Online dating is fun. But here is the problem. Various dating experts at Datinghive, a  platform dedicated to online dating, have been observing the leap in user-numbers and the growth of new apps and brands in the matchmaking industry past year. In the jungle of now more than 2,500 dating sites in the UK, it is easy to lose one’s bearings.

In the last year, during long months of social isolation, our free time behavior radically changed. During the absence of friends and social contacts, we spent more and more time in front of the screen.

Of course, we had long since gone online to flirt – in fact, 31% of relationships in the UK have met their partner via the internet. Online matchmaking promises a responsible and effective solution, with lots of entertainment and in the hope of actually finding a partner for real life.

Some hopeful singles try different apps and get stuck somewhere sooner or later. Many find what they are looking for, meet a lovely person and return to their real lives with confidence and joy.

For others, online dating becomes a trap. They lose themselves in the supposed availability of unlimited contacts. But what happens when someone spends many hours a day (or night) on dating apps, is logged into several apps at the same time, and draws their energy, their entire zest for life from these platforms?

When do we talk about addiction in terms of online behavior?

Every time a new message arrives, a smiley or a rose is sent, the brain releases a dose of dopamine as a reward. As with other addictions, this rush-like kick increases the desire for repetition. Phases of excitement, arousal, plateau follow, then a feeling of deprivation that calls for renewed activation. Thus, a dependency towards the dating app’s reward system develops slowly.

As with other addictions, online addiction demands stronger and more frequent stimuli. What starts with the use of a single dating app expands to the simultaneous use of various apps with multiple profiles.

Users are upgrading their dating by pulling decent pick-up lines from the internet; instead of develop a unique and  personal approach to establishing a relationship with others. They are putting together the building blocks of their communication indiscriminately in order to cultivate a large number of contacts simultaneously.

For them, it’s not the quality of a contact that counts, but the quantity of messages and matches. And despite their frequent activities on dating apps, a real encounter rarely occurs.

Online dating platforms were originally designed to match a partner. Therefore, they provide tools that facilitate chats and digital ways of communicating with other British singles. However, the obvious intention has changed in recent years.

With the introduction of chats and video chats, users are spending more and more time on the platform itself, rather than stepping outside and meeting new people.

Where once it was all about finding a date as quickly and accurately as possible and then meeting a potential partner for a date, now it’s all about extended and elaborate flirting without the goal of an actual, real date.

Those who have lost confidence that something desirable, good and exciting can happen in real life cling to casual, virtual encounters. The difficulty of meeting a person outside, especially hard in the last year of the Corona pandemic, tempts many users to spend more time online on dating sites.

Gamification on online mobile dating apps in the UK

The trend toward spending more time online is reinforced by what is known as “gamification” of dating services. Many dating sites in the UK reward their users for their activity on the site with entertaining games, puzzles and playful icons.

For example, those who successfully solve a puzzle are rewarded by their brain through the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which creates a feeling of well-being and a shot of self-confidence. This causes the user to want to repeat this sense of achievement and take up another game or contact.

After many repetitions, however, the pleasant feeling fails to materialize, as the brain has become “accustomed” to the increased dopamine levels and deregulates them. The lack of reward leads users to seek new short-term highs by flirting with new singles online, creating different profiles under new nicknames, or setting up different identities on multiple apps.

Such behavior is problematic when it leads to a user losing themselves in the online world. A flirt or a date are no longer the goal; instead, engaging with the platform has become an end in itself.

The business model of many dating apps and agencies is based on a subscription system or on the purchase of “credits” required for advanced features of the platform, such as video-calls or sending messages. Providers are enticing users to spend as much time as possible on their applications, leading to many members getting hooked for good.

But can we really talk about addiction here?

Officially, „internet addiction” is a medically recognized behavioral addiction, similar to addictions towards gaming and porn. When a user’s interest in other, previously important aspects of his or her life diminishes rapidly or even replaces friendships and relationships, one can speak of an addictive behavior.

Further common characteristic of addiction is the inability to stop the problematic behavior. Therefore, anyone who, despite successfully initiated chats, no longer manages to make the leap into real life and feels no desire to deepen a contact through meeting and personal exchange, should critically question their behavior.

Who is at risk?

Initial studies suggest that people with social phobias or a tendency toward depression and anxiety disorders are more affected by addictive behavior. This is also true for dating addiction. Dating platforms are particularly popular with introverts, who can overcome their shyness more easily in the protected space of the online world. But continued use of the platform reinforces contact inhibitions, because successful chats are not transported into the real world.

Perfectionists are also attracted to the promise of ever-available, ever-better profiles. In this shopping mentality, the user believes that there can always be someone better or more attractive. This optimization mania can become obsessive and develop into a dating addiction.

Some users are motivated by their hunting fever. The process of hooking up is exciting and rewards the hunter when the object of his hunt bites. The perceived oversupply makes it difficult to make a binding decision for a person. The hunt continues.

What should you do if you notice addictive dating behavior in yourself?

Or your friends are concerned that you are constantly chatting online and hole up within your own four walls? Here it is important to ask: What is good for me and what is not? If the intensity and time of online activities have increased to the point that real life, be it education or job, family or circle of friends are neglected and become more and more insignificant, then it’s time to set boundaries for yourself out of self-love and responsibility.

As with other addictions, total cessation is difficult but effective. Unsubscribe from all forums, delete apps, and control your online behavior. If you find that you don’t have the strength for radical withdrawal on your own, seek psychotherapeutic help or contact an addiction counseling center.

As dating professionals, we generally recommend a targeted partner search, so that the time spent online is minimized and the chance of dating in real life is increased. That’s why we offer carefully researched, target group-specific comparisons of different platforms and apps free of charge for our users on Datinghive.co.uk.

This drastically lowers the risk of getting lost in the bottomless pit of countless, often unsuitable, dubious or spammy online dating agencies. A wonderful date in real life with a potential dream partner is the best antidote to creeping dating addiction. And meeting and sharing, laughter and tenderness in real life vitalizes and is still the most sustainable and beneficial source of dopamine for our reward-hungry brain.