Two years ago, I started messaging a user named Ian47 on the dating site HowAboutWe. I was planning a move from Manhattan to Los Angeles, and because I was so mentally checked out of the East Coast, I set up my account in the L.A. network a month prior to relocating. We settled for Gmail communication until we could finally meet up, and our emails got longer everyday, eventually reaching more than 1,000 words per exchange. It was unclear whether our written correspondence would translate to chemistry, but I had a feeling we would ultimately become an item, as we both cared enough to craft daily emails to each other about our interests, goals, lives, and backgrounds. The Liberty Project even likened our story to the 1998 film "You've Got Mail," which follows two business rivals as they unknowingly fall in love online.
I was right about "Ian47." To this day, considering the multitude of online dating services, I'm surprised that my boyfriend Ian invested so much in a stranger from a dating site before knowing for sure that everything would work out with us. Given the immediacy of popular dating platform Tinder, which boasts 50 million users, it's shocking that I found an online dater with enough patience to put in a month's worth of work before seeing any results. If Nancy Jo Sales' recent critical article of Tinder is any indication, many dating platform users don't want—or need—to put forth that kind of effort into a single match, as they have countless options at any given swipe.
Whether you find it reprehensible or wildly utilitarian, Tinder is a force to be reckoned with, and the online dating experience as a whole has significantly changed since Tinder launched in 2012. Match.com served as a pioneer for online dating in 1995, but it took more than a decade for the stigma surrounding online dating to go away and gradually attract more users. As more people became comfortable with the idea of online dating in the 2000s, many started using paid services to increase their chances of coming across quality suitors.
Certain users have even paid professional photographers and writers hundreds of dollars to improve their profiles. While many people still spend lots of money to make the most of online dating, Tinder's business model can be a bigger draw because it's free to download and often seen as an instantaneous, affordable way to land hookups. With the app, you don't necessarily have to wine and dine a date to get that person under the sheets.
How Tinder forced traditional online dating sites to change
Joshua Pompey, whom DatingAdvice.com listed as one of the top 10 online dating experts in the world, told ATTN: over the phone that he's observed more traditional online dating services emulate Tinder's style. From his findings, the more traditional sites have adopted Tinder's process of swiping right for "yes" and left for "no" to prospective matches.
"I noticed for example Match seems to have taken out subject lines in email as well," Pompey said. "I think the general pattern is that we live in a very ADD and short attention span world and all of these companies are trying to adjust to the habits that people have now. People are impatient and they want to get things done quick. Whether it's a good thing or a bad thing, it seems like the [more traditional online dating] companies are going to accommodate them so that they can stay in the game."
Melani Robinson, also on DatingAdvice.com's compilation of top 10 online dating experts, told ATTN: that she suspects more traditional online dating platforms have suffered with the Tinder explosion. As a former user of traditional online dating sites, she now solely uses Tinder.
"I would speculate that they've taken a hit," she said. "People want the latest, newest and most popular thing and that includes digital dating. I'm on Tinder exclusively and I was on all of those other sites... [T]he future is the dating app. In my opinion, the lengthy profiles and questionnaires are a thing of the past. For savvy digital daters, it's all about the app... [T]he way we date has forever changed and those hoping this digital dating explosion is a passing [phase] will be disappointed. A person may not like it, but it truly is the new normal."
ATTN: asked HowAboutWe, Match, Plenty of Fish, and OKCupid what Tinder has done to their business models if they have a comment. ATTN: will update this article accordingly.
How Tinder helped traditional online dating platforms
While the ease of Tinder puts formal online dating platforms at a disadvantage, online dating expert Damona Hoffman told ATTN: that the visibility of the app appears to have helped traditional online dating services attract more users as well.
"Tinder has been the biggest [disruption] in the online dating industry for over a decade," she said. "They have created a lot of competition for traditional dating sites but at the same time they have generated a great deal of new business by normalizing online dating and bringing it into the mainstream. Tinder has also forced traditional dating platforms to step up their mobile game and make their apps more user-friendly."
Julie Spira, founder of Cyber-Dating Expert, who is also recognized as a top 10 online dating expert on DatingAdvice.com, shared similar thoughts with ATTN:.
"Tinder’s growth has given more credibility to the online dating industry," she said. "Online dating has become a social dating experience and singles are using their mobile phones for apps such as Tinder as well as the mobile versions of Match and OKCupid, so every site is benefiting from the mobile experience."
Spira added that some people who take advantage of free services are also happy to pay fees for traditional online dating to increase their odds of meeting someone awesome.
