I can’t believe I said that. What did they really mean when they said that? They said they wanted to go on a date, but then they haven’t replied back!
We all overthink sometimes. It can be easier to fill in the blanks and make assumptions about someone’s words or intentions, rather than asking them directly. But the habit can really get out of control when it comes to chatting on online dating platforms like Tinder.
“To some degree, overthinking a Tinder conversation is normal. We all sometimes worry about dating or relationships, as we do with so many day-to-day things,” says April Kilduff, a licensed therapist and OCD specialist at NOCD. However, this can be a part of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). “OCD can take overthinking a step beyond,” she says. This can make Tinder conversations an abnormally large driver of distress in your life.
Understanding Overthinking in the Context of Tinder
Dating stress is common—in fact, a recent survey suggests that dating is commonly a huge source of anxiety for people. About half of people say that asking someone out, talking about the future, or waiting for a text back from someone they’re dating causes anxiety. More than one-quarter said that waiting for a match also provoked anxious thoughts.
In fact, simply being on a swipe-based dating app, like Tinder, can lead to mental health problems. Research suggests that these types of dating apps are associated with 2.5 times higher odds of having psychological distress and two times greater odds of depression, per BMC Psychology in 2020.
That’s all to say that if you’re finding that Tinder is a source of distress, you’re not alone. Those feelings—however common—aren’t necessarily normal, and they don’t have to be your experience moving forward. You can learn to overcome the overthinking that’s overtaking your life.
Signs and Symptoms of Problematic Overthinking
Since overthinking is such a universal experience, it helps to have an idea of when run-of-the-mill overthinking crosses a line and becomes a sign of a mental health condition like OCD.
A normal response to the worries and uncertainties of online dating might be to be a little anxious about how things with a match are going. But that worry doesn’t get away from you and take on a life of its own. “Someone talking on Tinder will think a lot about a specific conversation—and they may also talk to a friend about it—but they’re also able to move on with the rest of their day and get the things done that they want to do,” Kilduff explains. That’s in contrast to someone with OCD’s experience, in which a single Tinder conversation can become all-encompassing.
The hallmark symptoms of OCD are obsessions (repetitive distressing thoughts) and compulsions (mental or physical acts done in order to neutralize the obsession). A conversation on Tinder can trigger overthinking, which in turn leads to reassurance-seeking, a common compulsion associated with OCD. You might reach out to multiple friends, sending screenshots of your conversation, to try to analyze what your match said to you or what they meant when they said something. You might also try to research their responses online—another common type of compulsion. “This comes from a need to get rid of anxiety and distress quickly. Someone is seeking reassurance and certainty in OCD or trying to prevent something bad from happening,” says Kilduff.
What’s going on has little to do with your match or potential date, and everything to do with how OCD is telling you to act. And when OCD is in the driver’s seat, it can be difficult to think about anything else, becoming a major source of disruption in your daily life.
While you may be asking for reassurance about your match, at the heart of the problem are your core feelings about yourself, says Kilduff. “Someone may have a core belief that they’re unlovable, and that theme comes out through compulsively overthinking a conversation, convinced that they’re inadequate if they aren’t perfect. It’s not just about Tinder, but there’s something much deeper going on,” she explains. An example of this would be when someone doesn’t message you back—Could they be busy or even not interested (not a bad thing!) or are they ghosting you and this feels like cold, hard evidence that you are an unlovable person? The underlying feelings behind your overthinking matters.
The Negative Consequences of Overthinking Tinder Conversations
Overthinking fits into the category of rumination, which is repetitively thinking about negative feelings and their causes and consequences, per the American Psychiatric Association (APA). “Rumination can show up in different disorders for different purposes,” says Kilduff. For instance, in the context of depression, rumination or overthinking might sound like everything is doomed or life won’t get better.
On the other hand, OCD rumination either involves analyzing something that happened in the past or thinking ahead to the future to try to figure something out before it happens.
Someone who has Relationship OCD, says Kilduff, may find that being on Tinder and messaging someone is the trigger for compulsions. Relationship OCD is a common subtype of OCD where obsessive doubt and worry interfere with your relationships. It can make you ruminate about how your match feels about you (and analyze their every word), if you two are “meant” for each other, among other things. This can severely impact your ability to form connections with matches that develop into healthy relationships—or go any further than the initial messaging stages.
