Dating In The Digital Age: What Dating Apps Can Teach Us About Finding Love

Which dating app is right for you? We've looked at 18 popular options to help you find the right fit for your dating game.

December 22, 2017
img Dating Apps

Finding that special someone can be hard (and frustrating and time consuming—we’ve been there!), but it’s all worth it when you find the right person for you. The last few years have seen a huge boom in the use of online dating and dating apps. No surprise there; everyone wants love. And if technology can make it that much easier to find The One, why not use a dating app?

The Rise of Digital Dating

Dating apps are so ubiquitous that they’re just a part of everyday life for many people. According to a 2015 study, 15 percent of adults in America have used dating apps or websites. Although 15 percent may not sound like a lot, this number has almost tripled among 18- to 24-year-olds since 2013.

Part of the reason for this growth? Online dating is no longer taboo. Amanda Bradford, founder of the dating app The League, told Insights by Stanford Business, “we’re cracking a whole new demographic of people that even two years ago wouldn’t even dare to consider online dating because there was still a stigma attached to it. It used to be if you’re online dating, people thought it meant you couldn’t meet people in person so you had to resort to doing it online. I feel like that isn’t true anymore.”

New to online dating or thinking about giving it a try? There is a fairly good chance that it could work for you. A 2016 Consumer Reports survey of 115,000 people found that among those who use dating apps, 44 percent had found a long-term relationship or marriage.

Hearing a success story or seeing a friend in love with a partner they met online is enough to convince just about anyone who’s been reluctant to finally give digital dating a try.

The Best Things About Using Dating Apps

One reason dating apps are so popular is that they’re just so simple to use. You get to skip right past that awkward stage of wondering if someone is actually interested in dating because you know that they are on the market.

As dating apps grow in popularity, each app develops its own niche for what kind of date you’re likely to set up and with whom. Some are inherent in the theme of the app (looking for Jewish singles in your area? There is a dating app for that), but others have gotten a rep by word of mouth or through the media.

Doing a little research allows you to pick and choose which apps you want to use to make sure the other people using the app are looking for the same thing. This can help save you from going on a date with someone who just wants to hook up when you’re looking for a long-term partner.

Of course, even if you’re matched with someone who has the same goals as you do, it may not work out. This isn’t a bad thing, though! You can make friends with people you’ve never met before, see parts of your city you wouldn’t have otherwise, and learn more about yourself and what you need from a relationship.

Dating apps can also provide a ton of options of people to meet. Instead of hoping to connect with the couple of singles in your friend group or maybe hit it off with a friend of a friend, a dating app will allow you to meet basically as many people as you want. And you can find them through the phone that’s right there in your pocket or purse.

But having all those choices isn’t always the best thing when it comes to making an actual decision about a possible partner.

The Downside of Dating Apps

Having so many options is both a plus and a minus when it comes to dating apps. There’s plenty of choice just picking which app you want to use, let alone the numbers of potential partners you can find there. Feeling overwhelmed by choice is the one of the worst bits about dating in the digital age: You could send hundreds of messages across different apps in a day if you really put your mind to it.

This is called the paradox of choice, which boils down to the feeling that nothing (or in this case nobody) is the right choice when you’re given a great many options—meaning it’s easier to choose one person to date when you only have a few options total versus, say, considering every eligible bachelor in New York.

Paul Hokemeyer, PhD, is a licensed marriage and family therapist who tells HealthyWay that dating apps are changing the way that we see romance. “Because these apps provide what seems like an endless stream of options, romance has become a commodity. Something we acquire on the open market, like a pair of sneakers.” He says that this allows us to get easily distracted because there are always more choices.

Digital Dating on Your Brain

The growth in the number of dating apps and the number of people using dating apps leads many to wonder what kind of emotional impact this has on all of us. Psychologist and relationship expert Paulette Sherman, PhD, says that we need to be careful using dating apps because it can “depersonalize” a new relationship until you’ve met several times.

Depersonalization means “the person may not allow themselves to get too excited initially and they may be more practical and jaded” than excited. Sherman says “Romance is fueled by the heart not the head, so this initial mental (or judgmental) context can decrease romance in favor of practicality at first.” But, have no fear, you can still build a romantic relationship from a slightly awkward first date. “Things can still get more romantic after they have met offline and are connecting in real time.”

