Get Your Thumb Out Of My App: The Fatal Online Dating Flaw Hinge Didn’t Fix

Pairs well with I Hear You Knocking, by Dave Edmunds

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Photo via @hotelpanache

I’ve seen a lot of talk recently about the need to reinvent online dating, to make it less of a swipe-based video game, and transform it into something that fosters meaningful connections between complete and utter strangers on their phones. Also I thought I might swim the English Channel this afternoon.

The fiercest and most recent warrior in this copulation crusade is Hinge. Hinge recently gave its app a complete overhaul with the intent to make online dating a more sincere experience.

First, allow me to express a completely sarcasm-free bit of gratitude toward Hinge. They saw a problem and they didn’t ignore it. At least they’re trying. I don’t see Tinder losing any sleep over the flippant nature of us all partner poaching via our devices. Hinge gives a shit about us singletons, and whether that’s motivated by good intensions or the drive to keep the lights on at a startup, I honestly don’t care — I’ve personally been motivated by both.

But even with a massive outpouring of effort and a complete revamp of an app, which is no mean feat, they didn’t do it. They gave it a good effort, certainly, but they didn’t change online dating in the way that they hinted they might actually have done. Modifying the direction of a swipe and mandating that a quirky question or two be answered does not reinvent anything. Dying my hair blonde didn’t reinvent me. It just changed the kind of shampoo I used. I’m still flipping through guy after guy. What changed?

There is an overarching problem with the path currently traversed by online dating apps and we’re not talking about it. Because in technology speak, we never talk of the past, we only talk of moving forward. Would you ever go back to a flip phone? I won’t even go back to an iPhone 5.

This fatal flaw was born of pure intent — they were trying to stop women from receiving unwanted contact from men. The thinking was if you could only communicate with people you ‘matched’ with, there wouldn’t be as much flack to dodge every time you logged on. Suckers.

What this digital band aid fails to acknowledge is that in modern day dating apps, in order to match with someone, they have to also take action in order to open the lines of communication at all. There is no longer room for any out-of-the-blue contact to happen. If I see a guy I want to talk to, I have to swipe right, and hope he remembers to open the app this week and then swipe enough times for me to appear in his queue. I have to hope. It’s not enough that a single person has to hope, for years on end, that they’ll meet someone, we also have to hope someone remembers to click a little icon and flick their thumb over and over again until they see us. I don’t care how good your UX is, that’s degrading.

Do we not think it would be easier, and perhaps have better odds, if I could just email a guy myself and say hello? Rather than leave even more of the process to chance? I’ll make this plain: I don’t think we need to “reinvent” online dating. I think we need to take it back in time.

In ye olden days of online dating (Christ) on, OKCupid, and the like, all you had to do in order reach out to someone you found attractive, to the point that anyone can find anyone else attractive on a screen, was email them. Just reach out! Say hello! Say the witty canned line you send out en masse to 10–12 men every Saturday morning while your cinnamon scones are baking! No? Just me? K.

I cannot tell you how many men (we’re talking hundreds if not thousands) over the years I have swiped right on that I have never connected with at all. And yes, to be fair, they could have all, every single one of them, swiped left on me. But more likely, they never saw me at all. They grew bored of the app, I was algorithmically pushed down in the pile, or some other speed bump placed in the way of swipe-based apps caused he and I to never come into even the most meager of contact.

So I often wonder, why can’t I just say hi? Why do I have to wait in line behind a slew of other girls offering inspirational quotes and rock climbing photos and latte art? Why can’t I take charge of my own online dating life and just reach out to someone I want to meet? I used to be able to do that. And you know what — I used to date more.

Swiping apps assume everyone is putting equal effort into online dating. I’m not entirely if sure you’ve met humans before, but I think it’s safe to say we all exert different levels of effort during different activities. We’re all different people. But we’re all supposed to equally swipe away at regular intervals until we match. Y’all, this is stupid.

And on the topic of unwanted contact, you can’t stop it. I’ve swiped right and matched with men I’ve found incredibly attractive, that seemingly had great jobs and drive, only to see messages from them letting me know they’ve got girlfriends or wives and are just looking for “fun” and they just want to, you know, be up front with me about that. As if I’ve unwittingly dropped off my application and been accepted to the best little whorehouse in Brooklyn.

I’ve been insulted. I’ve been demeaned. I’ve been scared. And all from men I’ve “matched” with. Because they wouldn’t be able to contact me otherwise. You cannot entirely stop the things you don’t want to happen on online dating. Perhaps swiping slows them a little. But by resorting to a swipe/match paradigm, you’re actually slowing or even stopping more of the things we do want to happen.

In sum, enough with the thumbs. Release your entire user base unto the world. Let it speak freely. Let connections happen at their own will, rather than at your will. Online dating does not need more control, it needs less. And when those unwanted or offensive contacts happen, that’s where you’ve got some room to innovate. A hockey player can’t high stick without two minutes in the box. Can we not devise an effective punishment for men (and women!) who abuse their online dating access?

So much of finding love and companionship is already left to chance. Please leave the actions I take online to me.

Written by

NPR once called me a humor essayist, let’s go with that. Host of A Single Serving Podcast. shanisilver[at]gmail

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