Modern love is messy, complicated, heart-wrenching, beautiful, and above all else? Online.
Today on Thinking Is Cool (which happens to be the Season 2 premiere just sayin’), we’re exploring the ways our modern interpretations of meeting people might force us to hold a mirror up to all of our relationships—with each other, and more importantly, with technology.
Why do dating apps have such a stigma? Why do we think they suck so much? Why are our expectations so flawed? And what can we do differently?
Join in, listen, get introspective, and have some fun. Because thinking is cool and so are you.
Who you'll hear from this episode:
Hey there, hi there, and welcome everyone to the premiere episode of Season 2 of Thinking Is Cool.
My name is Kinsey Grant and I’m a twentysomething Scorpio journalist and perpetually single New Yorker now in recovery. I’m the host of this show, Thinking Is Cool, and I’ve made it my mission to ensure that your next conversation is better than your last. Whether you have that conversation over a sexy aperitivo with a mysterious and beautiful first date or over a box of Girl Scout Cookies with your roommate, you are welcomed here.
Because this show is all about making hard things fun (that’s what she said) no matter who you are or what your story is. Sometimes, the hard thing is talking about capitalism or politics or some other third-rail issue. Sometimes...it’s harder than that. This is one of those times. We’re talking about modern dating.
Now, before I dive into today’s exploration of dating apps, contemporary relationships, and the role algorithms play in determining the trajectory of our lives...I want to say thank you.
First, thank you to this season’s presenting sponsor, Fundrise. If you know what Fundrise is, I’m so proud of you. If you don’t, here are three out of context clues: doorbell, dividend, Chrishell and Jason were inevitable. Keep listening this season for the scoop on Fundrise and all they can unlock.
And second, thank you to all of you. It’s because of your support that I’m here, starting the second season of my very own show. A lot in my life has changed in the last year, and your unwavering encouragement throughout the early days of Thinking Is Cool has been both constant and invaluable. I’m grateful for all of you.
It’s time to kick off this wild ride. Welcome to Season 2 of Thinking Is Cool. Nothing is off limits. Everything is on the table. Take it anywhere. And remember...thinking is cool, and so are you.
*Fade out music*
Something I want to do this year: Learn how to rollerblade.
My mantra is: That’s show biz baby.
Personal brand: Clumsy but likeable.
26 years old. College educated. Podcast host. 6’0 tall. Live in Greenwich Village. Social drinker.
That and six photos that show a range of physical attributes from “good with animals” to “New York 7 with a heart of gold” are all the potential suitors on Hinge got before deciding whether I might be the future love of their lives. Or at least their Friday night plans.
I’ve dated—and I use the word dated very loosely—a healthy handful of men since I moved to New York City four years ago. All but one were found on Hinge. In my post-graduate social circle, the honest truth is this: If you were interested in making out with someone regularly and didn’t meet your significant other in college...if you hoped to get either a free drink or a good story out of your night off...you had to swipe for it.
You had to ask yourself and more often than not your trusted circle of single advisers: Is he cute? Don’t you know him? Didn’t you make out with him last month? How pretentious is too pretentious for a Wharton grad? Does he look too close with his mom?
It sounds clinical, and that’s because it was. Like almost all single people born after about 1985, I spent four of my best, hottest years at the mercy of an algorithm. An algorithm I trusted to help me avoid the biggest fear we as humans face: dying alone. Or dying alone and never getting laid before you do.
This is the story of dating apps and their irrevocable impact on modern relationships.
*Roll transition music*
Let’s jump in.
I want you to think for a moment about the purpose of any piece of technology—it exists to solve problems. Our prehistoric ancestors couldn’t keep warm or cook food, so they discovered fire. Our more recent forebears couldn’t stop people from dying of polio and measles, so they invented vaccines. Lizzo thought Chris Evans was hot, so she redefined the DM slide.
Dating apps are a revolutionary piece of technology for how simple the pipes are. Depending on your age, location, sexual identity, and emotional intelligence...they can solve a number of problems: the need to get laid, the need to find a life partner, the need to get over someone else. And when used correctly, they can be tremendously effective tech.