Sherman suggests that if you’re using dating apps, you should try to meet someone in person sooner rather than later. “Too many singles text back and forth for months before meeting and that virtual relationship feels intimate and real. But oftentimes that person may not intend to put effort into meeting in real time and you respective real lives would not mesh. So make this transition early on.”

It’s also a good idea to start off small if you’re new to the world of digital dating. Hokemeyer suggests treating dating apps like you would a condiment: “use them sparingly and with discretion. The main nutrients of a robust romantic life should be physical encounters with other human beings who you can experience with the fullness of your senses.”  

The Best Dating Apps

There are more dating apps right now than any one person could possibly ever use. Although they have some fundamental similarities (like the most basic goal of finding you a date) they’re all different in their own way.

These are 18 of the most popular dating apps and a little bit about each.

Tinder

The app that brought the dating world the swipe left or right feature is most popular with young adults looking for romance. Tinder finds users who are in close proximity to your location that you swipe through. If you and a potential date both swipe right you can chat within the app.

Erin Shields, a 26-year-old startup account manager in New York, met her current boyfriend of eight months nearly seven years ago, but they had lost touch when she moved to a new city. They were able to reconnect by matching on Tinder when he moved to the same city, and they’ve been happily dating ever since.

Tinder is free to start but limits the number of right swipes in a day (you can opt to pay for extras).

Bumble

Bumble is similar to Tinder in that you are matched with people based on your location, and it features the swipe left and right function. Bumble differentiates itself by only allowing the woman (in a heterosexual match) to message first. Either person can message first in a same-sex match.

No matter who is messaging, the other person must reply within a day or the match disappears. “I use Bumble most often because I have fun coming up with interesting conversation starters. Though be warned: Dudes apparently don’t like it when you ask if Amy Dunne was justified in Gone Girling herself” says Tegan Reyes, a 25-year-old publicist from New York. Bumble is free to start and you can choose to pay for extras.

Grindr

For LGBTQ+ people, there is Grindr, which calls itself “the world’s largest social networking app for gay, bi, trans, and queer people.” It’s similar to the above apps, because it chooses matches by location. You can scroll through photos and send messages to people you’re interested in chatting with. Grindr is free, but you can pay for premium features.

Clover

Clover bills itself as a mix of just about every dating service you’ve heard of. It’s got a similar setup to Tinder, except you can see everyone who has liked you. Clover finds potential matches based on location but allows you to turn your location off. You can also filter by different physical types (e.g., height, hair color), and you can set up group chats as well as one-on-one messages. Clover is also free but you can pay to get extra features.

Raya

Raya is the dating app for celebrities only—or so we’ve heard. Raya is very hush-hush about who is accepted into their “private network” and why. If you get make it through their tough acceptance algorithm, Raya costs eight bucks a month. According to Nylon, you just may be able to chat it up with celebs like Cara Delevingne, Ruby Rose, Cody Simpson, Elijah Wood, and more. Let us know if you do!

Hinge

Hinge is a subscription-based service that calls itself “the relationship app” because their goal is for you to find a lasting relationship (as opposed to a casual fling). Instead of swiping or sending a like, you can comment on people’s profiles, which puts a little more thoughtul interaction into each match.

“Hinge is great because it allows you to engage with diverse aspects of someone’s personality, rather than just a picture and their height. Through the questions and prompts that you can answer on your profile, you are able to get a sense of whether or not you might click with that person” says Rachel Benzing, 25-year-old freelance performance artist from Chicago.

OkCupid

OkCupid uses a detailed questionnaire to help find matches with similar interests through their algorithm (as opposed to finding people based on location alone). When OkCupid matches you with prospective dates you can send a message. OkCupid is free to use but you can pay for extras such as advanced filters.

Match

Match claims it’s the #1 dating app. Think of this subscription-based service as a mix between Tinder and OkCupid. You can choose to see people who are near your location, and Match can use their algorithm to set you up with people they think you will like. From there you can send winks and messages.

Tastebuds

Tastebuds seeks to match you with possible dates through your taste in music. Everyone needs a good concert buddy! Tastebuds can be used to find both romantic and platonic relationships. If music is a big part of your life, this would be an awesome app to try. Add your favorite bands and get to know new people nearby by sending them a song in app. Tastebuds is totally free to use.

