Are we falling out of love with dating apps? – Lifestyle News | The Financial Express

When relationship coach Radhika Mohta ran a poll on Instagram, it threw up some interesting results. “Would you rather meet someone: a) On a dating app, b) At single-mixers, c) At a hobby class, or d) Through friends and family,” she had asked on the popular social networking platform. “Out of 42 votes, a solid 28 went to hobby class, eight to friends and family, five to single-mixers, and just one to dating apps,” the Bengaluru-based matchmaker tells FE. “Everyone wants that organic meet-cute love story,” she quips.

While online dating has been around for a while, the space was revolutionised with the launch of Tinder in 2012, especially with the ‘swipe’ feature, now intrinsic to a dating app’s experience. A banging success, the app was processing a whopping 350 million swipes a day within a year of its existence, which grew to a billion the following year. Other apps followed suit in pursuit of a slice of the dating app pie. Bumble carved a niche with its women-first approach, Hinge and Aisle are said to be designed for serious love, and Raya’s appeal lies in its exclusivity.

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However, amid the big numbers, the small poll conducted by Mohta paints a different picture. Are people swiping left on dating apps in favour of IRL, or ‘in real life’, love?

Interestingly, even the purveyors of online dating are increasingly holding IRL initiatives. Last year, Tinder hosted dating events in the United States under its Single Summer Series. Similarly, Bumble hosts Bumble IRL, and Hinge, last year, announced a $1-million fund to mobilise GenZs to add more in-person connections to their lives. Then there is breadcrumbing, ghosting, catfishing, frauds, and even crimes, on the apps, which stoke much scare and caution.

Love, lies & fatigue

Recommended by a friend, 26-year-old Mumbai-based techie Parul Dalmia (name changed on request) joined a dating app in the hope of a connection. “It started well for me,” she says, describing how she struck a connection with a guy over their mutual interest in fitness. “However, that abruptly ended up into ghosting,” Parul says, describing how it left her a little confused. While she took a break from online dating then, she reinstalled the app only to be overwhelmed by the experience. “I would end up getting a tonne of requests that increasingly felt like an e-commerce experience as if I was looking at commodities, not real people. The constant swiping left and right in the lure of stumbling upon someone better each time made it a meaningless experience. And then there is the talking stage, the same conversations you end up having that started causing fatigue,” she says, adding that she has now ditched online dating, in the hope of something traditional and organic.

While it was an abundance of choices for Dalmia, it was the opposite for 29-year-old Kolkata-based Rohit Gupta (name changed on request). “I have swiped right to so many women, but hardly get any matches,” he says.

In response to Mohta’s Instagram poll, one of the comments from a 30-something Bengaluru-based woman read, “Dating apps are just full of liars and confused folks. Sorry for being too harsh, but a lot of my friends’ and my experiences have been the same.”

“Dating apps can be a cumbersome process, which can cause a lot of fatigue,” says relationship coach Simran Mangharam. “We are already consuming a lot of stuff online, and this is one more thing to do,” she says, adding how she is witnessing an increasing number of people, both men and women, ditching the apps. “Especially those, who are seeking a serious relationship, just don’t want to be on an app,” she adds.

Numbers hint at trouble

The users’ experience appears to be translating to numbers as well. Match Group, which owns apps like Tinder, Hinge and OkCupid, along with Bumble hold much of the market share in the online dating space, and collectively, they have lost over $40 billion in market value since 2021, as per reports. While advertising composes a small part of their revenue, they largely generate revenue by selling subscriptions. According to a report, Tinder’s paid users fell by nearly 10% last year, and the company was able to keep its revenue steady only by raising its fee.

In a January 31 earnings call, Match Group’s CEO Bernard Kim told analysts that this year, the company was “adopting a fast-fail mentality, a strategy that prioritises rapid experimentation and testing,” adding that Tinder would attract more paid users through marketing and introducing new features. Tinder would be reimagining the swipe feature altogether, he said, and that there would be a push for more users to get verified, a move to enhance safety.

Earlier this year, Bumble announced its plans to lay off a third of its workforce in the first half of 2024. Adding to that, it also lowered its revenue forecast for the first quarter. The company would also be revamping to appeal more to the users, especially youngsters, CEO Lidiane Jones told analysts earlier this year.

Breadcrumbing, ghosting, cookie jarring and more

A situationship is a semi-relationship that is hard to define, ghosting is when a person ends communication abruptly with no explanation, breadcrumbing is when one just feigns interest in the other person, and cookie jarring is keeping one person as a backup while focusing one’s energy on someone else.