But what happens to the ways we connect with other humans when we allow algorithms to tell us with whom we might want to someday grow old and grey?
Is the proliferation of dating app usage a natural extension of our digital technology revolution, or is it something more sinister? Should we think about finding potential partners, whether for a night or for a lifetime, differently when an algorithm steps in to do the sorting? Could outsourcing the process of finding love make life easier, or are we just screwing ourselves every time we swipe right or left?
That’s what we’re thinking about today: the ways we’ve allowed technology to solve our problems and the ways those solutions can, at times, become problems themselves. Because even if you’re one of those lucky few who managed to stay with your college S.O. post-grad, the future of humanity—marriage, mortgage, and kids—now rests on the shoulders of engineers at Hinge, Tinder, and OkCupid.
So dating apps...can they work? Are we better or worse off using them and relying on them? So many of us are on these apps. And I know how they've made me feel. Self conscious. Angsty. Horny. Angry. Hopeful. Idealistic. How can they work for us and make us feel happier? Let's talk to friends and experts and find out.
Real fast, though, a word from our presenting sponsor this season, Fundrise.
[Pause for ad break]
Back to the action.
I watched the movie The Holiday last weekend. The premise of the movie goes like this: Two smart, capable, attractive women are unlucky in love and simply fed up with it. They swap homes, one in LA and the other in the English countryside, to spend the holiday season away from their sad, lonely lives. While in each other’s respective realities, they each find love in the most uncommon of places.
Their stories are stories of dumb luck. And as much as I revere the post-feminist take on the rom com, Hollywood heavyhitters have irrevocably damaged our expectations of what it really means to find a life partner.
Movies like The Holiday perpetuate the idea that the only good, real way to meet someone is through sheer luck. It has to be fate. That’s the ideal. You bump into them at a party. Your hands brush on the subway. You lock eyes at the DMV or the coffee shop or some other verifiably unsexy place. And that’s it—you know.
But let me ask you this: Is it just me, or is it a lot harder than you expected to end up in a devastatingly beautiful romance because a woman with bangs and doe eyes in an elevator heard you playing The Smiths?
It’s hard because it’s not real. The meet-cute, which Hollywood invented in the 1940s by the way, is dead.
But that doesn’t mean romance is being buried along with it. Today...we just have a new means of finding the person whose morning yawn we have memorized by heart. It’s a little less romantic, but it’s tremendously effective. It’s the advent of the dating app.
See, for most of human history, those interested in settling down with a romantic partner relied on their existing social circles to find that partner. Friends of friends were introduced, chance encounters happened, and that was for many years what drove both Nancy Meyers’s success and the bulk of the NYT wedding announcements.
But today, meeting at a bar is considered “the old-fashioned way” by the NYT. Literally, they wrote that in a recent engagement announcement. It’s because dating apps have in large part displaced friends or chance as the dominant vector for a potential romantic relationship.
In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Stanford sociologist Michael Rosenfeld found that heterosexual couples are more likely to meet a romantic partner online than through personal contacts and connections. Since 1940, traditional ways of meeting partners—through family, in church and in the neighborhood—have all been in decline, Rosenfeld found.
And at the same time? Dating apps have stepped in to do the dirty work. 44.2 million people in the United States used dating apps in 2020.
Unsurprisingly, a pandemic that mandated distance was a boon for the apps. According to Wired, Hinge reported a 63% annual spike in downloads and a tripling of revenue in 2020. In May 2021 alone, more than 6.5 million people downloaded Tinder.
It’s likely you already understand the prevalence of dating apps either based on your personal experience or that of your single friends. Or in the case of my parents most certainly listening to this, your daughter’s war stories. For that reason, I won’t rehash the tragicomedy that is being single on the apps in your 20s and 30s.
