Online dating is a window onto a whole new world of possibilities, but it also opens up a whole new world of potential pain and heartache. That hurt typically stems from increased exposure to rejection and the feelings it triggers.
In fact, although online dating may appear to be fun and casual on the surface, consistent exposure to rejection by prospective online dates can cause depression, insecurity, sadness, insomnia, and mood swings. From there, the fun quickly ends when symptoms of mental illness develop. (Explore how inpatient mental health treatment at FHE Health is helping people with major depression and bipolar disorder feel better and improve their quality of life.)
The Emotional Pitfalls of Online Dating
Online dating can be emotionally draining for many reasons. In this context, a person or relationship can be easier to idealize. Because people don’t initially meet in person, there is more opportunity to create a fantasy of who that online person is, both physically and personality-wise. When rejection dashes this fantasy and the illusions collide with reality, it can be a crushing blow to the heart.
Emotional ties can also begin quickly in the online dating world, where intensely texting back and forth can feel like being in a relationship. With dating users on multiple platforms, the sheer number of rejections can multiply exponentially.
3 Main Forms of Rejection When Online Dating
On top of the increase in the potential number of painful rejections, the online dating world involves different types of rejection. There is of course the traditional form of rejection, where someone might turn down an invitation to meet up on a date. There are also the more subtle forms of rejection that can cause equal if not more emotional pain, such as:
Ghosting is when a person suddenly “disappears” and cuts off all contact with someone they have been dating. This can leave a person feeling rejected, without knowing what happened to cause this person to suddenly disappear into thin air. There is also no definite closure or certainty that the person is no longer interested in dating the other.
Catfishing is when an online scammer has made up a fictitious identity to lure the other person into dating them for financial or other abusive gain. Rejection can be even more painful because the person doing the catfishing has manipulated the victim into believing they are a perfect match, and the romantic fantasy may feel like a dream come true.
If the person doing the catfishing doesn’t get what they want, they may be harsh, rude, or abusive when they end the online dating relationship. At the same time, their victim, upon discovering their lies, may feel ashamed for falling for the scheme.
Lack of Offline Dating
Online dating can be fun, especially when it is a novel experience. However, the novelty of virtual dating wears off when a person has not progressed to offline dating, which can feel like rejection. For example, someone who has been talking, texting, or messaging one person for a long period of time may feel rejected if there is never an invitation or effort to have a traditional in-person date. This rejection can be compounded when it happens more often than not with others online.
If one is not careful, the above types of online rejection can lead people to make faulty generalizations about oneself, others, and society. Some damaging distorted beliefs are: if one is ghosted, then “everyone will leave me;” if one is catfished, “no one can be trusted;” or if there is no progression to offline dating, then “no one wants me.” These types of distorted beliefs, among other possible results from online dating, can cause long-term emotional damage and distress.
5 Tips for Coping with Rejection in an Online Dating Context
The good news is that you do not have to buy into these distorted beliefs. You are also not helpless in the face of rejection and the feelings it triggers. There are things one can do to stay mentally and emotionally healthy in the face of rejection. What follow are some coping tips for how to do that in the online dating context:
Be Realistic with Expectations:
Dating can be thought of as a numbers game. It takes many, many rejections before the right matches are found. Try different online dating sites that fit the type of relationship and person you are looking for. Consider those with a large pool of dating candidates that match people up with similar interests and relationship goals.
Stay clear of sites that focus mainly on physical appearances and superficial hook-ups, since these can be breeding grounds for fickleness. Expect to weed through many profiles, knowing that there are many fish in the sea.
Repeat Positive Affirmations:
Write down 10 positive self-affirmations, take a photo of them, and store them in the phone. When rejection comes, take out the photo and read those affirmations aloud or internally. If it’s difficult to come up with 10 affirmations, ask friends and family to give input. When using an online dating app, have the affirmations ready and on hand to combat potential negative self-talk as quickly as possible.
Don’t go through the draining process of online dating alone. Have a variety of friends, family, and other people who can provide emotional support and levity through all the ups and downs. If depression or anxiety develop, seek professional support from a therapist who can listen and help keep things in perspective.
Take It Slow:
In the Internet world of instant gratification, it can be easy to rush into an emotional relationship online. Take the time to develop a profile that is an accurate self-portrayal, one that clarifies what you are looking for in a prospective date or relationship. Be as honest and thorough as possible when filling out personality profiles or information about interests on dating apps. Spend time finding out more about the other person, by asking a lot of questions before committing time and emotions into them.
Keep an Open Heart:
Constant rejection from the online dating world can cause a person to want to close their heart and shut others out. Don’t give up on finding that special someone if that is what your heart wants. Sometimes, engaging in a spiritual or religious practice can help to provide a sense of grounding and reassurance that the right person will come along at the right time.
Applying these tips can help to lessen the pain and mitigate the impact of online dating rejections. In the process, those rejections may become opportunities to grow into a stronger sense of self, with deeper determination to prioritize one’s life goals, values, and priorities.
This article was provided by Dr. Sachi Ananda, PhD, LMHC, MCAP, who directs “Shatterproof,” a treatment program for first responders at the national behavioral health provider FHE Health.