Like most people, finding a partner who is a great match is important to me. I'm happy single, but having been in love before I know that in the right relationship I can be even happier and more fulfilled than I am alone. Unfortunately, not all dating apps are for forming great relationships and it's a bit of trial and error to find which ones to use and which to avoid. To this end, I installed several different popular dating apps and decided to share my thoughts on them below.
Before I get into discussing the apps themselves, I do what to remind people that one's own experience using the apps may vary greatly from mine depending on a number of factors. There are differences related to where one is located geographically which will determine the total quantity of men and women as well as the ratio of men to women in your area, as well as differences related to one's overall attractiveness as compared to one's local peers. And perhaps the biggest differences are related to gender, or more specifically, both one's own gender and one's desired partner's gender. Some of these differences have spawned entire products on their own and many existing dating apps have added features which help manage some of these differences, as they often manifest as problems for their users.
With regard to gender differences, the classic problem for many women (seeking men) in reasonably populous areas is that they can be overwhelmed by the messages/matches they receive. As a matter of culture, men are typically expected initiate with messaging/liking, and indeed we see this in the data: straight men send 3.5x as many messages as straight women. Crucially, however, it's important to realize that these messages are not evenly distributed amongst all women, but rather the most attractive women receive the highest proportion of these messages. According to Okcupid, "a hot woman receives roughly 4× the messages an average-looking woman gets, and 25× as many as an ugly one." This all translates to an overwhelming flood of messages for the women in the higher percentiles of attractiveness. Because of this, these women may just ignore many messages simply because they can never get to reading them and there's no way to filter them, or in the worst case it may cause them to quit the dating app entirely. The best apps (such as OkCupid) help women down-select on their messages through filters and in this way it turns their problem into a major advantage. Basically at that point they can filter to see only the best of the incoming messages from the best possible matches in exactly the quantity they desire. In such a situation, women basically get to cherry pick any guy they want from a huge constantly flowing fountain of guys messaging them. What a life! But those features don't exist in all apps, such as Tinder, which leads to the first of several issues for men: being drowned out. Even if you are potentially one of the best matches for the person you are messaging, as a man you'll often you get no response to your message. Sure, it may be because you are unattractive or your profile is just not what the person is looking for, but it could also just be because the woman you are messaging is already engaged conversations with several other people and she simply does not have the bandwidth to deal with any more (and indeed many women have related this to me).
Another issue I've personally experienced myself is the fact that most women do not have well-developed profiles on these dating sites, which translates into difficulty in starting a conversation (apps like Hinge were created to directly address this issue). I can't speak for men because I don't browse men's profiles, but I can easily understand why a woman's profile is more likely to be empty whereas a man's profile is more likely to be filled out: because many women may feel they don't need one since they get so many matches/messages anyways. In contrast, even men in the top 10% of attractiveness will find it advantageous to flesh out their profile in an effort to get a higher response rate from the women they message. What many of the women getting overwhelmed don't realize though is that if they added a profile listing their interests and what they are looking for, then they would likely reduce the amount of messages they receive to more manageable amounts by effectively filtering out men who don't feel they are a match based on their profiles. In other worlds: In the absence of a profile, the average man will typically message an attractive woman anyways. In the presence of a profile that says "I am looking for X, I only want people who are Y and Z...", the average guy who knows he doesn't meet said criteria is far less likely to send a message (although granted, some still do anyways).
Why don't you meet people naturally?
A few people I've spoken to about using dating apps have asked why I don't try to meet people "naturally". Every time this happens I do a mental /palmface because it indicates the person really hasn't thought about what online dating provides. Online dating isn't a replacement for meeting people naturally, it is simply a supplement. Most people don't stop everything they normally do in their lives and replace it all with hours upon hours of daily swiping, but rather, swiping is something they do when they're bored in between planned activities. Like many people, I simply give up about 20-30 (occasionally upwards of 60) minutes per day of what would otherwise be time spent on Netflix to handle my online dating profiles before I carry on with my life.
Further, what these people usually are referring to when they use the term "naturally" is not the same thing for everyone. By "naturally" they often mean meeting people at bars or clubs or some social activity one normally already does. But like many people I don't naturally hang out in bars and clubs with any great frequency and it indeed would be quite unnatural for me to do so. Sure, I'll meet a date at a bar or I'll go out for the occasional happy hour or birthday bar hop but it's certainly not part of my regular routine. What's natural for me is to be comfortable at home working on a project, writing one of these blog posts, enjoying a movie / TV show, playing a video game, hanging out with a close friend, browsing reddit, or occasionally out backpacking or scuba diving — obviously there are some limitations with those activities in terms of finding romantic partners as compared to someone who is always out and about doing activities which constantly expose them to new people. The question is, should I take the initiative to go out and do the activities I don't naturally do in an effort to meet someone? Well it's up to you, but it's not what I want to do because generally I'm not going to find the best match for myself doing an activity that I wouldn't naturally do myself. Should someone who likes gardening and outdoorsy activities go to techno raves or anime conventions to find their true love? No, probably not — they should probably go to gardening and outdoorsy clubs.
