updated 03/11/2014 AT 4:05 PM ET
•originally published 03/10/2014 AT 6:00 PM ET
Dating is, perhaps, the only activity you get a reputation for being good at by being bad at it. (Paradoxically, someone who was great at dating would not need to go on many first dates.) Fortunately for the rest of us, a new generation of Internet entrepreneurs has arisen to make finding love – or at least, finding someone to make out with – as easy as firing off a Snapchat.
Like other dating sites, the new phone-based dating apps are their own individual world, with their own subtle rules and social mores. Whether you’re an OKCupid addict who can’t help writing 5,000-word explanations of your favorite books, or a Tinderholic who swipes left with the unsparing air of a French revolutionary, join us in exploring this brave new world of phone-based seduction.
Normal Dating Sites
There’s plenty of advice online on how to “hack” these sites for your own benefit, and you’ll likely not have to set up a massive data-mining enterprise to do so. One Wired article narrowed it down to a few simple tips. If you’re a gay man, pose outdoors. If you’re a straight woman, shoot selfies. Everyone should take up – or at least, be seen taking up – surfing and yoga.
If changing your interests to become more datable sounds strange and inhuman to you, don’t worry. Another school of thought, backed up by OKCupid research, says that you really DON’T want everyone to like you. Instead, it suggests finding the things that are most distinctive about yourself, whether or not they’re considered “conventionally” attractive, and playing them up. A look at New York magazine’s interviews with the most-messaged New Yorkers would seem to bear this out: Better to have half the population think you’re a 1 and half think you’re a 10 than for everyone to agree you’re a 6.
Now, what if you don’t want to spend hours painstakingly customizing a profile? Then you might need …
Inspired by the tech industry’s continued failure to invent “the straight Grindr,” in 2011 the writer Anne Friedman came up with a list of suggestions for making a hookup app that would be popular with women. The main rule? Allow only ladies to search, which would supposedly eliminate the flood of messages that awaits any woman who signals she’s interested in casual sex. Tinder doesn’t do this exactly, but it found another way to cut down on the creep factor, through what its founders call “the double opt-in”: You can only message someone after you’ve both signaled that you’d be down to talk to the other. Due to this feature, Tinder is succeeding with women turned off by traditional dating sites.
The mechanics are simple: Sign in with Facebook (no need to invent a witty username), upload some cute pictures and choose your location settings – just as those spammy banner ads promise, you’ll be greeted with an endless array of sexy singles in your area. If you like the look of someone, all you need to do is swipe right on your smartphone (or left if you’re not interested) to get matching. This is another reason Tinder is popular with women: It lets them be just as shallow about online dating as men traditionally have been.
Like Snapchat, Tinder has a reputation for being all about sexting – which is quickly disproven by using it. While a recent GQ article detailed all the ways people are using the app for casual sex, the first Tinder date this reporter went on was a perfectly G-rated evening with hot chocolate in a park.
The lack of profiles on Tinder turns out to be its most salient feature. It means there isn’t a lot to distract you from your mission of swiping through as many suitors as possible, but it also means when you do get a match, attempts at conversation can prove unfruitful. A brief sampling of the typical first messages on Tinder:
How’s it going?
Hey, how’s it going?
Hey there, how are you?
To find any lasting chemistry on Tinder, we have three suggestions. The first two: Message lots of people, and try your darndest to ask interesting questions. The third, born of anecdotal data, is to be one of those users who swipes right on everyone. According to the Awl’s Tinder glossary, these people are known as “indiscriminate narcissists,” but you can’t argue with results. Yes, Tinder is all about chemistry, but it turns out chemistry is a volume business.
But what if you’re intimidated by the thought of all those strangers? Then you might need
Like many apps, Tinder verifies your identity through Facebook, and you can see how many friends you have in common with each of your prospective matches. Hinge, which borrows most of its interface from Tinder, takes this one step further – you can only see people with whom you share a mutual friend. Another difference: Instead of an infinite stream of users, you only get a certain number per day. Once you’ve swiped through them all, you’ve got to wait another 24 hours for the next batch. (Like a pyramid scheme, you get better rewards – in this case, more matches per day – the more friends you have using the app.)
Born out of technological necessity (in the early stages, most users only had a few friends-of-friends using the app) this limiting factor goes against the general trend of dating apps – and of the infinite stream of the web itself. Whether on purpose or not, Hinge has eliminated one of the downsides of online dating, that sense that, in a bottomless ocean, there is always a better, prettier fish to be found.
Still, this reporter has not yet met anyone who has ever gone on a Hinge date. We have two theories as to why. The first has to do with the social minefield that comes from a dating pool only made up of one’s friends-of-friends. It’s hard to tell whose friends are off-limits. Are your ex’s friends? Your high school crush’s friends? Your brother’s friends? The kids you haven’t spoken to since high school? If someone is theoretically close to you in a network of friends and you haven’t met them yet, there might be a good reason why.
The second has to do with Hinge’s profile – or lack thereof. Like Tinder, Hinge connects through Facebook, but it takes this connection a step further. Your only pictures are your Facebook profile pictures. Your only interests are the Facebook pages you Like. This has the curious effect of making everyone less attractive: Most people’s Facebook profiles, scrubbed by years of exposure to grandparents and employers, are flatter, less interesting than their online dating profiles. In general, everyone is less attractive. Hinge announced in February it would soon roll out greater profile customization, but as of mid-March those changes had not arrived. Once it does, maybe more Hinge users will be able to get their foot in the door.
But what if you want to use a dating app mostly to augment your IRL dating life? Then you might need …
Lulu is not a dating app, per se. Instead, it’s what creator Alexandra Chong calls “a Yelp for boys.” Women can sign up to review their male Facebook friends, whether they’re platonic BFFs, one-night stands or long-term boyfriends – and the whole thing is anonymous. (Until very recently, men had to opt out of being rated on the app; any dude with a Facebook profile was fair game. Now, because of privacy concerns, Lulu has changed to an opt-in system, wiping many reviews from the app.)
Reviews on Lulu don’t take the form of Yelp’s exquisitely critical essays, though. Instead, women rate the guys they know on a scale of 1-10, and then assign them labels from a word bank of hashtags, both positive (#RespectsWomen) and negative (#CantTakeAHint). The value for women is obvious, if a little creepy. Who can say no to more information? In its year or so of existence, there’s been one pleasant surprise: Most reviewers spend more time recommending date-worthy dudes than anonymously excoriating their exes.
Men can download Lulu, too, though they can’t see what’s been written about them. (Not even if they spend months painstakingly creating a fake female Facebook account for that express purpose – but perhaps we’ve given away too much.) However, through Lulu’s Sex Ed feature, guys can get their own secret glimpse of information about their female friends (spoiler: 56% say flowers and dinner are the perfect Valentine’s Day gift). Men can also add their own voice to their Lulu review pages, adding positive hashtags to their profile (#MothersLoveMe), and describing their turn-ons (#FreakySide) and turn-offs (#GrannyPanties). The easiest way for a guy to get a date on Lulu is clear: Never fill out any of these forms.
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