What I will do is tell you this: Dating apps are the real new normal—and yes, drink every time I say those words this season. They’re the most common way people report meeting their spouse...jury’s still out on the top way people are meeting someone to text back and forth incessantly for three months before forgetting to respond one night—but my money’s on dating apps for that too.
It’s an important part of the dating app story: Depending on your age, sexual orientation, needs, and app of choice, dating apps can really be whatever you want them to be. If you’re looking for sex, you will find it on dating apps. If you’re looking for a relationship, you might find it on dating apps.
Consider this from my friend...well, my sister’s best friend who became my friend, Michael Fundora, who’s a member of the LGBTQ community and a regular user of the apps.
MICHAEL: I am on Tinder and hinge, um, and then I'll see his grinder. Um, so yeah, those are the big three and that there's kind of. Like an unwritten rule in the gay world of like Tinder and hinge is where you go for dating. And grinder is more of a hookup app.
Michael continued to say this:
MICHAEL: If I want to like, go hook up with someone right now, like I wouldn't go on to Tinder. It's too much work. Like the, you know, the, the interface on grinder is much more conducive to finding a quick hookup, whereas in Tinder and hinge, Swipe and hopefully match Grindr. You don't have to do that. There's no blockage there. You can just straight up mentor someone and be like, Hey, what's up.
In my experience, Hinge is where you meet people with more potential for something long-term. One of you told me Bumble is now cheugy. Tinder is where my cousin meets Brooklyn boys who only want one thing. The point is this: Each app has its utility, and it’s up to users to take advantage of that utility.
Back to Michael:
MICHAEL: You can log on and make a file. You can filter out by like what you want. So like, you can get rid of like a couple of things, right. From the get go, you know, like if you look at someone's profile basis, You know, I'm really into EDM and trans music and going to festivals, like for me, like that's a big swipe left or not, or whatever the equivalent is for the other apps. Um, or, you know, so stuff like that. Um, so, you know, you can then also like, you know, like everyone has their age range. Like I'm not like, like super like ages, I guess you can call it. But like, I don't want to date a 20 year old, you know, like that's just a little too young for me. A 50 year old. This was a little bit, a little too high on my spectrum, you know? So you can filter those out like right from the beginning and just be like, okay, cool. This is what I want. Um, and in the gay world, like for me, like, Going to go into some details here, but you know, like I am, I'm versatile. Like I can talk about them. I can do whatever. Like, um, I'm so it all, or, you know, whereas there are a lot of people who like only do one or the other and like, for some people, you know, in the game to me, like sex is a big thing. And like, you know, they want to make sure that like their sexual needs are being met. So if you're a top and you never want to bottom, you can filter out for that. Um, so, you know, there's, those are some pros, you know, Really like, look at what you want.
What you want. That matters! To consider the real impact of dating apps and the technification of our relationships, we have to start by understanding just how insanely convenient this tech can be, especially if more traditional means of meeting people—family, friends, work—aren’t available to you based on either proximity or sexual identity.
The luxury of choice is one worth appreciating. Sure, there’s the paradox of choice—having too many options gives us anxiety. But if you’re someone who knows what you want? Dating apps. On these apps, we’re given a broader pool than we might encounter in our everyday lives...and we can filter based on behavior and physicality and lord only knows what.
Consider this from the WSJ: Researchers from the University of Chicago found that online couples have longer, happier marriages. Their study of more than 19,000 participants found that the “relationship quality” of partners who meet online may be higher—and the rate of separation or divorce lower—than for partners who meet offline. According to the study, the rate of marital breakups for respondents who met their spouse online was 25% lower than for those who met offline.
Why, you ask? The researchers suggested that a greater pool of potential spouses might give users more options and allow them to be more selective.
LINDSEY: If you're hesitant about using technology, when it comes to dating, the only person that you're hurting is yourself, I think.