Potential Mental Health Conditions Associated with Overthinking
Rumination causes you to interpret daily happenings (and this can include conversations, including those on Tinder) in a negative light, which keeps you firmly stuck in this cycle of distress and further rumination.
A 2023 study in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking asked nearly 1,400 Tinder users to complete an online questionnaire. Some people reported using the app to cope with distress, and they were the ones who reported being more dissatisfied using the app. The authors conclude that Tinder is a poor coping mechanism for negative feelings. For you, the app may be a significant source of your distress.
And that gets into rumination. Rumination is considered a compulsion in OCD in response to an intrusive thought (such as a Tinder worst-case scenario that pops into your brain). And it can create a cycle of negative thought patterns that’s extremely tough to untangle yourself from, consuming you with doubt and diminishing your self-esteem and self-worth.
OCD can also impair your decision making and push you to miss out on meeting people that you might have otherwise connected with. It can be a vicious cycle, with your OCD fears and compulsions like reassurance-seeking keeping you from enjoying the dating scene the way you want.
Let us explain: “If you’re seeking reassurance about your Tinder messaging doubts, you may hyper-message someone by asking a lot of questions over and over,” Kilduff says. The thing is, you barely know this person and all of those messages seeking reassurance will come off as a red flag to your match. So, what story does your brain tell you over and over again? That it’s impossible to date. That you’ll never find anyone. That you’ll be alone forever. “Even though it feels like evidence to you, it’s not—because you never actually knew this person,” they explain.
Cultivating Healthy Online Dating Habits
Tinder is one app that gives you very little information about someone compared to other dating apps. And that gives way too much space for OCD to come in and try to take control.
“Something that we naturally do when starting to date someone is that we obsess about them more. It’s part of socialization and relationships as humans. You’re already prone to asking questions like what they think or if they like you, but add OCD on top of that and it takes it to a whole other level,” Kilduff says.
Practically speaking, there are a variety of other scenarios about why someone isn’t messaging you back right away, like they’re at work, their phone died, or they’re asleep. “OCD ignores all of these and instead personalizes it,” Kilduff says. Focusing on creating genuine connections and opening up honest lines of communication is important for any dating scenario, and it applies to Tinder matches, too.
Many matches will stall—and that’s okay. One strategy that will help with this is practicing acceptance. If your match doesn’t turn out to be someone who is interested in you—you will still be okay. “Even if it feels difficult or painful, you’re still here,” says Kilduff. And switching your outlook is helpful, too: Instead of it being a bad sign that they didn’t message you back, center your own needs and wants in a relationship. Do you want someone who doesn’t communicate well? Absolutely not.
There’s also everything you have outside of Tinder matches. Rather than constantly seeking reassurance, think about what you have in your life besides this match. “This can be a struggle for people who base too much of their identity or self-worth on someone else in a relationship,” says Kilduff. But what else matters to you in your life? Focusing on the things that are most valuable to you can help you keep your brain from latching onto only your dating life.
Strategies for Managing Overthinking on Tinder When It’s Related to OCD
If overthinking Tinder conversations is associated with OCD, exposure and response prevention (ERP) can help. This is the gold-standard OCD treatment. During therapy with a licensed mental health professional, your therapist will guide you to carefully trigger your obsessions in a controlled environment, then help you decide not to perform a compulsion for quick relief of distress and anxiety. Over time, your brain will make the connection that this discomfort is not an emergency situation, and you can be safe even when distressed. With practice, this will help you let go of the urge to perform compulsions, learning to live with confidence, despite uncertainty and doubt.
ERP can be especially useful for relationship OCD when it comes to overthinking Tinder conversations. “ERP at its core is a way to practice sitting with uncertainty and discomfort and learning to practice acceptance of things that you don’t control,” Kilduff says. “The therapy helps people understand that the things they fear may or may not happen, and they’re encouraged to sit with a lack of response to that uncertainty,” she continues.
Dating on Tinder may seem like a solo adventure, but you can tap into qualified support to make it a healthier experience. NOCD provides effective and affordable OCD therapy with therapists who are trained in ERP therapy. During appointments, you’ll connect with your therapist face-to-face virtually who will determine a personalized treatment plan that can help treat relationship OCD, and more specifically, compulsions to overthink or ruminate on Tinder conversations. Schedule a free, 15-minute introductory call to get started.