“I can’t do anything else. Before going to bed I check my mailbox, and in the morning when I wake up too,” admits Phillip, 32. “Discovering what’s hidden behind a username is madly exciting”, confides Virginia, 35.
Building a profile, chatting freely and meeting strangers on dating sites is becoming an increasingly popular pastime. These virtual escapes are like 24/7 shops with the heart and cupid’s arrows enthroned in the window display, and which are never empty of people.
In the US, use of online dating sites has increased from 33% to 73% and Europe has shown a moderate increase in users as well (a growth of 17.5% in the number of users on Meetic, a European dating site, in 2009). The most engaged users are single of course, and looking for a lasting relationship, but this isn’t all.
There is now a new breed of addict on therapists’ books: singles and couples, with accounts of dangerous liaisons in Internet dating. Discover how a little recreational activity on the side can turn into an unhealthy compulsion.
From dating use to abuse
We seem to be surrounded by ‘lasting’ couples who met through online dating sites. However, if love seems to be a safe haven in times of crisis, then sex is also. And for potential or confirmed sex addicts, dating sites are not necessarily a blessing. Internet dating can encourage sexual addiction, and for some, becoming aware of it is already the key to unleashing it.
Sex therapist Brigitte Martel says, ‘”A more advanced search based on a list of criteria leans towards ‘objectifying’ people, and leaves very little space for really meeting someone in the actual world.” The result is that dating site users often no longer look for an actual person but a set of criteria. This quest can turn out to be never-ending where the ideal just doesn’t exist.
There’ll always be a box that’s is not ticked along with fraudsters, who lie about their age, use a fake photo etc. There are many obstacles for those who are looking for lasting relationships, but in contrast, such obstacles don't much matter for addicts who are drawn into compulsive dating (and for some, multiple sexual encounters) in this way.
Anxiety and dating or sexual addiction
Catherine Blanc and other specialists agree that, “Sexual compulsion comes from an issue with identity. The narcissistic image is weak and empty of something which the person looks to replace with a kind of sexuality where the other is often objectified.” This is where a certain interest in dating sites comes from, as Brigitte Martel brings to light: “They work to calm this anxiety, providing an answer to it or rather the illusion of an answer, which is constantly renewed – the date or sexual encounter.”
In providing an almost limitless choice and many options for finding new people who’ll meet the addict’s expectations, the dating site never fails in its mission. The satisfaction it brings comes at a price though, aside from membership fees. It costs you personally as well. Having a profile on a dating site makes it necessary to stay connected and keep checking it constantly.
“Being constantly on the lookout and activating an online network can take up a ridiculous amount of time, and, in extreme cases, causes alienation from the physical world,” Brigitte Martel states. Activating a network, chatting over the Internet and arranging meetings can become a full time activity for some, and may lead to cutting off contact with family and friends. An addiction has certain signs, and spotting these in order to try and identify the problem, often with the help of a psychotherapist, is often the first step towards a solution.
Three signs that you’re are addicted (to anything!)
- Obsessive thoughts: Addiction manifests itself through insistent thoughts. These can centre on anything from sexuality, love life, buying clothes or playing gambling games.
The best approach: Trying with all your strength to stop these thoughts is useless. Acknowledge them and then play around with them and see if they can be channelled more appropriately. You can express them through painting or putting them in writing for example.
- A sense of being trapped: “It’s stronger than I am, I can’t stop doing it.” Looking at your messages (or the object of your obsession) when you wake up, many times during the day and before going to bed is an indication of being trapped in a pattern of addictive behaviour.
The best approach: Don’t forbid yourself from doing it, but try instead to change one step at a time. Replace this automatic action with another activity once every three times. To start with, call your mother, a friend or look at a different site for booking tickets to a cultural event, put in a DVD of your favourite TV series etc.
- A feeling of being isolated: Isolation can be one of the results of addictive behaviour. Contrary to having a passion for something, which an individual will want to share with those closest to them, addiction is a solitary activity, which can even go hand in hand with shame. Lies like: “I would have loved to come to your birthday dinner, but I’m swamped at the moment,” can occur on a regular basis.
The best approach: Feelings of isolation can stem from childhood and asking questions about this can throw up paths to a resolution. This stage, undertaken alone by writing about your feelings, or with a therapist, is necessary for finding the desire to renew ties with other people; in the physical world this time. And this has nothing to do with an idealised list of criteria found on a dating site!