Pew Research shows that roughly 30% of Americans have used a dating app at some point in their life, and Quartz says 40% of new couples met on one. Though dating apps are becoming a universal experience, many users are growing to resent them.
They rely on a marketing funnel that gets clogged between the conversion and loyalty phases. Many people use them, but few will find success. You log in, and are immediately greeted with your first profile of the day. You swipe and swipe through these, maybe checking for more details in their bio, maybe not. You’re mostly just swiping on who you think is attractive. And what you find attractive is narrowly defined. When you do happen to match with that one-in-a-hundred person, the chances that you both swipe right are low. According to MarketWatch, straight men are said to have a 0.6% match rate on Tinder, the most popular dating app.
But if you swipe enough you will get a match. Several, in fact. However, only one or two in ten matches leads to a date according to MarketWatch. To get through the initial conversation, both of you will need the energy to respond. To craft answers that share just enough but also drive the discussion forward. To show genuine interest in the other person without making it seem like an interrogation. Basically, both of you have to seem sane enough to share phone numbers and agree on a meetup spot.
Picking said spot can be especially daunting, but the dating app Bumble has innovated somewhat in this regard. They offer “BumbleSpot,” an officially approved array of locations that are safe for meetups and offer icebreaking activities.
In this context, everything that is already mechanical about the dating process feels even more programmatic. Each date has a binary outcome. The user develops a self-conscious internal monologue, “Oh, he said x, that indicates he’s not suitable for y,” or “Am I smiling with enough teeth?” Suddenly, you wonder how the most human of all activities became a series of ones and zeros.
When we think of dating app “gamification,” we think of the swiping left and right as if flinging angry birds, but the apps also flatten the users’ thought processes once the real-life dating occurs, turning it into a sim wherein the right responses trigger a certain point value.
According to Mauro Usability Science, research shows found that apps like Angry Birds are popular because they’re easy to learn but also become more challenging at just the right pace to keep you engaged.
And so after a few dates, users will likely end things without either participant ever saying a sincere thing to the other. They don’t even get the chance to have a fight in the rain and then dramatically reconcile at an inappropriately public forum, as all the great stories tell us they should.
It’s truly the worst game there is, and users know it. One 2022 survey from NEA found that customer dissatisfaction with dating apps is higher than that of any other consumer-facing industry. People would literally rather wait on hold with their internet service provider or cram into the middle seat on the longest, smelliest Southwest flight there is.
And yet…all of the major dating apps continue to grow their user bases, year after year because despite the bad user experience, they still provide a salve to the modern era’s two greatest maladies: loneliness and self-doubt.
Jessica Alderson, co-founder and CEO of So Syncd, a UK-based dating app, believes that “Technology has advanced in so many ways, and yet – dating apps are still very basic.” So Syncd uses psychology-based personality tests to help users find matches.
Consider the shallow way in which profiles are presented on the largest dating app – many Tinder profiles don’t even have their bios filled in. And if they do, they’re often shallow, surface-level information – the fact that the user likes coffee or that they’re a Gemini.
We’re still leaving compatibility up to the stars when we should be turning to science. Perhaps it’s because the western image of the perfect romance is one based on chance, on stumbling into each other on the street or at a bar. The idea that destiny brought you together.
But Alderson believes there is still room for that serendipity, even when it’s a highly-advanced algorithm bringing you together.
“There is serendipity in a different way on a dating app…you’re almost branching out more from your existing network…you’re more likely to meet people that you just wouldn’t meet otherwise…so there is a beautiful serendipity in a different way. It’s just not down to chance.”
The romance comes less from how you met and more in how you come to understand each other. For one, a personality-driven dating app gives matches much more to talk about. If two users are told they share very specific psychological traits, then the conversation drives itself.
Arranged marriages, still common in many eastern cultures, are founded on this principle: the idea that love develops, rather than being found at first sight.
In western culture, we always want “the best,” whether it’s our hairdresser, our doctor, or our romantic partner. But that last one is highly prone to subjective bias – a doctor is knowledgeable or not. A partner might fit certain societal standards of what is desirable, but not actually be a good fit for your psychology.
Think of the “quarterback effect,” the idea that we see football quarterbacks as more attractive because of their place of power and leadership on the field. And yet, according to the New York Times in 2009, the divorce rate for NFL players is between 60 and 80%. Their perceived attractiveness doesn’t make them better partners.
Therefore, a more advanced dating app could be a huge boon, taking some of the subjectivity out of dating and giving you what you need, not what you want.
And if that sounds too prescriptive, it’s not as if a dating app can ever take away choice. Jessica Alderson highlights how her app aims to still let users search for what they find attractive, it just encourages them to broaden that scope. “On certain dating apps you can search for people with brown hair and blues eyes, that kind of thing. If you know you’re really attracted to extroverts, we want to help you find that person you know you’re attracted to.”
With our rapidly improving technology, the sky’s the limit. Personality is one thing. But visuals are important too. How we present ourselves in pictures and video is often shallow and doesn’t help others gauge what we’re actually like. Again, an app that presents us as we are, not how we wish to look, could revolutionize the market. Maybe an AI that creates accurate, representative, deep fakes from our Instagrams?
If dating apps, like so much tech, augment humanity and help us to overcome our shortcomings, then it should follow that a well-designed app might catapult love and romance into its next evolutionary step. Humans evolve, become more moral and productive over time. Why can’t their love lives follow suit?
Bumble revolutionized dating for women when it gave them the power to initiate conversations. Now new apps like So Syncd can pave the way for the next big thing in dating.
Theo Miller is the co-founder and CEO of Hit Start, as well as the host of Tech Tmrw, a podcast where he interviews founders, innovators, and thinkers about the future of tech. The episode discussing the future of dating with So Syncd co-founder and CEO, Jessica Alderson, will be released on July 1st, 2022. Tech Tmrw is available on Apple and Spotify.