Dating Trends in Millennials & Mental Health Impact

Dating in the 21st century is nothing like what it used to be. Handwritten letters have now been replaced with abbreviated versions of ‘I love you’ texts and going out for a dinner date has been traded for ‘Netflix and chill’. Technology has sure advanced and has made connecting with people easier than ever, particularly during the lockdown. We sure do have the privilege of having a facetime date amidst a worldwide pandemic. Who would have thought?

In the world of smartphone applications, the contenders for dating apps are no less, giving us plenty of options for finding the ‘right partner’. With the growing number of online users, digital dating trends are now becoming more popular than ever, and the list is never ending. It won’t be a surprise if dating apps will soon be accompanied by it’s own dictionary of ‘Online Dating Trends’. However, the world of online dating, although easily accessible, is challenging to navigate through and comes with its own price.

Common Millennial Dating Trends:

1. Ghosting (Also known as Simmering or Icing):

‘I left them on read’

‘Oh, I ghosted them weeks ago’

Most of us may have heard these causal statements in passing, but have you ever wondered what it actually means? In the world of online dating, ‘Ghosting’, has now become common practice and is often referred to as ‘the mother of all dating trends’. Essentially, it’s the online dating version of the silent treatment, wherein one is being ignored by someone without any explanation, closure or official breakup. This can occur over text, voice messages, phone calls or instant messaging/emails, the person simply disappears.

The less brutal version of this is referred to as ‘Soft Ghosting’ , where instead of cutting off entirely, an individual would do it gradually over the course of time, for example, from texting everyday to once in a few days or to just reacting to social media posts before they completely disappear.

2. Zombieing:

Imagine this, you’ve just been ghosted by someone you actually liked and just when you start coming to terms with things not working out, your screen flashes in bold ‘sorry for being MIA’. Zombeing occurs when someone who has previously ghosted you, suddenly tries to contact you again. And yes, it literally means ‘rising from the dead’. It can be in the form of a random text or an out of the blue 3:00 am call, just as a little nudge to say ‘Hey, remember me?’

3. Orbiting:

Have you ever experienced an ex or an old flame sporadically making their presence felt on your social media? If yes, then you’ve been orbited. Orbiting is defined as the act of someone who is no longer part of your life, engaging with you on social media. This could manifest itself in ways such as liking an old instagram post, viewing your stories or reacting to them with no intention of having a conversation or simply sending you a facebook friend request.

4. Benching:

You must have heard of ‘substitute players’ right? These are the ones who in a game of basketball may be ‘benched’, so they’re still part of the team but not actually part of the game. Essentially they’re waiting their turn that may come up in case a player gets injured or the coach decides it’s time for a change. In terms of dating as well, benching follows a similar procedure, wherein, a person may appear to be interested in you & tries to get to know you, but at a very slow pace, with interactions spread across weeks. The idea behind this is that the person may actually be on the lookout for someone ‘better’ but will still string you along as a ‘backup’. Benching may also commonly be referred to as keeping you on the hook or being led on.

5. Kitten Fishing:

A kitten is essentially a young or baby cat. Similarly, Kitten-fishing is the less intense version of cat-fishing; when someone steals another person’s identity online Coined by the popular dating app, Hinge, Kitten-fishing refers to being deceptive about your identity online. This can range from using an extremely old or edited picture of yourself, or exaggerating your interests & qualities while conversing with people on dating apps.

6. Insta Grandstanding:

Have you ever posted a story on instagram specifically for one person to see? You keep going back to the ‘list of views’ just to see if they’ve seen it and in case they haven’t it completely defeats the purpose of putting it up? If yes, then unknowingly you have engaged in Insta Grandstanding. While the term may seem rather new, this is one of the most common millennial dating trends & one that we are all guilty of at some point or the other. Grandstanding refers to customizing your instagram feed keeping another person in mind, hoping that the content you generate might grab their attention. This can include posting about watching a movie you know was on their watch list or uploading a picture of you visiting their favourite restaurant.

Mental Health Impact of these Dating Trends

There is no doubt about the fact that internet dating is difficult and confusing, however, little is known about its impact on users’ mental health.

Rejection is a common occurrence in online dating, occurring at the speed of flash, whether it’s swiping left on autopilot, leaving your matches on ‘read’ or ghosting them right after the first date. Although, there can be multiple reasons why someone chooses to disengage with you, it is difficult to not take things personally.