That was Lindsey Metselaar, host of the popular dating podcast We Met At Acme. She’s staunchly pro-dating app, and in truth our conversation should have been an ad for Hinge. I’m with her, and that’s in large part because of this point:
LINDSEY: I think dating apps are amazing and I'm so pro dating apps, because the reality is we all have our phones in our hand, twenty four seven. And so anyone that you meet in the wild is also going to be on a dating app. So it's like a perfect way to, you know, assure that you will meet someone, especially if you're shy, when you're going out. Um, but it also is really great because you know, most dating apps, it's like, you both swipe and then you match. And so, oh, this person's into me and I'm into them. And so there's no confusion. Whereas like, if you are doing set ups or things like that, one person might be being like forced into the thing, at least with the dating app, you both are like, I'm into you. I'm into you.
And trust me, that goes a long way. Swiping is the new setup, and it’s so much better than pretending you’re interested in your friend’s boyfriend’s cousin’s startup idea.
But despite widespread use and seemingly endless applications, there remains a black box in the dating app ecosystem—one that remains largely mysterious but in essence holds the keys to future relationship happiness...the algorithm. The mechanics that govern what you do and don’t see on Hinge, Tinder, Grindr, Feeld, Raya, or any other dating app.
In truth, they’re relatively simple: Many of them rely on patterns of stated preferences—what you feed the app either in continued engagement or in your settings is what you see more of. It’s a process called collaborative filtering. The app seeks patterns in whom you’ve said yes or no to, then it attempts to figure out how those users resemble other users to predict which 6’1” investment banker you might like best. The more you use it, the more the algorithm gets to know you and effectively predicts your behavior. You have a type, and Bumble knows it.
It’s not all that dissimilar from the algorithms behind TikTok’s For You Page or Amazon’s purchase suggestions, many have pointed out. Only dating app algorithms aren’t serving you viral dances or toilet cleaning tools. They’re serving you people.
More on that after a short break to hear from the fine folks at Massican.
[Pause for ad break]
In a fantastic albeit very mid-2010s piece, Tim Urban of Wait But Why wrote this: “When you choose a life partner, you’re choosing a lot of things, including your parenting partner and someone who will deeply influence your children, your eating companion for about 20,000 meals, your travel companion for about 100 vacations, your primary leisure time and retirement friend, your career therapist, and someone whose day you’ll hear about 18,000 times.”
18,000 times. And we’re content letting an algorithm tell us who might be best suited to fill that position? It’s the biggest and most natural uneasiness we have with dating apps—they feel like a very robotic solution to the very human ailment of loneliness.
For all their promise, and trust me, I’ll explain just how promising they can be shortly, dating apps, like the perpetually single, have their pitfalls.
Perhaps the biggest is that they’re functions of human behavior. The algorithms can only work with what we feed them, and what we feed them is often garbage. We’re human, which means we’re flawed, biased, deeply set in our ways, and prone to telling mistruths.
To err is human, yes, but we have to consider the intersection of our human proclivities and the technology in the palm of our hands. The internet is an inherently scalable piece of technology—the impacts of one person’s decision rarely impact just that person. Here’s more of my conversation with Michael.
MICHAEL: This is a really bad one that I find. So horrendous, no chocolate, no rice, no spice. Awful. Like people put that like on their profile.
KINSEY: How does that not get reported? Is there, is there any authority to which you can report that?
MICHAEL: I mean, yeah, you can report, you can report profiles, but like what's going to happen is their profile gets blocked and they just make another one and then we post it up again.
KINSEY: Wow. That's like really? It is it's, it's tough.
MICHAEL: That's why, you know, like you have to kind of, I think it's, I feel bad for like, like younger people. Like I remember like Adam started using grinders. I was like 21, but like, you know, people who like first joined them. I mean, you're not supposed to say 18, but like obviously, you know, welcome to the real world. You know, you have like 16 year olds joining and they're reading that and they're like, oh wow. People don't like me. It's like, no, it's just some assholes out there, you know?
Michael’s experience is horrific, but not particularly unique. The unfortunate reality is that we self-select in dating...and with the amplification of an algorithm serving us only people it thinks we’ll like, our types—regardless of how innocent or insidious they might be—are magnified and reinforced.