The League

The League is a dating app geared toward working professionals. Unlike other apps where you can swipe through a great number of different people per day, the League narrows it down to just a few prospects. If you choose to go for the free app you get three matches per day; if you pay to become a member you get five (and other bonuses).

JSwipe

JSwipe, which bills itself as the number one Jewish dating app, is pretty darn similar to Tinder (location based, swipe left and right, chat with people who match with your right swiping). It’s free to join but it’ll cost extra for perks, such as boosting your profile to be seen more often and connecting with people across the globe (as opposed to just those nearby).

Plenty of Fish

Plenty of Fish (POF) says they have “more conversations than any other dating site,” and it has you take a “chemistry test” to help find matches who have similar interests. You can send as many messages as you want for free. You can also choose to pay to upload more photos to your profile, among other perks.

Happn

Happn tries to match you with people you’ve literally crossed paths with. Want to meet that cutie you saw in the elevator? Happn is the app for that. You can see users whose path you’ve crossed and like the people you’re interested in meeting. If they like you too then you can send messages to each other.

All of that is free, but if you want to send a hello without waiting for someone to like you back it costs one in app token (you free tokens to start, then you pay to get more).

Fliqpic

If you’ve been catfished before, you may want to use Fliqpic. Their whole selling point is that you can instantly video chat with matches before meeting in real life.

Similar to Match and OkCupid, you take a personality test and are matched with people through your answers. Another selling point? It’s totally free.

Once

Once brings you one hand-picked match every day instead of using a computer to choose matches for you. Your and your match of the day get 24 hours to decide if you like each other before the two of you can chat. Once is free to use, but if you would like more than one match per day you can pay for a premium subscription.

Align

Align seeks to match you with the perfect person based on your astrological signs. (It uses Western astrology, Chinese zodiac, and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to find out as much as possible about you.)

Then you can send messages and get to know your matches. This app is only available in Los Angeles, New York City, and the San Francisco Bay area. If you live in one of the three lucky cities, Align is totally free.

Coffee Meets Bagel

Having more detail makes finding the perfect date easier, right? Coffee Meets Bagel (CMB) uses your interests, preferences, and Facebook connections (so you can meet friends of friends) to help find you a match. Their algorithm learns over time what you’re looking for to help find you better matches, and the app has a new video feature. CMB is free to use, but you can pay for premium features like deeper insights into your matches.

Pure

Pure doesn’t beat around the bush with their users. It’s a subscription-based app for finding people to casually hook up with, not for long-term relationships. Pure matches you with people nearby, and you can chat for up to an hour before the app totally deletes your conversation (similar to Snapchat).

Ready to give one or more of these dating apps a try? We’ve got some tips for that!

Digital Dating Safety Tips

Once you’ve connected with someone and you’re planning to meet up, it’s important to take a few precautions just to make sure you’ll be safe. It’s not just for your sexual health (where bringing protection is a good plan) but also for your physical safety. Most of these are common sense but bear repeating.

Getting together with someone you’ve never met before isn’t a necessarily a bad thing. But if you have a roommate, friend, or co-worker you trust, letting them know your plans is an easy precaution to take. Just give them the name (and number, if you have it) of the person you’re meeting and the when, where, and for how long. That way you have some backup if things go amiss.

Also, you’ll probably want to provide your own transportation to and from the date. Being stuck in a car with someone you just don’t click with isn’t exactly fun. The University of South Carolina also suggests setting your first meeting during the day in a public area.

Finally, trust your instincts. If you feel like a date is going south, your date is raising some red flags, or you just don’t have chemistry, you don’t need to stick around. This is when having your own transportation or cab money is super helpful. Text your trusted friend to let them know you’re leaving early and head on home. No harm done.

Relationship expert Sherman reminds us to appreciate the ease that comes from dating apps. Dating should be fun, after all! She says “dating is a numbers game, and with people being so busy these days, dating apps are a good tool to meet one-on-one with other singles at a time and place that works for you.”

Now that you have a good idea of which dating app is the right fit for you, set up an account and get busy meeting your perfect person!

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