Dating apps: a revolution of narcissism?

19 Feb

With the influx of dating apps and online dating, never before in the history of humanity have we had such easy access to such a vast pool of potential partners. However, this phenomenon also raises some fundamental flaws in the system...

Mobile phone full of small portrait photos. Concept of social networking.

Never before in the history of humanity have we had such easy access to such a vast pool of potential partners. With millennials now constituting 79% of dating app users, it may be the case that, in just a decade’s time, it will be unusual for a couple to have met offline. As of January 2018, Tinder alone has a staggering 50 million users worldwide, a number that is only growing exponentially, with these users spending an average 35 minutes a day swiping. However, with such a vast pool comes the conundrum of vast competition: how to attract someone when, most likely, they’ll look at but a single picture of you, and probably not even bother reading your already-very-concise bio? The need to impress someone in such a brief flash of time would increasingly appear to be leading to a generation of – speaking frankly – narcissists. How is this affecting the expectations of online daters?

Psychology of online communication

Nonverbal signalling is the often-overlooked, unsung-hero underpin of all interpersonal communication, and it is an essential factor in the evolution of human interaction. Online communication removes nonverbal cues from the equation. In some theories of human communication, this can lead to users of dating apps cognitively reorienting to the only physical person actually in the environment: themselves. The person with whom they are communicating is not there to give off nonverbal signals, which so often speaks volumes – more than what is actually being said. This can lead to the user of the dating app to become more self-focused – everyone else is just a two-dimensional character in the clinically digital realm of the app. This is not necessarily a good foundation on which to start chatting with a potential partner, and has none of the exciting nuances of a face-to-face encounter:

  • Posture: is he leaning in to you ever so subtly? Is she edging her leg towards yours as you speak?
  • Gesticulation: is she subconsciously mimicking your body language? Is he expressive when he speaks?
  • Physicality: does he touch your arm when he makes a point? Does she play with her hair as she flirts?

These subtle but crucial nonverbal cues, control the dynamics and flow of a conversation, and without them, both people speaking via the dating app may feel an absence of real warmth.

Sex and narcissism

This lack of real personable feeling on a dating app can lead to users (particularly men) becoming more focused on casual sexual encounters and not really getting to the know the person on the other end of the phone. Tinder in particular has gained a reputation (rightly or wrongly) as the ultimate ‘hook-up’ app, and, after an impromptu sexual tryst, many users are happy to move on to the next person. Dating apps can also lead to narcissism in another key way. The stiff competition and minimal format of the apps can lead to a greater focus on appearing immediately and blatantly physically attractive – the choice is usually either this or simply be swiped ‘no’ on. This can encourage a higher level of vanity in users than they would otherwise have, as they vie to have a more attractive profile pictures than anyone else.

Selective self-presentation

In real life, as well as online, people will generally behave and present themselves in ways that show them at their best. In psychological terminology, this is selective self-presentation, and it is perfectly natural. Especially on the dating scene, we all want to appear as our optimal selves in order to win over a potential partner. Dating apps amplify this phenomenon with their minimal format: you often have only a few hundred characters with which to write about yourself – and most people won’t bother reading it anyway! Selective self-presentation can therefore heighten levels of narcissism as people attempt to squeeze in the best bits about their life and achievements into a tiny bio. Users of dating apps can also choose the pictures that they feel optimally present them, even if the lighting, angle (or distance!) inevitably portray them as more attractive. Back in days of yore, the dating game was an entire world away: people would only know you in person; they would get to know you gradually, grow to understand your flaws (but choose to see past them, if they liked you enough). Dating apps have all but diminished this traditional manner of courtship.

Values and expectations

The immense amount of competition on dating apps, and the capacity that users have to edit their profiles to perfection, has led to people having hopelessly unrealistic expectations of potential partners, with studies showing that, indeed, people who didn’t use dating apps were much less choosy. Furthermore, the expectations of the users themselves actually increased after having joined an app. This lack of realism can lead to a perpetual search through dating app after dating app for Mr. or Mrs. Perfect who just does not exist: we all have our foibles, and it is a key aspect of real love to accept people’s funny ways for what they are, not expect them to be eliminated altogether on a whim. None of this is to disparage the users of dating apps, or indeed the apps themselves. The problem is, they tap into an inherent narcissism which we all hold and take it too far, to the point of unhappiness and lost hope in romance.

 

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by Rachel Vida MacLynn

Founder & CEO

Rachel Vida MacLynn is reputed as being a world-leading matchmaking and dating expert. Registered as a Chartered Psychologist with the British Psychological Society, Rachel advocates a professional matchmaking approach based on psychological principles and professional consultation.More by this author

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