Consider the case of a 20 year old girl, Sneha. She comes into therapy with issues relating to self-worth & extremely low self-esteem, particularly in the domain of physical appearance. She has been trying online dating apps for a few months now, however, she has never met any of the matches in person. Instead, she prefers to fade out the conversation right before it reaches that point of being asked out on a date. When probed about the reasons behind doing this, she said ‘I am scared that I am not good enough to look at & they’ll lose interest in me once they see me’.

Most dating apps operate like a conveyor belt, images keep coming and going and the first instinct of swiping right occurs simply on the basis of how appealing their pictures are to you. Many times, your right swipes may not be reciprocated, making you question yourself. Imagine a scenario where Sneha does gather the courage to venture out on a date with Gautam, someone she met online and has been talking to since over a month. She believes her first meeting with him went well, they had dinner, spoke about their interests and laughed at each other’s jokes. However, her worst nightmare does come true. After their first meeting, Gautam seemed to be uninterested, taking days to reply to texts, with no mention of plans to meet again. Although, this could simply be because the two of them share different interests, for someone like Sneha, who already perceives herself as ‘not being attractive enough’, the workings of the online dating world can be extremely detrimental, reinforcing her insecurities about her appearance.

Rejection is a normal part of life, but when it occurs repeatedly, it can be psychologically harmful, building up the idea that ‘you’re not worthy’. In fact, research has suggested that being rejected stimulates the same areas of the brain as physical pain. In addition to this, being constantly aware of your competition can increase social comparisons, leading individuals to become overly critical and sensitive to their physical appearance. In such a scenario, getting stuck in a spiral of negative thoughts is easy.

Am I really that unlikeable?
Am I falling short of what is required?
Is my picture not pretty enough?
Do I need to lose weight?

The rat race of online dating brings up such questions in the minds of clients on a daily basis. The result of all this? Extremely low self esteem, that may also manifest into depression or anxiety.

Let’s take another example. Aman, a 23 year old, met Zara through an app and they had been dating on and off for about a year. He eventually confesses to her that he is in love with her and would like to be in a relationship officially. Zara seems unsure about this and the same cycle continues for another 6 months. Aman realises this is not what he wants and with great difficulty calls it quits. Although it was extremely hard for him to do so and move on, he has been trying his best. He came in for therapy a few months later, claiming to be extremely sad and unable to move on. After exploring further, it came up that Zara was trying to contact him occasionally. Whether it was a random text asking ‘what’s up’ or sending him random memes, almost pretending like nothing happened. Almost feels like a bit of Orbiting.

While initially any sort of communication initiated by your ex can be flattering, but in the long run, seeing their name pop up again and again can actually hurt even more. Such mixed reactions from one’s ex can give you false hopes and expectations. They may feel they still have a chance, only to be let down. It is common knowledge that the hormone ‘Oxytocin’ is involved with feelings of bonding and love. However, it is not something that disappears in a split second after a break up. Technically, every time you see your partner’s name or picture pop up on your screen, the hormone is released again, making you feel the same way. As a result, repeated reminders from your ex only makes healing harder, similar to what Aman was facing with Zara.

As we are on the lookout for ‘better options’, the endless cycle of swiping, scrolling, matching & unmatching, activates the addiction centers of our brain, turning the practice of online dating into a habit. At the onset, this may seem exciting. Multiple matches, likes, positive comments and messages are flattering for everyone, right? However, if you’ve spent long enough on such applications, stuck in a rut of answering the same 5 questions, with not a single fruitful outcome, you are likely to feel hopeless and exhausted. This is referred to as Dating fatigue, and yes it’s real! Although having too many options is not the worst possible thing that can happen, more often than not, it leaves people feeling tired and frustrated, giving up on the hope of finding a partner.

Living in a fast paced world, where new innovations are coming up at the speed of light, getting stuck in the culture of dispensability is easy. However, one must remember that when applied to interpersonal relations, this can be emotionally damaging. It is easy for online dating trends to make people feel replaceable and depersonalised, directly impacting their mental health. Our interactions with others sure do have a biological basis, making it inevitable to feel pain, however, we still have the power to set boundaries. It is true that dating apps are a great platform to meet people and do have a number of success stories attached to them, but one must be mindful while using them.


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