Dating Apps

So, I have decided to dedicate this post to a rapidly growing trend, the ‘dating app dilemma’- to be or not to be is the question. More than 20% of adults with smartphones are using or have used dating apps. But dating people via online means has been from a long time back, even before such apps existed. I still remember there was a time about a decade ago when Yahoo chatrooms were the buzzing thing on the internet.

I have been observing the dating landscape for close to two decades now. This is around the same time when the online dating market exponentially gained significant traction. In the US, the offline gradually declined during the same. This included meeting family, friends, neighbours, work, college, bars, and so forth. So just in a matter of a few years, online channels, which were primarily associated with shady sexual predators, scammers, and bots, became the mainstream way of meeting your soulmate.

In India, there was one peculiar difference: much like skipping the PC era and transitioning directly to laptops and smartphones, Indian adults largely bypassed the traditional bar or mutual acquaintance channels and embraced the tech-infused app culture for dating. In fact, in India, the ‘arranged marriage‘ market underwent disruption by technology before the dating scene did. Consequently, basic awareness of online platforms was already instilled by the online matrimonial platforms, setting the stage for the imminent disruption of the dating landscape.

In many instances, there exists significant overlap wherein parents seek ideal matches for their children through matrimonial channels, while the younger generation concurrently explores dating apps. The prevalence of offline interactions via mutual acquaintances dwindled due to widespread social media addiction, with individuals of all ages constantly engrossed in their smartphones. Additionally, the cultural practice of meeting intriguing prospects failed to gain traction in India. This can be attributed to various factors, including the cultural context of India, which may not favour offline dating interactions initially. Moreover, women’s safety concerns, particularly in certain regions of the country, further deterred offline interactions.

Even personally, over the years, the majority of my dating encounters have been initiated through online channels, with dating apps having the shortest average lead time and the highest churn rate. This website might not have even existed without an online platform, as many of the encounters narrated here originated from dating apps.

The dating app space is primarily dominated by one major player, the Match Group, which encompasses numerous brands under its umbrella. Two of the largest market shareholders from the Match Group are Tinder and Hinge. Tinder pioneered the disruption of the dating market, making online channels the mainstream method for meeting potential dates.

Apart from the Match Group, the female entrepreneur-led ‘Bumble’ is the only other dating app that has captured a significant share of the online dating market. A big reason for its success is its brand positioning centred around women-centricity and safety, among other aspects. For instance, the app allows only women to send the first message after matching with a prospect, ensuring the weeding out of unwanted ‘creeps’.

Despite using Bumble for years, I still haven’t grasped the logic behind this move. Firstly, if a woman is matching with a prospect, she would have presumably already filtered out the ‘creeps’. Secondly, even if a ‘creep’ hasn’t been filtered out, how would sending the first message be helpful? Thirdly, and most importantly, almost all women initiate conversations with a generic ‘Hey’ or a similar opening line/question with no context to the prospect’s profile, likely picked up from somewhere on the internet. However, they have successfully marketed this approach, resulting in significant traction and the most equitable gender ratio amongst all apps (F: M::1:3). Thus, the three major players in the dating app space are Bumble, Tinder, and Hinge. While Tinder is more of a legacy product, Hinge and Bumble are newer platforms that cater to more up-to-date market needs.

An analogy, which was cited to me was that swiping right on a girl’s photo is the modern-day, tech-enabled world is equivalent to buying a girl a drink at a bar. The good thing about this approach is that the girl can do the profile check on a guy to figure out his legitimacy, over having an interaction inebriated state with a stranger at the bar. It’s easier for guys as well as it saves from the fear of public embarrassment, in case they are turned down. But there is huge gender parity on these apps with a ratio as high as 18:1 (M: F), so that makes the market quite skewed.

The Standup Gig

In the quest for ‘true love’, I recently (over half a decade back) downloaded some dating apps. Just kidding, I was just looking for new content, some basic Freudian needs, and a dopamine rush. These apps get highly addictive, like any other video game, these apps lead to a rush of dopamine. One moment, you don’t even know that someone who existed in this world, and the next moment you guys are watching Netflix and chilling.

I figured out that there are three reasons why a girl is on a dating app. This is specific just to India and might be different for other countries. First, the platonic networker; is bored and needs to talk to (text) someone or even network for better career opportunities but everything is completely platonic. Second, the societal victim; friends are getting married or are in relationships but want to ‘help’ her out as some acquaintance met the ‘perfect’ guy on an app and so get her on the app and the family is pressurizing for marriage and arranged dates not working out. Third, the casual encounter; a recent breakup or existential crisis, and using physical intimacy as a coping mechanism. These reasons are not mutually exclusive and a girl could be on the app for multiple reasons like seeking her ‘prince charming’ and friend-zoning the frogs.

Another term that I learned recently because of the dating app ‘research’ is ghosting. It’s quite easy to cut all forms of communication with someone you have met via an app if things don’t work out. Nearly 1 out of 3 people using dating apps have said that they have ‘ghosted’ someone. Dating apps have in a way also led to an increase in casual encounters with different people.

That being said, one of three marriages today starts online. I have known people who are in healthy relationships, and live-ins and have even gotten married off dating apps. If one looks from the Indian perspective, such apps aren’t much different from the matrimonial sites. The only difference is that there, parents do the swiping.

Like many new technologies, dating apps provoke quite a bit of hand-wringing about contemporary life. Are we too dependent on constant validation? Have we lost the ability to connect with other living, breathing humans? Or are we too busy in our work lives to actually filter through in the offline space?

It also depends on why you are in the app world. If it is for ‘true love’, I am a bit sceptical about the inorganic nature of this approach. If it is for marriage, then I don’t see much of a difference from the matrimonial website. If it is for entertainment, then probably there are more engaging means, and potentially hurting someone else’s emotions won’t fetch you any good karma. And if it is for ‘pizza home delivery, then making an effort and interactions in the offline space would fetch you better results.

So it’s your call, whether you want to swipe or not to swipe.

Later, Sidhant

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