Online Dating: Blessing or Curse?

me4by Katie ten Hagen

Let’s talk about dating. And by dating, I mean: online dating.

Online dating is both loved and reviled. Sites like Tinder and OKCupid make meeting new people easier than ever. But sifting through thousands of matches, starting and abandoning conversations like half-written novels, and repeatedly ditching bad first dates, can be draining.  Many yearn for a return to “simpler” days, and want to meet someone the “old fashioned way,” no matter how nostalgia-based and romanticized this yearning may be.

But still, these sites are still thriving. Those who are exhausted from the search for love keep going back, time and time again. What makes us do this? Why do we put ourselves through the heartbreak and stress again and again?

heart-1990963_1920There’s no simple answer other than that this is how the world is evolving. We shop for everything on the internet, from food to clothes to things to do. So why not love as well?  There is undeniable appeal to being able to “preview” a person before really trying them out. Why waste a night on a bad date if you can establish from a profile or a few sentences of conversation that there’s no possibility? Even sites like Tinder, where a match is based simply on mutual physical appeal, allow for quick weeding-out based on preliminary conversation.

Some may claim online dating is just a game, or a cure for boredom. People may join simply to peruse, with no intention of starting a relationship or even meeting someone. I had a friend who joined Tinder solely to talk to people about their dogs. (This was a bit disingenuous; she was in a happy, committed relationship, and the people she was “matching” with were presumably looking for slightly more than for her to just ask “what kind of dog is that?” But to be fair, her profile did clearly (and only) state “I swipe for dogs.”)

But online dating sites aren’t just for millennials. In fact, the main characteristics that people are looking for on dating sites don’t seem to vary by age. One study, (Menkin, Robles, Wiley, & Gonzaga, 2015) of users ranging from 20-95 on eHarmony, “found that users consistently valued communication and characteristics such as personality or kindness more than sexual attraction.” The researchers also found that “there was little evidence that older users valued companionship more,” and that older users valued sexual appeal just as highly as younger users.  This finding is echoed in the work of Nancy Schlossberg, whose LifeTools books Retire Smart, Retire Happy: Finding Your True Path in Life, and Revitalizing Retirement: Reshaping Your Identity, Relationships, and Purpose examine themes of “positive aging.”  Her forthcoming book, Too Young to Be Old: Love, Learn, Work, and Play as You Age (to be released in April, 2017), tackles the world of online dating for retirees head-on.

At the same time, Menkin et al. cautioned that their results were “similar to the finding that across the life span, people generally want to experience more low-arousal positive emotions (such as the warmth and comfort companionship provides) compared to high-arousal positive emotions (such as the excitement associated with sexual attraction).” This came as a surprise to me when I first read it, but makes sense upon reflection; plenty of people like to flirt with no intention of anything more.

Perhaps this explains people like my friend, who only swipe for dogs.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

 

References

Menkin, J. A., Robles, T. F., Wiley, J. F., & Gonzaga, G. C. (2015). Online dating across the life span: Users’ relationship goals. Psychology and Aging, 30(4), 987-993. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0039722

 

Memorial Day 2016

Since the Civil War era, the United States has publicly honored its fallen soldiers in late spring. Memorial Day, formerly known as Decoration Day, is now a federal holiday celebrated on the last Monday in May. It has always been a poignant occasion but has taken on additional resonance since 2001, when the attacks of September 11 precipitated nearly fifteen years of warfare overseas that continues to this day.

Vietnam Was MemorialMilitary service is challenging under any circumstances, but combat certainly increases the peril. Too many American men and women have made the ultimate sacrifice since the Battles of Lexington and Concord, in addition to the even greater numbers of soldiers that have been damaged physically or psychologically. And while it is entirely appropriate to honor those that have fallen, that is not enough—our debt to those brave men and women goes well beyond that. We must pick up the mantle by caring for their comrades who have survived, and the family and friends they have left behind. The field of psychology has a core role to play in that mission, and APA Books has tried to do its part.

In the autumn of 2010, APA Books released Deployment Psychology: Evidence-Based Strategies to Promote Mental Health in the Military. Edited by military psychologists Amy Adler, Paul Bliese, and Carl Castro, it focused on systematic, evidence-based attempts to prevent mental health problems among service members and enhance their well-being and resilience.

In 2011 APA Books published Wheels Down: Adjusting to Life after Deployment. Part of APA’s LifeTools series, it was written by Bret Moore PsyD, a psychologist who served two tours in Iraq, and Dr. Carrie Kennedy, currently the Department Head for Mental Health at the U.S. Naval Health Clinic, Bahrain.  Moore and Kennedy wrote this book for veterans returning to “normal life” after being discharged. In it, they share practical insights for dealing with this often difficult adjustment and the surprises it can bring, including family challenges and financial problems, as well as residual effects such as PTSD, and even suicidal tendencies. New England Psychologist called it “the best self-help book of its kind, easily a stand-alone guide filled with practical and reasoned tips.”

