Advice for online dating in 2021 — from the creator of a popular dating app
Less ghosting, more connections and other reasons to be optimistic about looking for love in these times
The pandemic has produced a new paradox: a surge in online daters — but with greatly reduced opportunities for actually meeting in person. That even more people would be turning to dating apps during this time makes a lot of sense to Justin McLeod, founder and CEO of Hinge. "Loneliness was getting bad before, and I think it's even worse, in this world, for single people who are alone," he said. "And there's just no other way to really meet people right now." Hinge's parent company, Match Group, predicted the app would triple its revenue last year.
If you're one of the users driving up the prices of stay-at-home stocks like Hinge while trying to find love in isolation, the outlook might look less rosy from your perspective.
But McLeod feels optimistic for you. He said the behaviour of Hinge users during the pandemic suggests online daters have become more thoughtful and intentional. He pointed to better habits, like "not chasing after people that aren't interested," and "a pretty great reduction in the amount of ghosting going on." He also said people are actually setting up more dates, even if they're video dates by necessity.
McLeod's advice for making the most of your time spent on dating apps involves being more reflective, authentic and results-driven. Here are his insights on making meaningful romantic connections in 2021, amidst the challenges, opportunities and surprises that come with dating in a pandemic.
Carefully consider what information to share
When Tinder gamified online dating with its quick-swipe interface, it swung the pendulum in the direction of fast matches. Hinge has been marketed as an antidote to this speedy approach, one of the main differences being that the app encourages users to include more personal information in a profile, and even requires they answer three prompts from a list (like "My most irrational fear", "I geek out on", and "I'm most attracted to"). But you can include quite a bit of information on the other apps as well.
Sharing personal information on apps comes with risks. There's the chance of your information being spread via hacking, or simply because apps may share your data beyond what you'd imagine or want, as has come to light in the case of dating apps.
Of course, McLeod makes the case for sharing personal information by pointing to how the algorithm works in an app like Hinge. He said it's the same as walking down the street and judging people based on their looks. "[If] we walked down the street ... looking at people's faces, and you sort of said 'yes' to half the people and 'no' to half the people … I wouldn't totally know what is important to you and what's not important to you," he said. "But if we interviewed these people a little bit and you only liked 10 per cent of them and said 'no' to 90 per cent of them, now I have a much, much better sense of your taste."
Go slow and be selective
McLeod suggests you can waste your time by not being more selective when swiping and liking. Casting a wider net isn't just more time-consuming, it also makes it harder for the app "to zero in on your tastes." So if online dating is starting to feel like a low-yield part-time job, he suggests slowing down "rather than just saying 'yes' or 'no' to people just based on a photo." He thinks saying 'no' more than 'maybe' might even be a good idea. "Really make it about quality over quantity," he said.
Authenticity over perfection
Obviously, telling other daters about yourself isn't just about helping an app's algorithm analyze you, it's also about letting people get to know you. But writing your own romantic marketing copy isn't necessarily a comfortable task, and many people find themselves trying to look cool or striving for perfection — and sacrificing authenticity along the way. McLeod thinks this is a mistake.
"Ultimately," he said, "you're looking for someone who's really going to like you for you." He recommends "not trying to be cool."
When entering information in your profile, McLeod recommends you "say something about yourself that's unique or quirky [and] that really gives someone a way in to start a conversation with you."
Similarly, when it comes to photos, he suggests ditching the ones where you're wearing sunglasses "or any other things ... that shield your real self." And despite their ubiquity, he advises against the selfie. "They generally don't work as well," he said. "Show your interests; show you with your friends; show where you've been — some sort of travel shot — something that, again, gives people a way in and gives a full sense of your humanity and your full set of interests."
Small talk vs. big talk
"There's no single best opener," McLeod said. "Ask a question or make a comment about the photo that you're seeing or the prompt that you're seeing because that's really going to make the conversation unique. It's going to show that you're interested … and that's going to lead to a better conversation."
He thinks the circumstances of the pandemic have led to bigger conversations, earlier. "I think it does crack people open and it does lead to conversations that are deeper and more meaningful," McLeod said. "I think that people really stepped back and reassessed their dating lives and what they really wanted ... which I think will have, at least for some time, some resonance." He thinks for daters who've lived through this time, it will become more of a norm to open up quickly about their needs and concerns.
We return to our opening conundrum: so many daters with so much time and so few ways to connect in person. Of course, many first dates are happening by video now. The Bumble dating app saw an over 70 per cent increase in video calls in Canada in the last week of April 2020. And while it may seem less than ideal, McLeod sees an upside.
At the time of this interview, McLeod said he still thinks people who want to get offline are doing so. "Even if it's not the first date or even the second date, these days … people are meeting up in person, socially distanced or with a mask," he said. "They're just being more selective about how quickly they'll do that." In the meantime, video dates require a lot less energy — which could be a good thing.
"I think it has the opportunity to reduce a lot of frustration when it comes to dating because I think it will increase the chances that if you actually go out on a date in person, that it's going to be a good date," he said. He also added that if video first dates become more common, it will reduce how often you end up putting in time, effort and money. "Then … a few minutes in, you're like, 'Oh my God, this is a total waste of time' ... I think [it] will make people way happier in the long run."
McLeod's own big romance was famously the subject of a 2015 entry of the New York Times Modern Love column. After overcoming a substance abuse problem and creating Hinge, McLeod reunited with his lost love. "We just had a baby, actually, who was, like, six months when this all began," he said. "Overall, in terms of our relationship … it's definitely gotten more intense. We spend a lot of time together.... I actually think it's really deepened and strengthened our relationship over time. But it's definitely been — like, it's a lot." His advice for people in relationships, as well as for those seeking them, is to commit to really taking the time, asking the questions and having the conversations that are required. "I think we need to look at the growth and learning opportunities," he said. "We have really open lines of communication, and we talk about what we're struggling with and support each other through it and make compromises. And yeah, I think it's pretty standard relationship stuff. You just have to actually do it, you know?"
Jamey Ordolis is the senior producer of CBC Life and a regular contributor to CBC Radio.