It’s late in the evening. All your emails are read and the good TV is over for the night. You’re feeling a little bit… lonely. Unsure what to do, you open that dating app and start to swipe. You bring your laptop out of hibernation and start to scroll. You see faces of potential partners wiz by and for a moment, it helps.
Your smile returns.
We’ve all been in this moment – the moment when a twinge of loneliness spurs an online dating session. But is this really a good habit to get into when feeling lonely? Most people who have performed this late-night ritual will say that no, it’s not the best way to handle loneliness. Any sense of hope for connection is wiped out with one, “Hey baby, you’re sexy.”
You plummet back to Earth.
Online dating is a great way to meet people you never would otherwise, and it can be a supremely fun activity when you’re in a positive frame of mind. But when you’re in a lonely mood, online dating can actually exacerbate your loneliness.
Let’s discuss the top three reasons online dating does not cure – or even reduce – loneliness.
1. It’s about time…
There is a mountain of evidence that suggests loneliness is not caused by being alone; it’s caused by a lack of relationships that feel deep and satisfying. While relationships that start online certainly can become deep and satisfying (many people find their life-mates online), gaining this kind of depth takes time.
You won’t achieve the kind of relationship that reduces loneliness in an hour or two of online dating. You very well may find your husband or wife online, but you won’t get the emotional benefits of having a husband or wife right away. That takes time.
2. It’s about technology…
Technology is just about the best (read: most efficient) way to meet new people these days. Gone are the days of striking up a conversation with a stranger at the bank, and for most people, that’s just fine. Give me a picture and a humorous tagline, thank you.
But there’s ample evidence that technology is not the best (read: most accurate) way to get to know someone. Knowing someone well is essential to developing a deep relationship, and there are certain ways technology makes that harder to do.
It’s been proven that everyone lies on their online dating profiles. It’s also been demonstrated that people have a harder time gauging sincerity when layers of communication like facial expression and body language are removed.
When it comes to satisfying relationships – the kind that ease loneliness – knowing one another well is critical. This is actually super hard to do online.
3. It’s about stress…
In his recent book Modern Romance, comedian Aziz Ansari recalls interviewing hundreds of young people involved in online dating. He describes talking to one girl, for whom “the process [of online dating] had morphed from something fun and exciting into a new source of stress and dread.”
While online dating can be awesome fun if you’re in the right mood, it can also become a source of stress if you’re in a negative mood. And in an ironic twist, loneliness has been found to actually increase the negative health consequences of stress.
One typical symptom of stress is increased inflammation in the body. A study performed at Ohio State University found that lonely individuals, when stressed, actually produced more body-wide inflammation than non-lonely individuals. This, along with other studies showing similar findings, suggests that online dating plus loneliness could equal a stress double-whammy.
The good news is that finding love is definitely not the only path out of loneliness. Instead of dating-when-lonely, try reconnecting with a friend or investing some time in yourself. Once you’re feeling happier and more connected, go online and get those dates locked down.