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St Valentine's special: Why swiping keeps you single

Antonio will spend this St Valentine’s as millions of other UK singles: swiping profiles on a dating app. He has been looking for a serious relationship for over a year now, when he moved to London. Antonio is good looking, hard-working, with pleasant manners and interesting to talk to, and yet got no luck.

Most matches he gets don’t reply to his messages at all, or their conversations die after a few phrase exchanges. Others just keep talking, and ignore his suggestions to meet up in person. To meet just with one girl, Antonio has to send over 100 messages, and do even more swipes. With his busy lifestyle, he finds online dating incredibly time and energy consuming.

The stats

Antonio is certainly not the only one feeling disappointed about the amount of time online dating takes from his life. Whether you are looking for love or sex, the return on time invested is quite modest, to say the list. Tinder users swipe through more than 1 billion profiles, but only make 12 million matches per day. I.e. only 1.2% of all swipes end up in matches. You’d have a much bigger chance of success to find a match of you said hi to 100 random people in a pub.

An average Tinder user spends up to 90 minutes a day reviewing their matches. However, only one in 500 swipes leads to a phone number being exchanged, according to Justin McLeod, CEO of dating app Hinge. We have more choice of partners than ever, and yet we end up lonelier than ever before. Instead of humans, it’s our phones we share our most intimate experiences with.

The three whys

One reason is too much choice. In an experiment by Sheen Iyengar, people who were offered too many varieties jams to choose from, preferred not to make any choice and walked away with no purchase. Those who had fewer jams to choose from, were more likely to make a purchase. Similarly, too much online choice leads to the analysis paralysis. Instead of talking to one person, we keeping swiping for more.

Another reason of why we end up spending so much time on dating with limited results is the very design of the dating app. Tinder and co are in the business of keeping you online, and so use various tricks to maximize your time spend on the app. For example, most apps are designed to keep you swiping, not messaging to people (you need to make fewer actions). You have very little reason to talk to one particular person, and not keep swiping. What if the next one is even more amazing than this one?

Most dating apps use the effect of “variable reward”. By endlessly showing you new matches, they make your brain release dopamine, the neurohormone of pleasure and anticipation of the reward.

Apps make it really easy to remove a contact, too. Just click a button, and there’s no person. So we end up objectifying people, and don’t care much about establishing the contact with current matches – they are all equal in our eyes. Researchers found that only 7% of male matches on Tinder would send a message, and only 21% of female ones (the study did not specify sexual orientation).

A vicious circle

Rejection hurts. A few men I interviewed for my book wondered, if there was something wrong with what’s written in the profiles, or with what they look like, that they didn’t get messages. (There was nothing wrong with any of them). Quite a few complained their self-esteem was going down, as a result of using an app, and thinking about removing it.

Another way to cope with this frustration for men is to start swiping even more women right to increase their chances for a response (there is even a program that does it automatically for you). On the contrary, women get even pickier as to whom to swipe or respond. So the vicious circle continues and the real winner in this race for love is the dating app.

What to do

Does this mean you need to give up online dating if you actually want to meet someone? Not necessarily. I’m sure you know as I do quite a few success stories. However, you may want to ask yourself about the return on the time invested in the app, and how many people you could have met in that time if you chose a different way.

If you still have hopes in online dating, being aware of how technology affects your behaviour and setting up yourself rules will help. You may choose to try talking to everyone you match with, get to meet them possibly soon, not spend more than 10 minutes a day or leave the app if you have no result in 1 month.

As to Antonio, he is still online, but now plans to ask his friends to introduce him to a nice girl, in an old-fashioned way. I’ve got his contacts in case you want an intro.

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