Since Tinder was released in 2012, dating apps have become an undeniable part of our popular culture.
Even if you don’t use them, you’ve probably heard about friends meeting girlfriends or boyfriends on apps like Tinder, Hinge, or OkCupid. And the fact that they would even admit that says something.
But what are these dating apps actually like to use?
My colleague Maya Kosoff reviewed many of the most popular dating apps a few month ago, but when talking about them, we noticed there were some big differences in our experiences. And many of them boiled down to gender. Maya had to deal with things I never did, like being bombarded with gross messages from guys. I had my own set of challenges.
To get a snapshot of what the dating app scene is like for guys, I compared the free tiers of six popular dating apps: Tinder, Hinge, Bumble, OkCupid, The League, and Coffee Meets Bagel.
Here is what I found:
First we'll look at Tinder, which kickstarted the dating app craze and has had its 'swipe right/left' interface copied by most of its competitors. The first thing you should do on Tinder is set your preference for distance, gender, and age range.
Next up is your profile. Tinder recently changed its interface to more prominently feature your job and education, which are pulled from Facebook. You can stop the app from displaying these snippets, but you can't alter them without changing your Facebook. Tinder CEO Sean Rad told me his team added these elements because they rounded out the few basic factors people use in deciding whether to go on a first date with someone. You probably don't want to choose a picture of you and a dog (like me) because my friends say it has become a bit of a cliche.
Now it's time to swipe. Tinder shows you a small clip of 'smart text' below a potential match's profile, which consists of whatever the app thinks is most relevant. In the example below, it's showing this woman's work info, but it could also show your education, or things you have in common. Swipe right for 'yes,' swipe left for 'no.' You can also 'super like' by hitting the blue star. Normally Tinder only notifies the parties if you both say 'yes,' but with a 'super like,' it lets your match know no matter what. I have had good luck with 'super likes,' but my colleague Maya thinks they make you seem a little desperate. Regardless, on the free tier, you only get one 'super like' per day, and a finite number of 'likes' in general. So choose wisely.
If you match with someone, Tinder sends you both a match notification. As a guy, I've found matches are easier to get on Tinder than other apps, maybe because some people basically use Tinder as a cell phone game to pass the time. But I've also found it's less easy to get people to respond. You have to be creative (or play the numbers game, which can be exhausting and feel lame).
This is what the Tinder matches screen looks like. You can scroll through your matches on the top, while people you have messaged appear in a list. If you matched with someone after you 'super liked' them, their name will have a little blue star next to it. The new Tinder interface is a lot clunkier for searching through matches you haven't texted yet, but you can still use the search bar pretty easily.
If you're a guy, most of the time you'll have to be the one to initiate the conversation if you want it to go anywhere. And when women do message you, it's often just a simple 'hey.' My friends and colleagues have pointed out that many guys start with aggressive and obnoxious opening lines, so don't do that. A 'hey' probably won't get a response, but that doesn't mean you have to go crazy. Just keep it classy.
Guys being jerks on Tinder is such a big problem it actually led to the creation of different dating app, Bumble, which is next on my list. Bumble is similar to Tinder, except the woman has to be the one to start the conversation. Lots of my friends, especially women, swear by this app. The settings are pretty much exactly the same as Tinder.
When you get to the swiping screen, you see someone's age and education. Bumble doesn't have a limit to how much you swipe, so swipe to your heart's content. As a guy, if you want to get as many conversations started as on Tinder, you're going to have to view more people. In my experience, the women on Bumble tend to be more of the 'sorority' type than on Tinder. Tinder seems to be more representative of the place you live.
If you both say 'yes,' you get a notification screen like this. But unlike Tinder, you're just going to have to wait and see whether the woman wants to talk to you. This match never texted me. How sad.
Matches only have 24 hours to chat with you. If not, the match disappears and there is nothing you can do about it (please do not hunt her down on social media). If you want to make some sort of effort to make yourself feel marginally more proactive, you can 'extend' the match so she has 48 hours to respond. This hasn't worked that well for me.
And you only get to extend one match per day, which can feel like a waste when she still doesn't give you a chance. Such is life.
Like Tinder, if you're a guy, your messages from women will likely be mostly of the 'hey' variety. I chalk this up to many women wanting to get something on the record before the match expires. And as I've written about previously, I think we should all give each other a break on how great our opening lines on dating apps have to be. It's an awkward thing!
Now let's move on to Hinge, which is also similar to Tinder except it uses your Facebook network to connect you to potential matches. The promise of Hinge is that your matches will be more relevant because they will be from your wider social network (think friends of friends). In my experience, this did seem to be the case. My matches on Hinge tended to be the types of people I went to school with or work with. If that's what you're looking for, Hinge can be great.
Hinge lets you select a few more factors in your profile than Tinder or Bumble, like your religion, ethnicity, or tags that represent you. These are all optional.
The swiping interface is similar to Tinder, but Hinge only shows you a handful of matches every day. After that, you are out of luck. And once you match, you only have 24 hours to start chatting, which can be annoying if you are busy or just aren't in the mood to flirt. In fact, anecdotally I've found that since Hinge changed its policy on how long matches last before chatting (it used to be forever), I've gotten fewer matches in general. I feel like Hinge has forgotten that part of a dating app is being a fun game you can use to kill time, and then come back to later when you are ready to actually go on a date.
But enough of these Tinder clones. Let's look at an app that is completely different. Coffee Meets Bagel is an app founded on the idea of giving you only one potential match every day. You have 24 hours to say 'yes' or 'no' otherwise the potential match disappears.
