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Some singles are done with dating apps

Kristin Schwab Sep 7, 2023
Heard on:
Participants at a speed dating event in London. Adrian Dennis/AFP via Getty Images

Some singles are done with dating apps

Kristin Schwab Sep 7, 2023
Heard on:
Participants at a speed dating event in London. Adrian Dennis/AFP via Getty Images

It’s a Tuesday night at a dimly lit bar in Manhattan. Around 30 singles are nervously sipping their drinks — or more nervously slamming them. They’re here for a speed dating event called We Met IRL, as in, we met in real life.

The evening starts with an ice breaker. Half of the group gets cards with a question and the other half gets matching answers.

“So mine was: ‘What’s the typical New York breakfast?’ And I go, ‘Who has bacon, egg and cheese?'”

Sofia Fernandez is 25 years old and it’s her first time speed dating. She’s done with the apps.

“I’m trying to find a more organic way to kind of meet new people,” she said.

She’s likely not alone. According to Morgan Stanley, the top dating apps reported slowing revenue growth last year, while the dating app market becomes oversaturated with options. Meanwhile, Eventbrite said that in the first half of this year, the number speed dating events listed on its site went up more than 60% compared to the year before.

When Fernandez said she’s done with the apps, she means done — deleted. She was going on date after date with people she had very little in common with.

“I think it’s very easy to hide behind a phone,” she said, “so it’s easier for people to be someone more interesting or someone else.”

On the apps, it’s not hard to bend the truth. It’s easy to, say, pretend you have white teeth by using the Facetune app. It’s also easy to pretend you’re looking for something serious when you really just want a fling. One recent survey of 1,400 Tinder users found that nearly half weren’t actually interested in finding dates and two-thirds were already in a relationship.

Across the room, 36-year-old Ariel Ventura echoed that sentiment. He said a lot of people on the apps are just messing around. What’s he looking for?

“Ultimately, I think what most people are looking for — their significant other,” he said.

The daters move from table to table while the event’s founder, Maxine Williams, flutters around the bar. She started We Met IRL in 2022 for people like her, who find the apps exhausting.

“We’re just always on our screens,” she said. “I log off work and, ‘Oh, I want to date someone.’ Like, get back on your phone and swipe, swipe, swipe, and hope that you can get from ‘Hey, hey, how’s it going?’ to a date and a relationship. Like, it just seemed impossible.”

Maxine Williams, a young Black woman with short black hair, stands in a bar wearing blue jeans and a black t-shirt that reads "We Met IRL" in white text.
Maxine Williams of We Met IRL. “It just seemed impossible,” she said of app dating — which inspired her to start her own business. (Kristin Schwab/Marketplace)

Dating felt like a part-time job, so Williams actually made it one. She runs a couple of events a month with two employees. Tickets are $25 per person.

But speed dating isn’t the only old school method having a renaissance. Matchmakers are also coming back. A company called Three Day Rule said its client base has grown 60% since 2020, and it’s gotten younger.

“These are the people that have been dating online since college,” said matchmaker Erika Kaplan. “So all of these people coming to us at 27, 28 have been dating online, using apps for about a decade already, and they’re sick of them.”

Matchmaking isn’t exactly affordable. Three months at Three Day Rule includes a photoshoot and three dates, for $5,900. And the company doesn’t share a success rate.

But it’s a method some people feel they can trust, as trust in the apps deteriorates. And as the apps look for more ways to profit off users, introducing subscriptions and tiered services.

“They function, right, by wanting people to stay single. That’s their client base,” said Stephanie Tong, an associate professor at Wayne State University who researches social media and relationships. “But once you’re not single, you exit the app.”

Tong doesn’t know if apps deliberately give people mediocre matches to keep them on their platforms. But the bottom line is, in some ways, technology has made dating harder. There are scammers and Photoshop — and now Chat GPT.

“So one of the things we start to wonder is if all these profiles, they’re AI-assisted, they might all start to sound the same,” said Tong.

As if it isn’t already generic enough out there in the app world. That, or everyone really does know the best spot in town for tacos and tequila, like their bios claim.

Back at the bar, the speed dating event is coming to a close. A few people are leaving with phone numbers, including Ventura, the 36-year-old searching for his soulmate.

Meanwhile, Sofia Fernandez’s evening didn’t end as she’d expected.

“No, I didn’t get any numbers, but it’s OK. I got my foot in the water,” she said, before her mood shifted. “Oh! I got the bartender’s number. So that’s good. He was cute.”

Hey, she still met someone — off the apps and in real life.

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