Being single is a time of endless possibility. It's a time to explore your own interests. It is, above all, a time for generous helpings of unsolicited advice from coupled friends.
This year, as a relationship came to an end, the advice converged on one point: "Everyone is on Tinder," they told me. "It's not just for hookups now."
Running out of excuses, I conceded. I downloaded the Tinder app — and entered a hidden-in-plain-sight parallel universe of dating apps.
Because, as I learned from asking questions (probably off-putting, prying), most of the men I met were on not just one app, but two, three, five, or more. One sheepishly opened a folder on his iPhone to reveal an entire constellation of free apps, with names like Bumble, Hinge, and Happn.
I asked why. He said, "To increase my odds."
Yet, that is unlikely to be the result.
Swarthmore College psychologist Barry Schwartz tells us, in The Paradox of Choice, that endless options only make us more miserable. It leads to what he calls choice paralysis: Overwhelmed by variety, we can't pick just one. And even after we do, the opportunity cost - what we give up in making a choice — subtracts from our satisfaction with our selection. And all that window shopping raises our standards, while, Schwartz says, "the secret to happiness is low expectations."
To make matters worse, whereas the previous generation of dating websites used algorithms to find your ideal match (see the famously epic eHarmony questionnaire), the current model is to flood you with dumb choice. First, choose from a buffet of apps. Then, navigate a bottomless, unfiltered pool of potential dates, curated by proximity and little else.
Sounds terrible, right?
I decided, in the name of service journalism (and maybe love), to try it. I downloaded as many apps as I could find.
Dear reader, it was both humbling and excruciating. Here's what I learned:
The Target of dating sites, it's one-stop shopping for every make and style of mate. It pulls your photo, job, age, and education from Facebook, offers space to write a brief biography, and allows you to match with people within a given distance. Swipe right to match with a guy, and, if he consents, engage him in conversation; swipe left to banish him from your consciousness.
A quirk is that you can un-match with a person in just a few clicks. This has happened to me mid-conversation. It's as if the guy not only hung up the phone, but changed his number and threw his phone in the Schuylkill.
Still, everybody's on it. It's a cross-section of humanity. So, I kind of like it, for the same reasons I love living in a city. I had some terrible conversations, and also some pretty good ones. Some of those led to multiple dates, if not, as yet, to a lasting relationship.
A more fitting name might be "the app that shows you the person you just went on a date with from Tinder." Or "the app that lets you see who your neighbors are."
Ostensibly, this app is a way to match with people you're connected to through friends on social media. Practically, that means it can't offer the endless pool that exists on sites like Tinder. My experience on Hinge? In a week, not a single person messaged me. In the spirit of journalistic tenacity, I tried to start conversations with three people. Only one responded, and the only thing he said was, "Werddddd."
Coffee Meets Bagel
In theory, this app, which likens men to "bagels," is meant to curate your experience by offering up only a handful of profiles to review in a given day. But it also offers a "discover" feature in which you can swipe through endless profiles and use "coffee beans" — purchased with actual money! — to buy the right to hit on strangers.
The plus side: The app does encourage users to write more than a sentence or two about themselves. My experience: The messages I got were mostly respectful and thoughtfully written — full sentences and all.
It's like Tinder, but for Jews and those "willing to convert." Matches expire if you don't message them within 18 days, an auspicious number in Judaism. One week, two first (and last) dates. It wasn't bashert.
All the apps do have a few things in common. Chiefly: Their users.
There are men in Philadelphia I've matched with on four different apps but never conversed with. Others picked up conversations that ground to a halt on Tinder and tried to rekindle them on J Swipe (where they still faltered). One person a friend tried to set me up with I also matched with on three different apps; the attempt was a failure across social networks, real and virtual.
On the other hand, dating apps can be a great place to flirt with people you know from the original social network — that is, daily life.
I recently went out with someone I'd known for a couple of years, one of the few people who responded to me on Bumble. I did not write him an especially clever pickup line; he did not claim to be living the dream. It was just a date, the way people have always done it. Some things technology can't improve.