Every time you pass on someone (or like them), the app asks you why. This would be annoying with an app like Tinder, but with one match per day, I felt like I was making the robot better at giving me good matches.
One thing Coffee Meets Bagel does well is trying to minimise the awkwardness of having to start a conversation without knowing anything about someone. You can fill out a detailed profile filled with talking points your match can use as a cheat sheet.
The app even suggests topics you might break the ice with. This is a genius idea that apps like Tinder could stand to copy. The chat window on Coffee Meets Bagel only stays open for a week, so you have to make plans to meet up pretty quickly (or at least get their number).
You should definitely fill out the icebreakers section. Judging by how much more likely I am to message someone when I have something to talk about, it will probably help you.
If you decide to pass on someone, you have the option to 'give' them to a friend of yours if you think they would be a better match. This is a nice way to help your friends get a date.
OK, let's get to the part I don't like about Coffee Meets Bagel. You can also browse a gallery of people every day and 'take' them (awkward phrasing), which means being able to swipe 'yes' to them even though you've already used your day's potential match. You pay for this chance with virtual coffee beans, which are the app's currency. And guess how you get more coffee beans when you run out? You buy them with actual cash. This taste of a Tinder-like experience frustrates me and has, on a previous occasion, caused me to delete the app. I don't like apps trying to entice me into in-app purchases so blatantly.
And even more than the 'extend match' feature on Bumble, or the 'super like' on Tinder, you feel a bit silly when you pay a bunch of beans and a match doesn't like you back. For all its focus on only providing you with one match per day, in my experience, this app doesn't really get you 'better' matches than the Tinder variety. But it definitely lets you see more information before you swipe 'yes.'
That point brings us to the next app: OkCupid. OkCupid's website is more complicated, but its app is more or less a Tinder clone that gives you a lot more information and has a different user base.
This is what the swiping screen looks like, which shows you the general location of you potential match, as well as their age and 'match percentage,' which the app determines by comparing your profiles and your answers to certain questions.
You can see a bunch of different factors about someone, which bring me to my next observation: the community on OkCupid is different from most of the other apps. The fact that the woman below is pansexual and strictly non-monogamous is fairly typical on OkCupid. In my experience, many people on OkCupid skew left-wing on politics and non-traditional on relationships. If you are looking for a romantic arrangement that isn't a traditional heterosexual girlfriend, OkCupid is definitely the app you should be using.
And if you have strong feelings about subjects, especially politics, the ability to answer questions and see how others have answered can be great. Though I must say, for all the data that OkCupid has on me, it doesn't seem to have put any effort into its matching algorithm. I don't think the feed of potential matches is any better than Tinder, and sometimes it can feel worse.
But the absolute worst part of OkCupid is the fact that someone can see when you check their profile. You can buy 'Incognito Mode' so no one can tell, but at $19.99 a month, it doesn't seem worth it. What's bad about this feature is that it feels like OkCupid is charging money for people to not be embarrassed. It's not like anyone was really clamoring to know who exactly looked at their profile and when.
Last we come to probably the most controversial of these apps: The League. The League has been called 'elitist Tinder' because it's basically just a Tinder clone that you have to apply to get into. To apply, you let The League snoop through your social media accounts to decide if you are worthy. The League says it wants smart ambitious people. What does this translate to in real life? Many of the people I ran across came from Ivy League schools or had high-powered jobs.
To set up your profile, you get to choose your pictures, but the app puts your education and work for you. You can't change them unless you edit your LinkedIn.
Some of your information is viewable to people only after you match (like your past jobs), while other pieces are available before (like your current job).
This app has been criticised for letting you choose not only preferences in terms of age, height, and distance, but also education and even ethnicity. The choice of ethnicity definitely feels tone-deaf, but you can just leave it at 'No Preference.'
The League only gives you about four potential matches per day, and this is what the profile will look like. Again, the fact that this person went to Penn and is a Strategy Consultant is par for the course on The League. You do the now-familiar 'swipe right or left' thing.
For an additional reference, the interests on the profile below are like a poem encapsulating many people on The League: 'Equinox, SoulCycle, The Whitney, Barry's Bootcamp, AdWeek, and Running.' If this is your style, The League is for you.
Once you have matched with someone, you have 21 days to start a conversation. The League also sorts your message feed into categories like 'Best Match,' 'Recent,' 'Popular,' and 'Least Flaky,' but these seem like a bit of overkill since the app only give you a few potential matches per day.
THE RUNDOWN: What app you choose really depends on the type of experience you want. There are definitely differences in the general type of people who gravitate toward each app, at least in my experience. Tinder and Coffee Meets Bagel are pretty representative, but Hinge is essentially your social network, Bumble is more of a sorority, The League is full of ambitious people, and OkCupid is more alternative. If you want to go quickly from 'match' to 'meet,' you should try one of the apps that has a strict time limit, like Bumble or Hinge. But if you want to take your time and sometimes just play around with the app, you are better off on Tinder. And lastly, if you want a curated experience that only shows you a few matches per day, you should choose The League or Coffee Meets Bagel (Hinge is in the middle).
For myself, I used to love Hinge because it felt easier having friends-of-friends in common, but watching my matches evaporate after 24 hours if I don't start chatting is annoying. And I found Tinder has been making big strides in letting you know more about the person you are matching with (you can even link your Instagram now). As a guy, Tinder and Hinge were my favourites -- although I think Coffee Meets Bagel and The League require a bit more time to fully assess. And as a side note, I understand why people love Bumble's setup, but I just didn't have too much in common with the women I met on the app.
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