2011 also marked the release of Caring for Veterans With Deployment-Related Stress Disorders: Iraq, Afghanistan, and Beyond, co-edited by Josef I. Ruzek, PhD, Paula P. Schnurr, PhD, Jennifer J. Vasterling, PhD, and Matthew J. Friedman, MD, PhD. Its introduction made clear our obligation to veterans who had served so bravely: “We must all broaden our skills to help these men and women. As practitioners, program administrators, policy makers, or students, we are called to go beyond our current understanding of the mental health consequence of deployment to master emerging knowledge.”

In 2013, APA Books published Building Psychological Resilience in Military Personnel: Theory and Practice, edited by Robert R. Sinclair PhD and Thomas W. Britt PhD. This volume investigates the concept of resilience, its essential role in normal psychological development and its central importance to the military, and evaluates existing programs designed to help U.S. service members develop and maintain resilience.

Memorial Day Weekend 2016 beckons.  Enjoy the three-day weekend, the “unofficial start of summer,” especially as much of the east coast has been slogging through the wettest spring in recent memory. Go to the beach, have a cookout, attend a ballgame, watch the Indianapolis 500. But don’t lost sight of what the holiday is all about: remembering, honoring, and helping those who have helped us.

 

Being Your Own Valentine: On Self-Satisfaction and Well-Being

me4by Katie ten Hagen

This time of year tends to be a time of conflicting messages. Just last week, the Washington Post ran an article about how loneliness is a health hazard that puts people at “greater risk for heart attacks, metastatic cancer, Alzheimer’s and other ills” (Nutt, 2016). A great lead-in to Valentine’s Day, that. But also this year, several surveys have shown that most single people are not dreading Valentine’s Day—in fact, some are even looking forward to it. One survey, conducted by OpenTable (a restaurant reservation service), found that 42% of singles are not only not dreading Valentine’s Day but plan to dine out, either on their own or with platonic friends or family, on the big day.

To me, the idea that this news is so surprising that it merited a study is almost more depressing than the thought of spending Valentine’s Day alone.  But I shouldn’t be surprised. Our culture, for better or worse, stresses social relationships to an extreme. For those not celebrating Valentine’s Day with a romantic partner, society has coined terms like Galentine’s Day, to celebrate platonic love between friends, and to emphasize that we are not, in fact, alone.

Humans are, by and large, social creatures. But being alone does not have to mean being lonely, as the singles from these studies seem to know and the Washington Post makes sure to point out. They focus instead on the idea of self-satisfaction, and creating well-being within oneself.

It’s no secret that if we can feel fulfilled on our own, without needing the approval of others, we will almost certainly be more at peace with ourselves and our lives. What’s a little more mysterious is how to get there. A currently popular approach to this is mindfulness.

well-beingIn her book Creating Well-Being: Four Steps to a Healthier, Happier Life (2013), Dr. Pamela Hays identifies the components of well-being as “positive emotions, mental and physical health, healthy relationships, and a sense of purpose,” and the “well-being path as one that involves healthy, helpful ways of thinking and behaving” (p. 77). Of course, that’s easier said than done; we are all prone to “thinking traps,” and Valentine’s Day can be an especial trigger for these. “I’ll never find someone,” “No one will ever love me,” “I should be skinnier/healthier/better-looking,” etc.  Mindfulness would call this your “inner critic,” and of course it gets in the way of all of those components to well-being, because it’s not a healthy, helpful way of thinking.

There is of course more to creating well-being than simply recognizing your thinking traps. And mindfulness does not necessitate being alone—you can be mindful in and about a relationship, as well. But it is about being attuned to yourself and your emotions, and accepting them without judgment. It’s about communication, with a partner or with yourself and your own emotions. It attempts to allow us to make peace with our feelings rather than let them overwhelm us. It can be about noticing and taking joy from the small things; it is stopping to smell the roses. It is about creating well-being and satisfaction within yourself, despite whatever outside circumstances you can’t control—like whether you have a date for Valentine’s Day.

Perhaps a greater sense of personal well-being is part of why single people are not dreading Valentine’s Day this year. Or perhaps they’re just sick of pink hearts and commercialization.

Resources

Nutt, A. E. (2016). Loneliness grows from individual ache to public health hazard. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/loneliness-grows-from-individual-ache-to-public-health-hazard/2016/01/31/cf246c56-ba20-11e5-99f3-184bc379b12d_story.html

OpenTable. (2016). OpenTable Survey Finds Singles Aren’t Dreading Valentine’s Day [Press Release]. Retrieved from http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/opentable-survey-finds-singles-arent-dreading-valentines-day-300216160.html

Hays, P. (2013). Creating Well-Being: Four Steps to a Happier, Healthier Life. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.