clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Tinder and Instagram are ‘crippling’ relationships, sex therapist Esther Perel says

On the latest Recode Decode, Perel says dating apps are giving us too many options, and other apps give us an excuse to be “psychologically gone.”

If you buy something from a Vox link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Psychotherapist Esther Perel Kirk Irwin / Getty Images for Summit of Greatness

Most people would define “cheating” in a relationship as sleeping with another person, without your partner’s consent. But psychotherapist Esther Perel says some couples are cheating on each other constantly — with their phones.

“As one of my patients recently said: ‘Every night, I go to bed and she’s on Instagram, in the bed,’” Perel said on the latest episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher. “And it’s like, ‘I’m lonely! I just want to chat, to talk, to connect. She’s just getting lost.’”

Perel, the author of “The State of Affairs” and host of the podcast “Where Should We Begin?” spoke with Recode’s Kara Swisher at South By Southwest in Austin, Texas. She said our phone addictions are creating “a new definition of loneliness,” likening it to the psychology term “ambiguous loss”: A loved one is physically present, but in all other ways absent from a relationship.

“It no longer has to do with being socially isolated,” Perel said. “It has to do with experiencing a loss of trust and a loss of capital while you are next to the person with whom you’re not supposed to be lonely.”

You can listen to Recode Decode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

On the new podcast, Perel also talked about how dating apps such as Tinder and Bumble are the latest in a series of massive changes to how we think about relationships, sex and love.

“If I have a choice between two people, it’s rather limiting,” she said. “In the village, I had a choice between two people. Later, I had a choice between six or 10 or 15 people, and that was a lot better. When I have a choice between 1,000 people, it’s crippling.”

One of the problems with having a never-ending feed of potential mates in your pocket, she explained, is that a person in a good, healthy relationship might still experience fear of missing out, or FOMO. What winds up happening instead is that many single people “simmer” multiple partners at once to stave off loneliness, but don’t commit and thereby surrender their freedom.

“I’m, on the one hand, looking for the soulmate, the one-and-only,” Perel said. “That one-and-only is supposed to be the one that’s gonna cure you of your case of FOMO, is going to fulfill you. It’s not just a person with whom you’re going to have the basic needs of Maslow, not even the belonging needs of Maslow — it’s the self-fulfilling needs.”

“You’re constantly checking there is nothing better there,” she added. “Basically, the ritual of commitment becomes deleting the apps: ‘I found the one! I can stop searching! I can delete my app!’”

If you like this show, you should also sample our other podcasts:

  • Recode Media with Peter Kafka features no-nonsense conversations with the smartest and most interesting people in the media world, with new episodes every Thursday. Use these links to subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
  • Too Embarrassed to Ask, hosted by Kara Swisher and The Verge’s Lauren Goode, answers the tech questions sent in by our readers and listeners. You can hear new episodes every Friday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
  • And Recode Replay has all the audio from our live events, including the Code Conference, Code Media and the Code Commerce Series. Subscribe today on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

If you like what we’re doing, please write a review on Apple Podcasts — and if you don’t, just tweet-strafe Kara.

This article originally appeared on

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Vox Recommends

Get curated picks of the best Vox journalism to read, watch, and listen to every week, from our editors.