"People like using free dating sites, but most singles are members of more than one dating site. You’ll see someone paying for their membership on Match, but they will also have profiles on Tinder or OKCupid. We should also remember that the free dating sites have a freemium model and a premium model. On Tinder, you have Tinder Plus, with additional features that allow you to have more swipes, a rewind feature to get back the last left swipe in case you swiped the wrong way too quickly, and also lets you select other cities to search. On OKCupid, you have the A list feature which allows you to browse anonymously, eliminates advertising, and gives more search features than the freemium plan, so the premium features on these free sites actually enhance your experience, and help to shorten the search for your dream date."
Tinder has also forced online dating services to evaluate the power of their own apps. Earlier this year, Match's North American president Amarnath Thombr told the New York Times that the app saw a 109 percent jump in the number of people who solely used the app (and not Match.com) in 2014.
“What Tinder especially has accomplished, which I think none of our competitors could achieve before, is that it opened up this young demographic — 18- to 25-year-olds — that no product could open up before,” he said.
How people responded to Vanity Fair's controversial Tinder piece
Earlier this month, Nancy Jo Sales' profile of multiple Tinder users in New York City sparked a lot of debate about the app's reputation and true purpose. Many felt the article painted Tinder in a particularly negative light because Sales interviewed several male users who turn to the app to collect as many sex partners as possible and have no interest in getting serious. The piece also seems to imply that Tinder makes it harder to find a meaningful relationship and that the dating platform tends to present a constant stream of potential partners at all times.
The story struck a nerve with Tinder, receiving massive attention on social media. It even provoked Tinder to unleash a tweet rampage (more than 30 tweets) against the writer for what the company perceived as biased reporting. Tinder also claimed that the writer did not reach out to them for comment:
While certain people found Tinder's reaction extreme, others demonstrated hope that the app isn't as bad as the Vanity Fair article seems to suggest.
What online dating experts see in their clients
Pompey told ATTN: that certain Tinder users refuse to become exclusive with someone because the platform will always have more matches. As one man told Sales in her piece, "there's always something better" on the horizon.
"It's almost like when you get a Facebook like... it feels good to have somebody like you at all times and you have to get used to that addictive nature of shopping for the perfect person," Pompey said. "You [might say], 'I'm dating someone right now but what if somebody better clicks my way?' While online dating is arguably the best thing to ever happen to single people because you never have to truly feel alone with all these opportunities... it's very easy to be flakey."
Fellow online dating expert, Hoffman, added that people often approach dating differently on Tinder than they do on traditional dating sites.
"Creating an account is so easy (and not to mention free) so the mindset of many of the users is that they will just try it out without expectations of finding a relationship," she said. "Many of the users are also on a traditional site but their frame of mind with Tinder tends to be less focused on long-term matching."
How you can still find loving relationships even with the popularity of Tinder
Whether or not you agree that Tinder has lowered the incentive to seek serious relationships, many still find their soul mates on the app and other dating platforms. Although Tinder can enable some users to get caught up in the hookup culture, it can also increase their options and chances of meeting someone special.
"I think anyone who is interested in finding a relationship should have a digital strategy for dating online," Spira said. "This includes creating a profile with your specific dating goals, being proactive in your search and follow up, and even making sure your relationship status is listed as 'single' on Facebook. If you’re concerned that Tinder is a hookup app, then join another site with a large critical mass such as PlentyofFish, Match.com, or eHarmony. Don’t be afraid of saying you’re not a serial dater but are looking for something serious on your profile. You’ll be chasing away those who are looking for something more casual and not long term. Truth-in-advertising is the key to finding a compatible match online."
Spira told ATTN: that she has a service called Swiping Right to help clients optimize their Tinder profiles if they'd like to find serious matches. She encourages people to be honest.
"It’s easy to get matched, but singles need to be specific when communicating on Tinder as to what they’re looking for," she said. "If you’re looking for something casual or a hookup, please state it in your profile. It will help make better matches."
Putting in real time and effort
Pompey said online dating is similar to a "full-time job" and those who want to find someone exceptional need to approach their search as they would a job hunt. They should also be active—not passive—or assume the right person will reach out to them.
"If you sit back and you wait for messages to come your way or the right kind of people, you're not really going to have much success," he said. "I always recommend whether you're a man or a woman to get on those sites, dedicate a half hour to an hour a day, put in some search preferences of what you're looking for, and really treat it the same way you would treat looking for a job and handing in a resume. There are plenty of profiles out there where you can tell that these people are taking it serious and not in it for serial dating, and if you look hard enough, they're in there... but you have to be diligent about it."
Hoffman told ATTN: that the worst thing a person can do is get discouraged by a dating platform too early and delete their profile.
"The biggest mistake I see from singles is throwing in the towel after a week or two on a site," she said. "To really reap the benefits and assess the fit of a particular site, you should sign up for at least a month to determine if the people you meet offline are good matches for you or not."