3 Harsh Reasons Dating Apps Make It Harder To Find A Partner

The scientific reason having more people to choose from doesn’t necessarily help you find a mate.

woman pensively sipping coffee in a fancy diner GaudiLab / shutterstock 

Do you find that the number of dating sites and potential partners makes you want to just give up and dive into another Netflix binge? Maybe you don't know that the apps are the problem — you just feel overwhelmed by dating in general.

If so, you’re not alone. And psychological research on choice can help you understand why.

Yes, it turns out there can be too many choices.

We have easier access to potential mates than ever before in history. Apps and websites give us instant access to thousands—even hundreds of thousands—of possible dating partners in seconds. But having more apps and more people to choose from doesn’t necessarily help you find a mate. That is in part because of something psychologists call the 'choice paradox' (Schwartz, 2016).


RELATED: Why Having Too Many Options Makes You Less Satisfied With Your Decisions

When you start dating online, the process can be tedious and time-consuming. First, you have to pick a dating site, app, or service and there are so many to choose from: Tinder. Match. Zoosk. Plenty of Fish. eHarmony. Jdate. Our Time. Bumble. Which should you pick?


If you haven’t given up on the process already, you pick one. Next, you have to create a profile that perfectly sums you up—or at least describes the person you believe yourself to be, or aspire to be.

What do you share? How do you present yourself? Do you share only the great things or do you put some of your flaws in your profile? What pictures should you upload or do you even put up a picture? This process can take hours because there are a lot of choices to make.

After you’ve finally uploaded something, you can begin searching for people you might want to date. Scrolling through an endless barrage of photos and biographies of potential partners, you have high hopes. There has to be a person out there who would be great for you. Someone who is unbelievably good-looking, has the same values, is smart and successful, and likes the things that you like. The person you’re looking for must be on this site somewhere because there are so many options.

Eventually, you start interacting with people. You might even meet in person. It turns out they’re really nice, but you will undoubtedly see something that you don’t like about them. They aren’t really your perfect mate. You think back to the thousands of online profiles and decide that you must have picked the wrong one. I mean, with all of these options, someone has to be exactly what you want in a partner, right?


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Three ways the phenomenon of 'choice paradox' is messing up your search for a partner

We often think that having a lot of choices is great. We believe the more options we have, the more likely we are to find the ideal one. But that’s not necessarily true. In fact, having a multitude of options to choose from doesn’t always lead us to greater satisfaction—especially when we’re dating online.

When you have too many options, the following three things are likely to happen to you:

1. It’s harder to make a choice.

Psychological research suggests that when we have too many options, it becomes incredibly difficult for us to make a choice. It’s called choice overload. It’s like standing in front of a massive grocery store aisle of cereal you’ve never tasted and trying to figure out the one you’re going to like the most. There are hundreds of cereals—everything from granola to oatmeal to boxed cereal. You’ve never tried any and have to pick one but have no way of knowing which is best for you.


The same concept applies to dating online. The more options you have for potential dating partners and sites, the harder it is to choose. Even if you find a couple of potential partners of interest, you may give up without contacting any of them because the sheer number of options makes you feel overwhelmed. The pressure to make the right choice seems more important than just making any choice and seeing how it goes.

2. You’re less satisfied with your selection.

When we have a lot of choices, we end up less satisfied with whatever we pick (Schwartz, 2011). That sounds strange, so let’s break it down a bit using our cereal example. After you pick one out of the hundreds of available options, you’re less likely to be happy with, even if you like the way it tastes. That's because you imagine that there was probably a different cereal that you might have liked more.

Applied to online dating, after you pick a dating site, or someone to go out with, you’re less likely to be satisfied. You start to wonder if another site or partner would have been better and contemplate whether you really like the person you’re on a date with or not. This is because there are so many other people you could have picked and you have a fear of missing out. 

RELATED: 3 Signs The Guy You Met Online Is A Big Liar


3. You think that your failure to find a mate is because you picked the wrong person and a better option is out there.

When we have too many options, we think that there is one option we could have picked that would have been the best: We could have maximized our choice potential. Your failure was due to your own bad choice. We could have had the perfect bite of cereal, if only we had picked a different kind.

When you start dating online and realize the people you’re meeting aren’t perfect, you think that the perfect person is still out there. You just haven’t picked them yet. This is where we really lie to ourselves because the truth is that relationships are messy, complicated, and not always easy. The perfect mate for you may not be at all who you envision when you’re scrolling through dating apps. In fact, it may be that your faulty thinking keeps you from enjoying the dating experiences and connecting to the people you are meeting.

The honest truth

Choice is the crux of the human condition. Our ability to think critically and make deliberate decisions is what really separates us from other animals. Yet, having a plethora of options to choose from doesn’t necessarily lead you to happiness, especially when you’re dating online. The variety of dating sites and potential mates can be so overwhelming that you can't choose, feel dissatisfied by the choices you do make, and deceive yourself into thinking that your ideal mate must still be out there among the options you didn’t select.


Now that you’re armed with this information, try not to let the number of online dating options keep you from meeting and enjoying new people. Although the number of choices you have to make can be staggering, you have the opportunity to learn more about yourself and others. Try to think of it as an experiment. Enjoy the people you meet, and remind yourself that pining over a fantasy person who may not exist isn’t going to help you find love.

RELATED: I Promised My Children One Thing After I Created An Online Dating Profile

Dr. Cortney Warren is a Board Certified Clinical Psychologist and expert on addictions, eating disorders, self-deception, and the practice of psychotherapy from a cross-cultural perspective.