionally, people met in pubs or nightclubs. At 2am on a night out, we aren’t looking or feeling our best selves, but we started looking for a partner then.

“Now, we are texting potential dates via apps while sober and arranging to meet for coffee. 

“Covid-19 also impacted dating trends, with many opting to go for a walk or meet outdoors, and this has continued post-lockdown.”

West says online dating is seen as just another planned activity, with less secrecy and shame. 

People are open to discussing their romantic entanglements arising from apps, yet just ten years ago online dating was seen as “weird” or clandestine, she adds.

Young singletons have added another stage to courtship — video chatting before an in-person date, potentially due to Covid.

Fisher, also chief science advisor to, works on a Singles in America study of 5,000 people each year. “Last year, about 25% of the singles we studied did a video chat before the first date. In 2015, just 6% did.”

Covid-19 has also resulted in more people looking for commitment. “In 2019, 59% of those surveyed said they were looking for marriage, and last year, this was 74%,” says Fisher.

Forced to look within themselves

Couples therapist Annie Lavin, aka The Relationship Coach, believes introspection is key to making meaningful connections.

“During the pandemic, many people became more conscious about how they chose to live. 

“Those who were unhappily single were in many cases forced to look within themselves rather than look outwards through partner-seeking. 

“Some were surprised by the impact that decades of low self-worth, low confidence and old traumas had on their dating decisions.”

Lavin recommends working with a therapist or coach to analyse and understand your behaviour and to think about your unconscious attitudes towards meeting a partner rather than blaming apps and bad dates for being unlucky in love.

Despite the negatives, it seems dating apps are here to stay. Fisher believes modern technology and changing attitudes have led to some positives for women. 

“50 years ago, most women married aged 21, men at 22. Now, people are getting married later and later, which is quite adaptive, as the later you get married, the more likely you are to stay together,” she says.

Women also have careers, so they have a greater ability to leave dysfunctional relationships, leading to “better and longer partnerships”, says Fisher.

There are also studies, that show people who meet online are less likely to divorce, says Fisher. 

“People who court online are more likely to be fully employed, higher educated and looking for commitment, so this could be a factor in their lower divorce rate.”

According to Fisher, millennials and younger generations are also ushering in some new dating patterns. 

“The pre-commitment stage is much longer — people take time to get to know each other, to have sex before becoming exclusive. I think this will lead to more stable marriages.”

She also notes that people are less focused on physical attractiveness. Just under half of those surveyed in last year’s Singles in America study said they fell in love with someone they were not initially attracted to, with this figure rising year on year.

For Fisher, dating apps and other technologies have not changed the way we love — just how it starts.

How to raise your online dating game

  • Use an up-to-date photo of yourself.
  • Your photo should represent who you are – try to include photos of you participating in your hobbies.
  • Avoid using too many group pictures.
  • Keep your bio short, positive and light-hearted. Try to outline your personality and personal values.
  • Reveal what type of relationship you want (casual/committed) at the early texting stage.
  • Don’t let the texting stage go on for too long – meet in person, in a safe, public place, within a week.
  • Limit your time on the app to avoid fatigue – swipe consciously and set time limits.

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