This year marks a decade of swiping-induced thumb strains, cringeworthy chat-up lines, and the curious invention of “ghosting.” Tinder is growing up. Sadly, this hasn’t been mirrored by any kind of accountability being shown by the powers that be in today’s dating-app industry.

There are a host of positive effects that have been spawned by the dating-app invasion, such as a destigmatization of sexuality, the opportunity to explore new experiences and places, and the chance to forge a lasting, loving relationship.

However, these positives are being overshadowed by a complete lack of psychological support these apps should be offering as part of their platforms.

The collective cabin fever of lockdown led to a 12 per cent increase in Tinder conversations during the pandemic, but since then, downloads have dropped while competitors such as Bumble and Thursday have enjoyed continued growth. Tinder may no longer be the flavour of the month, but dating apps remain hugely popular across the world.

Over the course of Tinder’s 10-year domination of the market, we have seen an increasing number of reports showcasing the ways these apps are negatively impacting our brain chemistry.

Although we must not overlook the fact that a number of successful relationships — and a third of marriages — trace their origins back to platforms such as Tinder, the reality is that these apps’ business models depend on continued swiping. If everybody who went on Tinder immediately found a deep, meaningful connection and then deleted it, we certainly wouldn’t find ourselves talking about a multibillion-dollar app 10 years later.

This is the troubling issue that lies at the heart of the general dating-app system: it’s not geared toward the creation of healthy relationships and connections; rather, it’s designed to trigger the brain’s reward system.

When we receive a notification that we’ve matched with someone, it causes a dopamine spike, which in turn stimulates a brief injection of pleasure. Even the simple act of looking through a series of attractive faces on the app causes increased activity in the region of our brain involved in reward-processing. The heightened unpredictability of the “match” mechanism only adds to these heightened dopamine levels.

There is nothing inherently bad about stimulating dopamine production, and in the short-term at least, it feels great. However, building our dopamine pathways in the unhealthy, excessive way that dating apps encourage is negatively impacting people’s mental well-being in the long run.

While dating apps trigger the release of dopamine, they fail to induce the complementary opioid system into action, which roars to life whenever we have a high sense of satisfaction and fulfilment. The intense high then quickly wears off, and you are thus motivated to keep scrolling as you chase more of that feeling.

Aside from this, a 2016 study found that dating-app users report lower levels of self-esteem, along with reduced psychosocial well-being, compared to non-users.

Online dating also has a worrying association with increased rates of depression. This stems from the throwaway culture that dating apps facilitate, where users are presented with an overload of choice and the shield of the screen, which enables them to “ghost” someone without any fear of damage to their social reputation.

Dating apps have mutated into melting pots for mental health issues and damaged connections, and the fault lies firmly with those who run these apps. They must take ownership of the impact their systems can have on users’ well-being, and to take steps to offer emotional, psychological and relational support.

The data leak that spilled out of Ashley Madison, the extramarital affair platform, reinforced accusations that the firm was faking female profiles to draw more men to the site. The company boasts a 70/30 female-male split, yet of the 35-million-plus records that were leaked, only five million belonged to women. In 2014, the Federal Trade Commission charged JDI Dating, which ran 18 dating sites, with fraudulently messaging visitors from false, computer-generated profiles. It reached a settlement that prohibits JDI Dating from using these fake, computer-generated profiles. That it happened at all though epitomizes the prioritization of profits over the well-being of users that sadly pervades the dating-app industry.

Education for users is therefore crucial. This should come from the dating platforms themselves.

However, while this continues to be overlooked in favour of new growth strategies and higher profit margins, we must take steps ourselves to become more self-aware.

If dating apps will not provide this help, then users need to seek out support and learn what they can be doing to better protect themselves against the emotional and psychological issues these platforms can foster.

This involves setting boundaries and being 100 per cent clear on what you want when entering these apps, and not deviating from this in the name of the next short-lived dopamine hit.

There is no shame in either seeking a one-night stand or wanting a long-term relationship, as long as we are clear — both to ourselves and others — about why we are looking for this.

Dating apps are turning into emotional war zones. The onus is therefore on us to strengthen our psychological defences and bolster our mental arsenals as much as possible, and enable ourselves to have genuine fun on these platforms.

We can achieve this by taking steps to do the self-work and self-reflection we need, before we charge headfirst into a battle that’s been raging for more than a decade.

My bio: Stefanos Sifandos is an entrepreneur and relationship coach who has worked for over two decades in the personal development/transformation and self-help space.