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It’s Complicated: How dating apps affect mental health

Editor’s Note: This is the third article in a series that explores various issues related to college relationships and how they impact students’ mental health.

With the rise of new technology within the last few years and social media becoming an integral part of college culture, it is now easier than ever to meet new people, interact with them and date.

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Dating apps have become an important part of college students’ lives and a new way to find belonging in a place where they feel free, which begs the questions: How do dating apps affect students’ mental health, and what may a healthy relationship that began over a dating app look like? 

“Healthy relationships have quality time,” said Jennifer Harman, an associate professor in CSU’s psychology department. “You do things unconditionally. It’s not just saying the nice, but also not saying the mean. They express care, and love goes a long way.”

Despite technology changing the world radically within the last 20 years, the need for a relationship has not changed much.

“The need to have relationships hasn’t changed a lot,” Harman said. “There’s always a need to belong. What has changed is how we meet people. Technology has changed how we meet people.”

Technology has made it easier for people to get to know one another and interact with others they might have never talked to otherwise, said Harman, who also explained dating apps are “good for people who are shy and have trouble introducing themselves.”

Some students at CSU also believe dating apps provide a great way to meet new people.

“I think they are chill and can be useful if you’re trying to meet people,” said Emily Leugers, a senior political science major at CSU. 

On the other hand, some students, such as CSU freshman political science major Courtney Russell, don’t use dating apps.

“Personally, I’m not a fan,” Russell said. “But people can do whatever they want.”

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(Dating apps) set up false expectations for you. It also changes the information you can get. It changes how people want to portray themselves, and that can lead to very biased perceptions.” -Jennifer Harman, associate professor, CSU psychology department

But both students and faculty agree dating apps can have an impact on the mental health of college students. It can change expectations, make people vulnerable and change how people feel about other people, Harman said.

“(Dating apps) set up false expectations for you,” Harman said. “It also changes the information you can get. It changes how people want to portray themselves, and that can lead to very biased perceptions.”

Dating apps can also lead to conflict that can leave a person confused.

“When you’re texting or emailing, it can be convenient, but it can also interfere, draw attention away and people can misread,” Harman said. “There’s a lot of room for misinterpretation and misunderstanding.”

Harman’s advice for dealing with this is to meet a person and ground it in reality. In other words, students should look at the virtual world and put it into reality.

One of the other ways students believe their mental health could be affected by dating apps is through the nagging thoughts of what is going on in those dating apps. 

“Sometimes it could probably be harmful because of the thought of, ‘Are people swiping on me or not,’”  said Leugers, who explained that social media culture can also be harmful and detrimental in general. 

Other students believe it can also lead to negative thoughts about oneself. 

“It can be very damaging to people’s confidence and self-esteem and objectifies people on how they look rather than their personality,” Russell said.

Although dating apps and the effects they cause may seem normal to students at CSU, other students do not feel the same way.

“I come from a different country,” said Sanskar Vyas, a sophomore economics major at CSU. “Dating apps are really foreign to me. If you want to date someone, be best friends first.”

Harman gives advice for anyone who goes on their first date with a person they met through a dating app. 

“Watch your drink, have friends that you can call and contact (and) don’t commit to a long date,” Harman said. “Just be cautious of the people you meet, and be careful. There’s dangers of predators who fake who they are and who misrepresent themselves. Meet at a public place. Let people know where you are.” 

What Harman said she recommends is balance.

“Just have balance in your life,” Harman said. “Don’t go on 20 dates on the weekend. Shut off notifications. There’s plenty of time for dating.”

While many of the psychological effects of dating apps aren’t known, the advice from students and professors alike remains the same: stay safe, and do as you please.

Gerson Flores Rojas can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @GersonFloresRo1.

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