Welcome to the digital age, where everything from your next pair of custom-made earrings or whatever else you could think of to your next potential romantic partner is just a click or a swipe away from materializing from online to offline.
There is no question that online dating apps have completely altered our love lives (for the better, mainly), making it possible to interact and meet people you would definitely never have encountered otherwise.
But with every scroll through potential matches, you might find yourself veering into the fraught territory of social comparison, the dreaded comparison trap. The filters, the perfect smiles, the wittily written bios—and BAM! Suddenly, you’re not just sizing up a possible date; you’re sizing up yourself.
What is ‘The Comparison Trap?’
Have you ever found yourself questioning your attractiveness, sense of humor, or overall general appeal after spending any amount of time on a dating app? You’re far from alone. In fact, you’re in relatively normal, good company.
Psychologists call this the “comparison trap,” a self-defeating cycle where you judge your worth based on others. But here’s the thing: you’re not seeing the big picture. Behind every carefully curated dating profile is a person with the same insecurities, anxieties, and imperfections as you—unless they truly are perfect, which, let’s face it, no one is.
In the context of dating apps, it refers to the tendency to compare oneself to others while looking through dating profiles. This can lead to feelings of being less than others, jealousy, or anxiety. For example, you might look at someone’s pictures and think they’re more attractive or read their bio and feel they’re wittier or more interesting than you are. These types of comparisons can impact your self-esteem and lead to a negative self-image or ramp up any existing insecurities you’re already struggling with.
In a dating app world, where everyone is presenting a “perfect” version of themselves, falling into the comparison trap is super easy—it’s almost unavoidable. This can skew your perception of reality and create unrealistic standards for yourself and for any potential partners. As a result, you could make poor dating choices, such as settling for relationships that aren’t right for you or even avoiding dating altogether due to a fear of not measuring up to others.
The comparison trap can be a significant emotional high jump in the land of online dating, but recognizing the pattern is the first step toward conquering it and coming out the other side knowing your true worth—and you are worthy.
The Social Psychology Behind the Comparison Trap
Believe it or not, the tendency to compare ourselves to others is as old as human civilization. Social comparison theory, first conceptualized by psychologist Leon Festinger in 1954, suggests that humans have an innate drive to evaluate themselves against their peers. However, in the age of social media and online dating, this has reached extraordinary heights.
When we’re wrapped up in the comparison trap, we’re actually more likely to make not-so-smart dating choices. Feeling you are less than others can make you settle for relationships that aren’t right for you or even lead to an unhealthy obsession with changing yourself to fit a perceived “perfect” ideal.
The perils of falling into the comparison trap rabbit hole while using dating apps are complicated as well as subtle and can have a lasting impact on your emotional well-being and romantic relationship choices. Here are some of the key concerns:
Continually comparing yourself to others can erode your self-esteem and escalate any feelings of inadequacy. This emotional drain can spill over into other areas of your life, affecting your confidence at work, your social interactions, and even your mental health.
Dating apps present a curated version of people, including yourself. When you compare your behind-the-scenes life to someone’s highlight reel, you create a distorted perception of reality, which can lead to unrealistic expectations and long-term disappointment.
When you feel you don’t measure up to others, you’re more likely to make compromises that aren’t in your best interest. You might overlook red flags or settle for relationships that don’t meet your emotional needs just because you feel you can’t “do any better.”
In an attempt to feel adequate, you may start to rely on external sources of validation. The number of matches, messages, or dates you get can become a stand-in for your self-worth. This dependency is dangerous because it rests on factors outside your control.
Procrastination and Inaction
Feeling like you’ll never measure up can also lead to stagnation—you may stop putting yourself out there, missing opportunities to meet people who could be amazing matches, all because you’re hanging back until you’ve become “good enough.”
The Green-Eye Monster & Resentment
Over time, the constant comparison can breed jealousy and resentment—not just towards potential matches but even towards people in your social circle who appear to be more “successful” in the dating world.
While self-improvement is nothing to sneeze at, the comparison trap often hyper-fixates your attention on only superficial qualities. So, instead of working on becoming a more well-rounded version of yourself, you may obsess over improving only those aspects you see as inadequate when compared to others.
Hyper-focusing on Existing Insecurities
If you already have underlying issues related to self-worth or body image, the comparison trap can deepen these insecurities, possibly exacerbating mental health challenges like anxiety or depression.
Understanding and acknowledging these dangers is essential to navigating online dating in a healthier way and keeping a balanced view of yourself—and others.
How To Break Free From the Comparison Trap
So you’ve found yourself caught up in the comparison trap, feeling stuck and questioning your worth. But guess what? Realizing you’re stuck is the first step to getting disentangled from the sticky web. The good news is that there are solid strategies you can employ to deconstruct this mental trap and regain control of your online dating experience—and, by extension, your self-perception.
Below, we’ll explore some actionable tips and mindset resets that will help you get clear of the dreaded comparison trap and steer you toward healthier, more fulfilling relationships.
Ground Yourself in Reality
Remember, you’re just seeing a snapshot, not the full picture. Just because someone looks perfect online doesn’t mean they’re perfect for you—or perfect at all.
Create a Personal Value List
What do you value most in a relationship? Is it a sense of humor? An intellectual connection? Or is it kindness? Create a list and keep it around so that whenever you find yourself going down the rabbit hole of comparison, you can ground yourself back in reality.
Getting heaps of matches isn’t the ultimate goal; building a meaningful connection is. Even one genuine connection is worth more than hundreds of superficial matches. Even though it’s a numbers game, that doesn’t mean the higher the number, the better someone is.
Whenever you find yourself slipping into comparison, stop and treat yourself with the same compassion and empathy you would a good friend who was saying those negative things about themselves.
Mindfulness and Awareness
Being mindful allows you to become aware of when you’re entering the comparison trap zone. The mere act of awareness can be a powerful tool in breaking away from the cycle.
The Power of Perspective
Sometimes, all it takes to get clear of the comparison trap is a simple change in perspective. Instead of viewing online dating as a competitive battlefield filled with winners and losers, try to see it as an opportunity to learn more about yourself and others. Each match, each conversation, and each date can be a step toward not just finding a partner but becoming a better, more self-aware version of the best you.
The digital world can be both a blessing and a curse when it comes to dating. While it broadens our horizons, it can also narrow our self-view. Overcoming the comparison trap is not about avoiding online dating but about approaching and traversing it with awareness and treating yourself with kindness.
So, the next time you find yourself flicking through your favorite dating app, take a moment to visually flick through your personal values and dating goals. Who knows, your perfect match might just be a swipe away—from comparison, that is.