Dear Dr. Toni:
I know that dating apps are the primary way people are meeting these days if you are over 40 and don’t want to go to bars, but is it possible to become addicted to internet dating? I am a 52-year-old woman who has been single for 3 years and am self – employed. I don’t meet people (men) at social events or the grocery store and I don’t go to bars as aforementioned. Recently I have been spending a lot of time on this internet dating site because there are men constantly reaching out to me and I am becoming addicted to the attention. It is such a contrast from being out in the world where I feel invisible to them while they ogle young women in the stores or at the park.
I feel that it is in getting in the way of my doing marketing for my business and I haven’t met anyone near by that I want to continue dating and yet I continue to stay on this site and open emails from people I will never be interested in dating.
What should I do, Dr Toni? Am I addicted?
“Dating App Porn” Addict
I hear your frustration and confusion. Just like food is something we need unlike substance abuse addictions, being plugged into the dating app world can become addictive for the same reason sugar is. It hits neurotransmitters in the brain that stimulate dopamine.
This is pulled from a longer article by Mia Levitin in the New Statesman, “Dating apps have been shown to be pathologically addictive: according to Tinder – by far the market leader – the average user logs in 11 times per day, spending about 77 minutes daily in pursuit of the neurochemical cocktail dished out each time there’s a match. The ding lights up the same pleasure centres in the brain activated by eating chocolate, viewing erotic imagery, or snorting cocaine.
Like any interface in our attention economy, there are “a thousand people on the other side of the screen” whose job it is to keep you hooked, says “design ethicist” Tristan Harris, one of a growing band of ex-tech execs reckoning with the Frankensteins of their creation. Every last detail of the user experience is engineered to keep our hands and eyes glued to the smartphone – from the colours and sounds of notifications to the timing of their receipt.”
There is a book on this from the research I did that substantiates that this addiction is real and designed to keep you hooked, gaming entrepreneur Nir Eyal elaborates on this theme in Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products.
The kind of addiction that internet dating creates is very much akin to gambling. The actual addiction is to the uncertainty it creates. They design them to keep you in wanting and over time to get less and less pleasure out of it. So, you are not alone in this.
The key is to identify what it’s replacing that feels missing in your life? Perhaps orient yourself away from looking for someone and go out to meet ups, join a church (if you are not religious, there are non-denominational ones like Unity and Church of Religious Science), volunteer for a charity whose efforts you support, or take a class and learn something new. If it feels like an addiction, it probably is one and the only answer to recovering from any addiction is cold turkey but perhaps before you go cold turkey, bring some new social activity into your life so you won’t be hit with chemical withdrawal and be back to the isolation and loneliness of working from home all the time. Think of meetups and church as your own version of methodone for heroin addicts. Take a risk. Get curious about how to truly fulfill yourself because these game designers are starting to operate like something right out of The Matrix.
Although to my knowledge, there are no twelve step progams per say for this, you could go to a Sex, Love, and Fantasy Anonymous meeting as well. There are probably people there who also have the internet (fantasy) addiction going on…