The algorithm buttresses our biases and serves us more of what we know. And it certainly doesn't necessarily do us any favors in terms of expanding our worldview.
It’s unfortunate, especially given that we’re hard-pressed to dream up a piece of technology more capable of giving us options than dating apps. But instead of dating outside our comfort zones and physical types...we find ourselves incapable of comprehending just how many people are in front of us.
COLEMAN: Sometimes I wonder if paradox of choice becomes an issue with dating apps. I would say not necessarily for me, because I found someone that I very much want to be in a relationship with, but I think I've heard of, or I know of guys that are women as well, that seemed less likely to commit to someone that they met on a dating app, probably because they know that there are. Literally millions of other people on that app that they can swipe on seems.
That was someone I’ll introduce you to in just a minute, but here’s a hint as to his role in all this...I keep a toothbrush at his apartment. Another important take, this time from someone I’ve never shared a straw with. Here’s Lindsey again.
LINDSEY: The biggest drawback that a lot of people talk about is this idea that while they are, these apps are putting a ton of people in front of you, they're also putting a ton of people in front of you in a bad way that it almost becomes a game for a lot of users of these dating apps that we're so used to this dopamine rush of getting a like back or matching with somebody. That it becomes a game to try and find a real connection with someone. So it's this idea of like game gamifying, dating apps, um, just in terms of like sheer volume of people who are put in front of you every single day. I think it can happen if somebody is not ready to date and they are using the dating app just to sleep with people like that happens all the time. And that's something that. We'll never be able to stop unfortunately.
Perspectives like Lindsey’s serve to illustrate an important point: We’re not always particularly happy with dating apps in theory, but we see few other options in practice. We’ve reached a point in the story of the internet at which sharing yourself online feels mandatory. If you want to fully immerse yourself in culture and conversation and the occasional makeout, you need to be online. It’s hard to imagine why anyone who’s single and looking wouldn’t at least give the apps a try.
For me, that idea brings up a question I’ve struggled to answer: We make decisions on dating apps about people we like or don’t like based on two-dimensional representations of very much three-dimensional people...what does that say about us as humans?
I think it says we’re horny. We’re visual. We’re used to instant gratification. And we’re products of companies as much as they’re products of us.
To consider that idea, I turned to my cofounder and friend and former comrade in singledom, Josh Kaplan.
JOSH: Who is designing the system who is designing the technology, what are the morals put into it? What are the incentive structures? We know that we can ask those questions. We're we're beyond the over glorification of these tech idols. I don't know who is running hinge. I don't know. I mean, we know Whitney Wolford is bad. I, I don't know, who's running like locks club, which is for Jewish people that I just signed up for. Like what makes them particularly talented at creating this environment for me to meet somebody that I want to spend more time with and get to know better. And I just don't know enough about it. And it's like, I want to know those answers.
KINSEY: Yeah. My friends have, uh, an interesting theory, my single friends of whom there are dwindling numbers. That the hinge algorithm, especially where we are in New York and just kind of the defacto dating app. It's what everybody uses. It's like pretty reliable there. They have a theory that hin hides all of your good people behind the paywall. So you can either use hinge free or you can use hinge and pay for it, hinge through however many swipes you go through knows the kind of people that you like. They're going to know what kind of they look like, what their height is, where they're from, what kind of. See, they have all this information for the kinds of people that you are on paper attracted to, and they feed it. They like breadcrumb it to you. They get gears who you could send a rose to today. If you paid, I don't know. Maybe you would be engaged if you just paid for hinge and you would get all the good people like that is the theory. So you're only kind of getting the rubbish unless you pay, which feels pretty fucked up. Like, I, that makes me mad. And then I'm like, okay, well that's business.
JOSH: Are you asking me to get premium on these dating apps on the corporate card and the name of it?
KINSEY: Yeah. In the name of good journalism, you must. I paid for porn in the first season for dating apps and the second season.