The bottom line however is that online dating provides a means to massively increase one's exposure to new people. In the years before the internet, you had to meet someone in the course of your normal activities or explicitly go to "speed dating"-like events. But even then, overall you weren't exposed to that many potential partners, which ultimately led to suboptimal matches. I've had 3 sets of parents (birth parents, foster parents, adoptive parents) and I've met many of my friend's and ex's parents. Some have great relationships, some have terrible relationships, most have decent or just "okay" relationships where they generally tolerate each other for the sake of the kids or cultural pressure. When I look at my parent's generation (which represents the absence of online dating technologies — although granted there were also many era-related differences too), is that what we want to aim for? Just "decent"? Online dating allows you to massively increase the number of people you are exposed to and — especially those apps which use sophisticated matching algorithms — greatly increase your chances of being in an amazing relationship instead of just an okay one. Indeed, you are doing yourself a disservice to not use them these days.
Matchmaker: Man or Machine
The final thing I want to point out before getting to the summary is that it's useful to recognize two categories of dating apps: apps which possess the capability of finding matches for you (e.g. Okcupid or eHarmony) and those apps which effectively just give you a list of everyone that meets a few age/distance/religion requirements and have you pick from there (e.g. Tinder or Hinge). Although the vast majority of dating apps I tested were of the latter type, in time the former will be preferred by most people because otherwise you are required to have awareness of what types of people are best for you (and of course most people aren't when it comes down to it). Yes, it can be easy to tell when a particular person won't work well for you, but when it comes to choosing between several otherwise reasonable candidates we are all somewhere on the spectrum of "basically clueless" to "have some idea but we don't have enough information". Indeed, if we were all truly good at knowing what's best for us then few people would ever break up. But obviously breakups happen all the time; couples that started with high hopes realized somewhere along the line they weren't the best for each other and so they parted ways. We are simply not good predictors of relationship outcomes when it comes down to the little details. This is why, eventually, the vast majority of the most successful relationships will have been suggested by sophisticated matching algorithms. Of course, people are free to not use them but those people would be leaving the quality of their relationship(s) up to chance, which — while it sounds romantic to some — is not something most of us want at the end of the day. The matching algorithm used by at least one site I tested (OkCupid) already works surprisingly well in many ways and there is no reason to expect that these algorithms won't continue to get better and better with time until their usage is so commonplace that not using them raises eyebrows from your family members and co-workers.
App Review Summary
And finally, the part of this post you've all been waiting for: the reviews. In total I reviewed 15 apps, and though I had originally written the full reviews for each here I decided to put them on another page and just provide a summary to save you time. If you do however want to read the more detailed versions, check them out here (there are also links below each of short reviews below which will take you directly to the corresponding long version).
Apps to Use
Okcupid is probably the best app out there in terms of finding great matches but it doesn't quite have the market share it needs to be the only app you use. Although I've found its matching algorithm very reliable in certain ways, it is crippled by the fact that the questions they use are horrible overall. It's a pity too, because with better questions this app would basically have it all. Paying for the enhanced features doesn't seem all that useful, though I have in the past simply to support the company since they seem one of the few that genuinely wants to help their users create great connections (or at least they are good at tricking me into believing so).
Read the detailed review
One of the more recent apps to the scene, Hinge looks aesthetically the best of them all but when you distill it down to it's core it is basically just a Tinder clone with some (positive) tweaks. The type of people it shows to you are more appropriate to your tastes because it bases matches on friends of friends, which generally means you're more likely to find people that run in similar circles to you. However, it does nothing to actually intelligently pair you with people, nor does it solve being drowned out as a man (seeking women) because you can still engage in dozens of simultaneous conversations at once. Their subscription plan is very reasonably-priced, but just know that you are literally paying simply to give yourself more work — all it really does it allow you to swipe more than the default 10 people per day. More potential matches yes, but also more simultaneous conversations to try to have all at once.
Read the detailed review
When this app first came out it was useless (see the detailed description for why) but it is decent enough now to be a useful supplemental app. Like Hinge, it is basically just another hot-or-not swiping app that uses friends of friends and limits you to a fixed amount of swipes per day. I have indeed now purchased a subscription (previously I wrote that I hadn't) which simply allows me to engage with more users (although at $35/month — it is one of the most expensive per month cost of any app I tested), and also the app will then tell you when a user has last logged in so then you know when you are wasting your beans/woos ("super likes"). However, in my opinion this information should be free. I mean, really? We have to pay just to know when we are messaging someone who may have been inactive for months, who could very well be married by now for all we know?
Read the detailed review
Tinder is terrible for helping you find great relationships but its market share (albeit declining) can make it a useful part of your dating app arsenal. Though an aging relic and my least favorite of the "Apps to Use", I have met some cool people through it and even one long-term girlfriend (though it didn't ultimately work out). In the past I recall purchasing a subscription was helpful but since re-subscribing I have found no increase in matches, perhaps because like many older dating apps it is rapidly declining in popularity and likely swamped with inactive users so you never know if you are burning a super like on someone who will never see it.
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Optional (but probably don't waste your time)
Bumble is essentially a Tinder clone that attempts to make women initiate first. It doesn't work though and virtually all of my matches expire, but if you have the time to deal with yet another swiping app, then sure, go for it, but definitely don't pay for anything.
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Match actually seems like a decent product but tends towards older people and it doesn't seem to have the trendier crowd (which is only bad if that's what you're going for). However, at least it seems that almost everyone on it is actually looking for a relationship, which is a relief if you are as well. Unfortunately I was blocked for an unknown reason only an hour into using it so I can't really speak to much else other than that.
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