[OPINION] What Online Dating Has in Common with Shopping Addiction

Crystal Jackson

Photo byFlávia Gava on Unsplash

I like to shop online — more than I probably should if I’m honest. But there’s something about online dating that feels a little too much like browsing Amazon. Without the helpful reviews and near-immediate gratification, of course.

It feels oddly distant and dehumanizing to shop online for a partner, and I remind myself with every swipe that we all want the same things. To be seen, known, and appreciated. To be liked, desired, and loved. Everyone is worthy, but that doesn’t mean everyone is for me. The reverse also holds true. I wonder if online dating has become the latest shopping addiction.

Are we there because there’s something we truly want — or because we feel the impulse to pick up a plus-one simply because we see they’re available?
Are we trying to fill a void — or connect at a deeper level?
Are we looking for perfection — or just someone who is perfect for us?
Are we ever satisfied with what we find — or do we think we’ll do better if we keep looking?
Are we window-shopping to boost our egos— or looking for an actual commitment and connection?

I can’t answer those questions for anyone else, but I know why I’m there. I’m interested in dating. In companionship. I want to connect with someone at a deeper level. My life is complete. I would just like a person I enjoy sharing it with me.

But wading through online profiles becomes exhausting. It’s not that I’m jaded. As a formerly jaded person, I know the difference. I don’t feel discouraged, and I’m not drawing negative conclusions about the people I encounter. I just feel like I’m looking for a needle in a haystack while trying to translate my personality into pictures and a bio adequate enough to convey who I am and what I’m looking for. Am I lost in translation? Are they?

We don’t have the benefit of reviews recommending us. Most interactions never leave the app. I swipe through another dozen profiles and wonder if it’s become as routine as shopping. My face, one option of many. My soul, catalogued by perceived attributes.

Swiping left, left, left, one right, left more. I can see why my time online is usually brief. Too many options take their toll. Too many negative profiles drain energy. Too little conversation and too much pressure to banter and impress. Too little authenticity taking too much time.

Shopping Addiction Signs

The comparison to shopping addiction is real. The warning signs of shopping addiction seem all too relevant to online dating. According to AddictionHelp.com, shopping addiction can be characterized by the following:

  • Shopping or spending money as a result of negative emotions like anger or sadness
  • Thinking obsessively about money
  • Buying certain items to improve low self-esteem
  • Feeling a rush or euphoria when spending
  • Buying items on credit, rather than with cash
  • Feeling guilty, ashamed, or embarrassed after a spending spree
  • Lying about or hiding how much money you spent
  • Spending a lot of time juggling accounts or bills to accommodate spending habits
  • Arguing with others about one’s shopping habits

Dating Addiction Signs

It’s easy to see how shopping addiction can mirror dating addiction. Replace shopping habits with dating, and it might sound a little like this:

  • Dating as a result of negative emotions like anger or sadness
  • Thinking obsessively about dating
  • Dating to improve low self-esteem
  • Feeling a rush or euphoria when dating
  • Feeling guilty, ashamed, or embarrassed by dating behaviors
  • Lying or hiding how much you date
  • Spending a lot of time accommodating potential partners
  • Arguing with others about dating habits

How to Break Dating App Addiction

Shopping involves buying things. Dating involves interacting with people. Confusing the two runs the risk of damaging actual living, breathing, feeling human beings with carelessness. This is why it’s so important to remember that we’re not actually shopping for potential partners as much as attempting to connect with them.

Be Kind

Kindness is key. What we see in a profile represents a tiny fraction of what we know about a person. Remembering that we all want to be accepted, cared about, and loved can help us stay compassionate as we search through our options.

If someone isn’t a good match, move on. Don’t be reactive. Don’t make it personal. Just accept that it’s not a good fit and keep it moving. Unkindness can do more damage than any of us know.

Be Balanced

When I first started online dating many years ago, I gave it so much of my time and energy. I felt depleted. It felt like the equivalent of sitting around waiting for the phone to ring.

These days, I’m balanced about my interactions online. I don’t spend all day checking messages or swiping for matches. I keep conversations to free time I’ve allocated for it. I’m not wrapping up my whole life in dating possibilities because I’m too busy living it. It’s brought balance back to dating and helped me remember that it’s far from the most important part of my life.

Be Honest

While I’ve always posted authentic profiles, I haven’t always been honest with myself about what I want. In the past, I would ignore red flags and swipe on someone I strongly suspected wasn’t compatible. It wasn’t honest, and it didn’t honor what I needed. I’ve become steadfast in sticking to what I want and need without compromising those values for a pretty face or fascinating profile. I say what I want, what I don’t, and only converse with matches who seem compatible.

Skip Instant Gratification for True Connection

There’s so much pressure online to perform and impress. It’s probably one of the single-most exhausting aspects of the process. If you want to stop dating from feeling like shopping, ditch instant gratification and look for true connection. Don’t expect potential matches to provide all the entertainment. Be open to the idea that people have good days and bad, and we don’t all translate the same way online as in person.

I wonder if other people are sitting there with a finger hovering over my profile wondering if they should Add to Cart. It’s strange how the process works, the factors that go into choosing and being chosen. Online dating feels like the latest in shopping addictions, a chance to browse without having to commit.

I cannot change the dating culture, but I can choose how I interact within it. I’m not window-shopping to keep my ego primed, and I remember that the human being on the other side of any conversation is a person with real feelings. I limit the time I’m willing to give to the apps so that I can live a life that feels good to me. I don’t let it impact my self-worth or self-perception. I let it be what it is — a chance to connect, a whole universe of possibilities waiting to be discovered.

Originally published on Medium

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Crystal Jackson is a former therapist turned writer. She is the author of the Heart of Madison series and a volume of poetry entitled My Words Are Whiskey. Her work has been featured on Medium, Elite Daily, Thought Catalog, The Good Men Project, and Elephant Journal. When she's not writing, you can find her traveling, paddle boarding, cycling, throwing axes badly but with terrifying enthusiasm, hiking, or curled up with her nose in a book in Madison, Georgia, where she lives with one puppy and two wild and wonderful children. Crystal writes about relationships, mental health, parenting, social justice, and more. Never miss an update. Subscribe to emails: https://crystaljacksonwriter.substack.com/

Madison, GA

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