In , not long before the COVID-19 pandemic swept through most of the world, reducing our social and romantic lives to on-the-web (mis)adventures, Dante, 27, downloaded Tinder, Bumble and Hinge, the three dating apps his friends recommended. Dante wanted to meet people, have fun and “wasn’t trying to look for quick hookups.”
In a span of a year, Dante had gone on more than 60 dates, with varying degrees of success. To some of his dates, he never texted back (“The vibe just wasn’t there.”) Later on, he was “ghosted” when his Hinge girlfriend of two months cut all communication with him without ever explaining why. Alas, he was also catfished, when he discovered another date was using photos from five years ago. “I didn’t even recognize her!” he says.
As described by a scientist at Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, internet dating is the one of the most significant events in the evolution of human reproduction in human history (second only to that time when Homo sapiens became a non-migratory species, something like ten thousand years ago). And according to a Stanford study, in 2017, about 40 percent of heterosexual couples and 60 percent of same-sex couples in the US met online. That makes online dating the most common way that American couples now meet, even before social distancing-related spikes in dating app signups happened.
Elizabeth Timmermans, a Belgium-based researcher and an author of Love in the Age of Tinder explains that online dating dates back to the 90s and rise of the internet. “It was reserved for geeky people who had a computer, and you had to be at home behind these huge screens that you couldn’t take anywhere,” Timmermans says. “The chances were high you were chatting with someone living on the other side of the country, or even the continent.”
The first location-based apps changed that. Grindr was launched in 2009, and it helped single, often anonymous gay men link up by searching for other active users within a specific geographic radius. Then, with the launch of Tinder in 2012, smartphone-owning people of all sexualities could start looking for love, or sex, or casual dating in their area, and it quickly became the most popular platform on the market.
Today, there is no shortage of dating apps available. The most notorious hookup app, especially among the younger folks, remains Tinder, with its popular “swiping” feature: online daters use right or left swipes to “like” or “dislike” photos of other users (if each of you swipes right on the other person – it’s a match). Tinder now reports 1.6 billion swipes and 26 million matches a day.
Bumble is America’s second favorite app, and its swiping feature comes with a catch: Anytime there’s a match, only users who identify as women can text first. Some apps like Hinge removed the swiping feature entirely, and instead, users spark a conversation with a person of interest by liking their photo or commenting on a prompt in their profile, such as “a life goal of mine” or “the most spontaneous thing I’ve ever done.”
The dating apps Plenty of Fish, Match and OKCupid are also among the 10 most popular in the US and are commonly thought to be more romance-friendly than Tinder. Then there are Senior People Meet for those finding love later in life; FarmersOnly for the countryside romance; Raya for celebrities; the infamous Ashley Madison for affairs; and Marry Me Already, presumably for those who have grown tired of the dating scene, virtual or otherwise.