JOSH: What are you, what are you raising money for it? Well, I got to go on a bunch of dates over the next week. Sorry. I hate the rose thing. The rose thing is terrible is to say this person is in high demand on the platform. And if you want access to send them a push notification, you can give me five bucks.
KINSEY: But that doesn't sound very capitalist of you.
JOSH: Um, conflicted. Weird, right? No capitalism in the bedroom.
We can complain all we want about the shortcomings of dating apps—the gamification, the lack of content controls, the cognitive overload, you name it. But there’s a reason I’m not really interested in hearing the corporate POV from these apps’ leaders: The business model and the idea of profiting from our search for love is...whatever. To me...the biggest tragedy of modern dating at the behest of the dating apps is the epidemic of absent empathy.
That scruffy-sounding voice you heard earlier? The person who puts toothpaste on my toothbrush? That was my boyfriend, Coleman. We met on Hinge earlier this year, and every day since I’ve met him has been better than the last. We’re a dating app success story, but the honest truth is that ours is one I waited years for.
I went on so many first dates I lost count. Some were fun, some were surprising, but more than I care to admit were simply sad. The feeling of sitting across the table from someone who sees you as nothing more than a conquest? It’s demoralizing. It’s hard.
And we’re all guilty of it. We know from econ class that scarcity can be a powerful force, and faced with a dating world bereft of anything even resembling scarcity...we’ve gamified something sacred. Call me a hopeless romantic, but shouldn’t finding love be a little more poetic than giving yourself carpal tunnel syndrome from scrolling through an endless barrage of faces while you’re watching Netflix?
In all of the interviews I did for this episode, I never once used the word “romance” when talking about modern dating. We all have different definitions of romance, but regardless of how you classify it...I want more. I think we’re capable of more as smart people who are becoming increasingly aware of the negative impacts technology has had on our lives.
What happens to us when we allow corporate entities to take ownership of arguably one of the biggest decisions we can make—choosing a partner? It’s not a question I’m interested in answering. And that’s where we come in.
*Roll transition music*
I’m going to bring Josh back in for a moment.
KINSEY: Let’s start with a simple question. And that question is, are you single or taken at the moment.
JOSH: I am single.
KINSEY: How long have you been single?
JOSH: I've been single for depends how you define it? It's a little nuanced. I'd say all of 20, 21. Okay.
KINSEY: Okay. And how do you feel about that?
JOSH: Mm, not particularly great, but it's also, it's been my fault. I would say, I have been thinking about this also, knowing that you were going to ask me hard questions.
Yeah. I've lived in a lot of different places this past year, even like time Miami living at home, which wasn't really great for dating, but in my old department, which wasn't great for dating, living with a bunch of other people just moved into my own spot. We just launched another big part of our company.
So it's like, I don't feel great about it, but it's, it's been self-inflicted so I don't really think I have anybody else to blame other than, yeah.
KINSEY: I don't think you have to blame your singledom on anybody.
JOSH: Well, it's like sometimes, sometimes you're sitting there and you're like a little frustrated about dating and whatever it might be. And you're like, yeah, look like right now, it's on me.
First of all, thank you to Josh for being so refreshingly honest in his assessment of the dating experience. And second, consider Josh’s evaluation of being single on the dating apps:
JOSH: You, you mentioned something that made me realize the concept of failure on the dating apps. Very much there, right? Like you might swipe and not get a match. You might meet on a date and not click. If I order off Amazon and they'll get my package, I'm pissed. If I get an Uber and the Uber doesn't come, I'm pissed. Like all these other apps are guaranteeing convenience and success to the point where if they're not the most convenient and the most successful, you're out, you're out the door. You're going to go find another solution. You're going to go use some. But on the apps, it's incredibly prevalent to fail and we're not used to failing online.
I love and respect Josh, but I think I disagree. It’s not a failure to go on a bad date. It’s not a failure to go on three bad dates. When we conflate the idea of finding a long-term romantic relationship with the relatively commonplace concept of meeting new people? That’s when we set ourselves up for failure.
That’s why I suggest a rebrand. Let’s stop calling them dating apps and start calling them meeting apps.