While these can happen in traditional dating, too, they have become trends in the time of online dating that they have quirky names assigned to them. And while these can have a detrimental effect on one’s mental health, what is a cause of concern are the crimes happening through the apps.

When 28-year-old Dushyant Sharma met 27-year-old Priya Seth on Tinder, there was little to doubt about. After talking on the app, the two decided to meet. Only that this so-called relationship, which started in 2018, was built on lies and reached a gory ending. It turned out Sharma was already married and faked his identity posing as a rich businessman from Delhi. Seth, on the other hand, was in only for the money and was looking to kidnap Sharma and extort money, which is exactly what happened as soon as he went into her house. However, she, along with her accomplices, soon realised he was not as rich as he was posing to be and after his family failed to pay the ransom, killed Sharma.

While this was a gory end to the tale, in another case, a Delhi-based HR professional was arrested for cheating and robbing men of about Rs 1 crore, over just three months, after meeting them on Bumble. This was straight out of The Tinder Swindler playbook, only that this was carried out through Bumble instead of Tinder, and by a woman instead of a man.

In yet another case involving an Indian-American woman in the US, she was siphoned off a whopping $450,000 (approximately Rs 3.6 crore) of her savings. Adding to her dismay, the person she was interacting with on Hinge who convinced her to invest, and later lose, her savings was not a real person but AI-generated. “Even one of my clients was conned on a dating app, which left her feeling so ashamed of herself,” shares Mangharam.

As per a study by McAfee, 39% of potential love interests of Indians, whom they met online, turned out to be scammers. Not just that, 77% of the 1,000 respondents said they had come across fake and AI-generated profiles on dating apps.

While Mangharam tells her clients to try dating apps and go on dates to get to know themselves, “you can’t help but feel scared as you don’t know whom you’re going to meet,” she says on how one her clients “met with somebody who was a necrophiliac.” Another issue, according to her, is the married people on the apps as they’re not looking for a serious relationship, and ruins it for those who are.

“One of my clients from Mumbai met a man on a dating app. After communicating online for a while, they decided to meet. However, just before she was about to leave, he calls her up and tells her, ‘Hey, I just wanted you to know that I’m married,’” she adds.

Gamification of romance

Earlier this year, on Valentine’s Day, six people filed a lawsuit in the US against Match Group, blaming the apps for using game-like tactics, and hence, stoking addictive behaviour, claims that the company denied as “ridiculous”.

However, it has been highlighted how the gamification of dating apps releases feel-good hormones— dopamine and serotonin—in the brain, boosting mood. It’s similar to how one feels after hearing that pop of notification on social media, which makes one interact more on the platforms.

“One of my clients—an IIT-Delhi graduate in his mid-twenties working in a startup in Bengaluru—told me that, ‘Radhika, at one point in time, I was taking out my phone 50 times a day just to look at dating app notifications’,” Mohta shares.

A study conducted by Carnegie Mellon University also revealed that dating app algorithms have popularity bias, which means they are more likely to suggest popular and attractive users over others.

All is well?

Despite all of that, Match Group CEO Bernard Kim wrote in a media article how dating was harder before the dating apps, and how the bad dating stories are fodder to build social media following because of which “we are seeing a distorted perception that more experiences are negative because they are the loudest. The shared homes, wedding vows, and growing families that resulted from a dating app don’t tend to go viral, but they are just as prevalent,” he wrote in a piece for a news website.

“It is confounding to see anecdotes presented as somehow being representative of an entire generation’s views on dating and presented as a broken system, when in fact data definitively shows that for more people than ever, dating apps do work,” he added.

While, according to Kim, apps “do work” for more people than ever, analysis by app intelligence provider showed that dating app downloads only saw a minor growth of 1.9% year-over-year as of January this year. Not only that, Kim’s Match Group said its paying customers declined by 5% year-on-year in its fourth-quarter earnings report in January.

However, despite the ills, people still believe the technology isn’t all bad. “In a country like India, these apps have normalised dating in a way,” says Mangharam. “I live in the Silicon Valley of India, and see the power of technology in bringing people together. It’s one thing to victimise yourself, and another to work on oneself. I’ve seen people meeting very early on Reddit or Quora answers, and even through online gaming,” says Mohta.

It boils down to caution, and being proactive, and not leaving all your eggs in the dating apps’ basket.

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