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Tinder & Self-Esteem: How Dating Apps Ruined My Self-Image

Cain Parish

In This Article:

I was lucky enough to be introduced to the concept of dating apps when Tinder started creeping into the mainstream. Around eight years ago, I picked up the app for the first time, unknowingly putting my self-esteem on the chopping block as I did so. Let’s learn about how I managed this.

A wireframe of a man sitting crossed legged on the ground looking at Tinder and feeling the apps' effect on his self esteem

Table of Contents

I like it when people find me attractive. Not really a ground-breaking concept, but here we are.

One of the things that gives me the most satisfaction is knowing someone finds me good looking, or compelling to speak to, or in some way engaging. My ego is pretty fragile, and I like it to be reinforced by outside sources.

It’s not a super healthy way to live my life, but it is what it is. I’m working on it.

I’ve had this perspective for many years now. I was lucky enough to be introduced to the concept of dating apps when Tinder started creeping into the mainstream. Around eight years ago, I picked up the app for the first time, unknowingly putting my self-esteem on the chopping block as I did so.

At the time, it was pretty reprehensible to say you were on dating apps. There was an initial pushback to them, when they were seen as pathetic or an admission of your lack of success in the real world. I remember being the butt of a few jokes that were just grounded enough in reality to make me think about whether they had a point.

Did my lack of hesitance to accept online dating mean I was more desperate than the average person? Honestly, probably. I was pretty enthusiastic about a way to meet people that didn’t involve actually putting myself out there. Back to back strings of rejection had left my confidence pretty much crumpled up in the corner, until I was quite convinced that face to face dating wasn’t for me.

So, I got to work. I’ve never been a fan of social media or the ritualistic picture taking and constant updates that come with it. I had to go out and experiment with selfies, with different and creative ways of getting myself digitised. Eventually, I had a few pictures I was content with, and a bio cobbled together from whatever jokes or tips I could find on the internet at the time.

A man sitting crossed legged on the ground looking at Tinder and feeling the apps' effect on his self esteem

If you’ve ever tried to match with men on Tinder, it would seem like the advice going around looks a little something like the following.

Tips for fragile men on Tinder:

  1. Always put your height as the first line in your bio. If you don’t have a personality or want to compensate for your average looks, an arbitrary statistic you’ve been told women find attractive will serve as a great replacement!
  2. Make sure you perfect your smoulder. Women detest the idea that prospective partners are capable of things like fun or showing emotion, so make sure to lean on that one study from 2013 that showed a 4% improvement when you don’t smile even a single time in your photos.
  3. If you’ve got a good body, make sure to flaunt it. Things like your unkempt toiletries and dirty bathroom mirror only serve to highlight just how hard you’re flexing the abs you don’t have. Remember, if you get a hernia, it’s worth it for the faint shadow somewhere around your stomach. I swear, it wasn’t a stray hair. I’m just that ripped.
  4. Instagram filters aren’t just for things like ‘enhancing photographs’ and ‘making pictures look better’. No, they actually have a subtle second benefit, turning up the contrast in your gym selfies until the environment looks unrecognisable and you look like you have an autoimmune disorder from the grain and distortion in the shot. But your shoulder looks slightly better in that tank top, so I’d consider it a win.
  5. The bio section is not made for you to demonstrate your likes and dislikes, interests, or anything that makes you distinct from other humans. It is in fact a place to copy and paste the same top 5 trendy bio options you thought were funny the first eight times you saw them on google. Bonus points if you combo an unoriginal joke with a weirdly sexual and downright gross remark. We want the red flags to be distinct and easily visible.
  6. If by the grace of God you actually find a match, make sure you’re either abruptly forward, weirdly creepy, or just plain boring. Things like forming human connections or even just enjoying an actual conversation are dumb. Why bother speaking to someone like a human when you can use the shotgun approach, blasting out invitations to rub up against one another left and right? Someone has to say yes eventually. That’s how science works.

Okay, so some of those might not have been actual advice. But lord knows men on Tinder have stuck to their ways for longer than seems sensible. I am certainly not the only person to be frantically desperate for even a sliver of intimacy from the opposite gender.

Once I had my do’s and don’ts in order, I started swiping. At that point in time, the Tinder landscape was actually pretty forgiving. Before they turned into a soul-sucking, money-hungry black hole where self-esteem goes to die, Tinder was actually pretty good at facilitating matches.

Their fabled algorithm worked the way it was supposed to, matching you with people you thought were attractive and who thought you were attractive. The attention was reasonably consistent and it was pretty enjoyable.

I went on a lot of dates around this time. Some were good, and some were decidedly less so. Some highlights include:

  • Matching with a girl who was very upfront that she was only on the app to find love for her best friend. I agreed to a date with the friend, only to find the original girl there too. They spent three hours talking to one another while I essentially played pool by myself. The game wasn’t bad, all things considered. There was not a second date.
  • Jumping into bed with a lovely girl with some risqué tastes. I’m all for a little love bite here and there, but when your idea of a good time is un-subtly chewing on my lip despite my insistence that you stop, I’m going to have to pass. I woke up with a bruise, a much harder time consuming food, and two apology texts. I hope she found someone to cannibalise to her heart’s content.
  • Being invited to a house party in a nice suburb, only to find out the house was a well-dressed crack den. The amount of random drug paraphernalia on the floor, walls and furniture honestly left me impressed that anyone had any room to pass out. Despite what you’d think, I actually stayed for a few hours. They were some of the most delightful druggies I’ve ever met. The girl seemed thrilled I got along with her friends, so thrilled in fact that she ghosted me entirely after I left the party.