In a piece I referenced earlier, Tim Urban also wrote this: “I think this is a no-brainer positive development. The key thing is that it’s not online dating—it’s online meeting people followed by in-person dating...The first step in ending up with the right person is meeting the right person, and for something so important in our lives, we’ve had no real system for doing it efficiently and intelligently.”
I think we’ve been thinking about it all wrong. There is no solution for getting to know a person in person—the pandemic taught us as much. But dating apps aren’t online dating. They’re online meeting people, which gives us the opportunity to get to know each other in person on a silver platter.
The biggest struggle I faced in really coming to terms with the idea of meeting my partner on a dating app is superficial, in all honesty. When people ask Coleman and me how we met, I cower at the thought of saying “Hinge.” I’ve allowed myself to fall into some weird trap of thinking the only real way of finding someone is by chance encounter.
And I say we for a reason. I asked for hot takes about dating apps on Twitter and almost everyone who reached out said they don’t want to meet a significant other on an app. They want the chance encounter. As if somehow that makes for a better story.
Back to Lindsey.
LINDSEY: Probably the people who met organically, like think that they're better than the people who met on apps and, you know, whatever. And I also feel like they're part of the reason that there is this stigma for apps, which there shouldn't be. But is because people are like, oh, well I really wanted to meet someone. So I went on a dating. Yeah. And these people who meet IRL organically were like, oh, well it wasn't looking. And then like, we reached for the same coffee and then, you know, and it's like, one is not better than the other, like everyone who met their partner organically, I can assure you was also on dating apps. It just happened to work out that way.
So here’s what we need to do. We need to stop feeling weird about saying “we met on Hinge” and start saying “we found each other on Hinge and got to know each other over a glass of wine in the West Village and started to really like each other on long, aimless walks around Lower Manhattan and probably fell in love over a plate of mozzarella sticks in Brooklyn.”
Our problem isn’t finding love. Our problem is meeting people. At least it has been...until now.
I said I had a dating app success story. And no offense to my thoughtful, considerate, very handsome boyfriend...but I’ve had a lot of success stories by my new definition of dating apps as meeting apps. I’ve had shitty dates, dates so bad I couldn’t make it through one drink, dates so unbelievable I was texting the group chat under the table.
And not a single one up until I met Coleman turned into a relationship. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t succeed in meeting someone new. It’s not about being good or being bad at using dating apps—it’s about understanding their utility and not expecting too much. People hate dating apps because they expect too much. Temper those expectations, and let love in my friends!
Should that not be the lesson for every tech tool that hands us relationships of any sort? For Twitter and LinkedIn and Instagram and TikTok? We have reached a point at which we’re inextricable from the tech in our hands. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing, but I don’t think it’s an entirely bad thing either.
The techlash is real and really necessary—it’s important to hold technologists and CEOs and engineers to account. But it’s also important to recognize how amazing and enriched they’ve made some aspects of our lives.
We can work to ensure that platforms like Hinge and Tinder and Grindr and the algorithms that govern them are equitable, responsible, and intelligent. But we can also thank our lucky stars that, now, there’s a way to meet people we otherwise never would have.
This is a conversation about dating apps, yes, but it’s also about all of the tech that helps us form relationships. Take a moment to think about how truly paradigm-shifting it is that we can meet people on the internet. Meet people from parts of the world we’d never even considered.
Parts of the world like San Diego.
That’s where Coleman grew up, about 2,178 miles from where I grew up in Tallahassee, Florida. We have very different lives—he’s an engineer and I’m an internet person. We don’t listen to the same music. We both love Joan Didion, but we’re also both not ambitious enough to join some Joan Didion book club. He’s mid-century modern and I’m Scandinavian minimalist.
There was no reason for us to meet. Our lives had no overlap for 26 years up until the spring of 2021. I found him because of Hinge. Because we liked each other’s photos and he messaged me something cute. For all the matches with bad boys, non-committal boys, boys with big egos, and boys only looking for something physical...the algorithm finally gave me a man worth pursuing. We showed up on a first date just like we both had countless times. But this time, it was more than the typical polite banter. It was worth giving a shot.
