The Science Behind Why Tinder Is Effing Up Your Love Life

A psychologist breaks down the app's not-so-great side effects.

Whether you’re swiping for ~cuddles~, for love, for friendship, for validation or for absolutely nothing whatsoever (hey, Tinder’s a great way to kill time), your addiction might be giving you something wayyy worse than a sore thumb. Swiping impulsively over and over — which is a feature of nearly every dating app now, not just Tinder — could actually be affecting our brains.

Clinical psychologist Dr. Wendy Walsh, who specializes in the psychology of love, sex and gender roles, told MTV News why having so many fish in the sea may be less awesome than we think it is.

Humans evolved to be addicted to new sexual opportunities … but not this many opportunities.

Options are supposed to be a good thing, right? Sure! But we’ve never had this many options before in human history, which makes Tinder an “evolutionarily novel” environment, Dr. Walsh said.

“We spent 50,000 years roaming the savannah in groups of Homo sapiens of not more than 35 people, maybe up to 40,” Walsh explained. “Most of the people in these groups that we roamed with were related to us … and in our entire lifespan, we never met more than 150 humans.”

Mating opportunities for horny cavemen and cavewomen were obviously very, very different from the ones we have today.

“We’re not programmed to be exposed to so much sexual opportunity,” Walsh said. “We’re also programmed to get really excited about a new [sexual] opportunity because it used to be rare. So you put those two together and you see that that’s why there’s an explosion of online dating….”

We’re hardwired to suck at impulse control.

Walsh broke it down using a food analogy: We evolved to crave salt, sugar and fat because in our past, these critical nutrients were rare and essential for our survival as a species. If something tasted good, we devoured it, because we didn’t know when more would be available.

But now, thanks to the glory that is the fast food restaurant and $1 pizza, salty/sugary/fatty foods are everywhere. And the same thing has happened with sexual opportunity.

“In our anthropological past, the pheromones of our brothers and cousins and uncles smelled not attractive,” Walsh said. “So if a new hunter walked into our encampment and he did not possess the genes we had, he smelled very delicious. … We couldn’t keep ourselves off him. Now translate that craving into modern-day opportunity where a sexual conquest is a thumb swipe away.”

Most Tinder users don’t even meet up in real life.

At iDate 2014, a dating industry conference held in Las Vegas, Walsh found out that as many as two-thirds of Tinder matches don’t even show up for dates. In today’s dating scene, our (over)excitement unfortunately translates into endless right swipes and hundreds of matches with people who we don’t ever intend on hanging out with IRL.

“The matching game has become so much fun, the texting each other [has become] so much fun, they don’t even take things into the real world,” Walsh said.

This miiight also have something to do with the super-depressing fact that nearly half of all Tinder users are in a relationship, with 30% actually being married. If somebody is already shacked up, they may have no intention of grabbing coffee or seeing a movie or doing ~whatever else~ it is people do with Tinder dates; they may just be looking for a distraction. But these days, who isn’t?

And once you meet someone, there’s always someone better.

There’s a psychological phenomenon called “the paradox of choice,” which explains why having more options leads to more indecisiveness, like when you’re ordering from a huge restaurant menu or looking for a movie to watch on Netflix.

When you present people with a few options, they easily pick one and move on with their lives. But when you present them with countless options, they freeze, either walking away from the decision entirely or feeling unsatisfied with the option they do eventually pick.

“The more choice a human being has, the harder it is to make a decision and stick to it,” Walsh said. “I mean, who really has one entrée at a buffet in Las Vegas, right? And that’s what these dating apps are. They’re a Las Vegas buffet. … Any app that provides more [matches] than less creates the paradox of choice.”

That’s why we’re so terrified to make our relationships official.

It’s not unusual for twentysomethings to date several people at once, the logic being that if one doesn’t work out, there’s always a backup in the split millisecond it takes to swipe right. Even after you meet someone cool, you deceive yourself into thinking that there’s always someone better out there for you.

So you date around and tell people you’re “keeping your options open.” You avoid sticking official boyfriend/girlfriend labels on any so-called relationship you’re involved in — even if that’s exactly what you want from this person. You’re not together, but you’re not not together.

“We are wired to bond, this is good for us,” Walsh said. “But if … there’s so much sexual opportunity, we’re actually not bonding. … [I]t’s hard for us to focus on one relationship.”

Our inability to make a decision and stick to it is how so many twentysomethings end up in the doomed relationship “gray area.” It’s the worst … but are you really going to close the door on all those other potential Tinder matches? WHAT IF THERE’S A BETTER MATCH OUT THERE??!!

“I think if you are looking for a long-term relationship, spending time on a site that does deeper psychological testing and … provides you with fewer matches is a better way to go,” Walsh said.

If we’re not honest about what we want, we won’t find it.

Let’s be real here: The majority of Tinder users are on it to find sex, not a life partner. If a no-strings-attached romp in the sack is genuinely all you want, you do you. (Just remember that trusty “no glove, no love” saying.)

But if you’re looking for something serious, Walsh specifically warns against using “short-term dating strategies for long-term goals.” Be upfront about your intentions and refuse to settle for that aforementioned horrible gray area where being DTF does not mean being down to DTR.

“Know what you’re looking for and advertise it,” Walsh said. “I don’t care if you only have 140 characters, put that in there so you’re very clear to somebody from the top. Then, as soon as you start texting [say] ‘I know Tinder thinks we’re a match because we like the way each other look, but I’m telling you this is the kind of relationship I’m looking for.’ Make them go away if it’s not appropriate.”

When you find someone you kinda sorta like, Walsh advises, say goodbye to Tinder (and all those other dating apps blowing up your phone). Ask them to do the same, and then date each other exclusively for 90 days. This way, there’s sufficient time for sparks to fly and chemistry to develop — all that good stuff you see happen in rom-coms. After those 90 days, if things aren’t meshing the way you hoped they would, you can go your separate ways and re-download those apps.

“If you have one foot in the dating pool and one trying to build a relationship, you won’t succeed,” Walsh said. “Then there’s too much other opportunity.”

Swear to shake it up.
@deepa