That part of my life was a whirlwind of interchangeable people. You may think it was a little dehumanising to just run around, swapping out girls at a breakneck pace. I entirely agree with you. It was unhealthy, toxic behaviour. Selfish people are very good at being selfish, and I was on the receiving end of selfish people as much as I was the perpetrator.

As it turns out, when you’ve got an app that reduces people to three to six pictures and some words on a screen, it’s hard to see them as people anymore. The earlier adopters of Tinder all wanted attention more than they were concerned about the taboo of being on a dating app.

It got so bad that you could start to tell who’d just installed the app by how they spoke, and how they structured their profile. The ones that were silly enough to be engaging in conversation or looking for some kind of genuine connection had obviously just downloaded the app the week before, buying into the fantasy that you could meet interesting people in a non-dehumanising way.

As the ‘culture’ started to get worse, humans did what humans do. We sucked the fun out of everything. This is when trends like getting desperate men to buy pizza for women, or linking every social media account you could have in your bio, started to become prominent. It was no longer about anything even resembling person-to-person interaction.

Attention became a commodity. As more men flocked to the app, the competition grew at a stiff rate. Nowadays, the statistics for male profiles to female profiles are so unfathomably skewed. Men make up such a majority of users on the apps, it’s no wonder most men struggle to even get a single match.

So what was happening to me as this transition occurred? Whilst the innocence was being sucked out of online dating, I was firmly hooked on the attention I was getting. Being able to have an endless source of new people to meet was delightful. I met some of my long term girlfriends, some one night stands, and a bunch of stuff in between from Tinder.

But, as the time went by, and the competition grew stiffer, and people started to see the idea of getting laid from your phone as less taboo, it became tougher and tougher. The same pictures weren’t cutting it anymore. Little by little, my matches started to dry up. The rejections hurt a little worse because I was no longer drowning in a pile of other options.

I used to be able to open my phone and see a dozen new smiling faces, brimming with possibilities. Slowly but surely, those numbers crept down into the single digits. And as my matches started to decline, my desperation went up.

As anyone with an addiction can and will tell you, when it starts to be pulled away from you, you try any and everything to get back what you previously had. Loss is a much more powerful motivator than gain.

New photos, new profiles, new opening lines. I knew there had to be something I could do to reverse the inevitable. I wanted to go back to what I had. It was bad enough that I wasn’t getting the validation I craved. Seeing other people getting matches became unbearable. My friends’ profiles became case studies to me, a gallery of tactics I could try to get back to the glory days.

But I was fighting a losing battle. Eventually, I started to accept that I wasn’t popular anymore. The rejections started to get to me. Seeing the same gloomy messages repeated over and over was a flashing neon sign telling me that I wasn’t worthy of the intimacy I still wanted more than anything.

Eventually, my dozens of matches per week dried up to one or two. I’d pore over the notifications on my phone. They had me hooked entirely. I truly believed I was down in the dregs of society. If my face wasn’t attractive enough to get a pass from the Tinder Powers That Be™, then clearly I wasn’t attractive.

Dating apps had become a mirror for real life. At no point did I consider that real life might be different than what I saw on my phone. It became a delusion, kept up by desperate attempts to try again, to see if something had changed. I firmly believed that Tinder, Hinge, Bumble and all the others were a perfect representation of my actual attractiveness, and that attractiveness was close to rock bottom.

I started to doubt compliments coming in. Someone clearly wasn’t aware of all the facts when they told me I had nice eyes. Sure, you think so now, but have you SEEN my lack of Tinder matches? Yeah, that’s what I thought. Get out of here with that fake news.

Even nowadays, I’m still recovering from the perspective that I developed for myself being so involved in online dating for so long. I am proud to say that I look and feel the best I ever have. I’m the healthiest, physically and mentally that I’ve ever been. I haven’t touched a dating app in almost a year.

My relationships with my romantic partners have become healthier and happier. I like meeting people in real life, seeing tension build and connections form right in front of me. My confidence has started to regrow, and for the first time in a very, very long while, I am beginning to accept I might not be as unattractive as Tinder had me believing.

It was a silly addiction to have. But, like anyone with a reliance on external factors, I felt the instability that comes from depending on other people. I will never be God’s gift to the opposite sex, and attention will always come and go in waves. Part of my life now is learning to live with those things, and seeing how I can heal and improve over time.

I can firmly say that I’ve never been happier.

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Cain Parish

Cain Parish is the owner of A prolific writer, educator and relationship coach since 2019, he specializes in dating, relationships, emotional intelligence and social skills. He is also the author and creator of the world’s largest and most comprehensive database for dating and relationship advice, which can be found on his website. His first book, I’m Sorry I Egged Your House, is due to be published in 2024.