When you really find yourself in the depths of love—and I mean the kind of love that you feel so much it almost aches—you don’t want to admit that some engineer somewhere in the Hinge corporate office was instrumental. You want to think it’s fate. You want to believe you would have found your way to that person somehow.
But the truth is that you might not have.
KINSEY: Do you think that we would have met. If we didn't meet on a dating app,
COLEMAN: uh, I mean, I don't know who's to say you don't have to lie to me. I feel like there's a chance. Like I think we have enough overlapping interests that we might've bumped into each other.
KINSEY: What overlapping interests?
COLEMAN: What do you mean to go to restaurants and cafes and parks? You feel like we don't?
KINSEY: I don’t know, I think we have a, we have a lot in common, but I don't know. I've been grappling with the idea of like fate versus something that you engineer for yourself. Right. There in reality, it's probably a mix of the two. Like it's, it's a lot more romantic to say that you were meant to be in my life and like, I would have found you somehow, but yeah, I probably wouldn't have, we grew up on an opposite side of the country. We work in different fields. You live in different neighborhoods.
COLEMAN: We ended up in the same city though. Yeah. I don't know. I agree with you. I'm not, I'm not a hundred percent like in the fate camp. I definitely do think like, in a lot of ways relationships are, I mean, you have to start with something, but they are what you make of them.
I know, I’ve gone soft. It happened so fast. But I found happiness on an app, what can I say? That might not happen for everyone. In fact, my anecdotal research suggests it likely won’t happen for you if you’re single and on the apps. But the possibility of meeting someone, even if that someone is going to break your heart, is infinitely larger on the dating apps than it is walking through the grocery store.
It’s a lesson in recognizing that for all the hornieness and angstiness the internet has bred in our generation...it’s also done some pretty magical shit for us.
I said I disagreed with some of Josh’s assessment of dating apps and their roles in modern dating culture. So what did I tell him after the recording ended? It went something like this: Don’t take yourself so seriously.
Since I’m not an expert, I’m just a girl who has like one nice boyfriend and thinks she’s an expert, I asked the expert...Lindsey.
LINDSEY: Talk to them as if like they're a friend, because the worst case scenario, if you do is that like they don't get it and they don't get you. And the best is that they feel like, wow, this person is not just every other person on this app. And there's someone I could really talk to.
And my final piece of dating app advice for anyone using them? Liking The Office is not a personality trait.
*Roll transition music*
The best part of the dating app story? We’re so early. We’re in the very first inning of what tech-enabled relationships might look like. There’s evidence to suggest the idea of matching people based on their answers to a questionnaire has been around since the 60s, but real online dating didn’t crop up until the 90s. There is so much we still have to learn about broadening our pools and weeding out the bad matches.
And we get to be part of that story. The apps and their algorithms change as we use them, so logic might suggest that we exercise some control over what happens next.
The lesson in all of this? Hold a mirror up to the way that you use technology. Dating apps like Hinge and Tinder can’t solve all of our problems, but they can solve one: introducing us to new people with whom we might have a connection. If we recognize that this is online meeting and not online dating, we can make the most of the algorithms without expecting too much. I think we need to take that attitude into our use of technology across the board.
And even more importantly, we need to recognize that we can utilize a tool while still constructively criticizing it. That’s how we ensure a positive outcome to the natural extension of the new world order—one in which we expect a quickly-shipped algorithm to make important decisions for us.
Marriage, sex, friendship—it doesn’t matter what we’re after. The internet has changed everything for this generation and for future generations, and that’s okay...as long as we recognize that we can put ourselves in the driver’s seat. And that ethical non-monogamy is a sham.
*Roll transition music*
So here’s my ask: Take these questions to the group chat or Slack or dinner table.
Think about it. Ask your friends about it. And report back what you find out.
Remember, thinking is cool...and so are you. See you next time.