Relationships

My Dating App Method May Be Unorthodox, but Good Lord Does It Work

I had to take a week off work and make a freakishly detailed spreadsheet, but it was worth it.

A hand holding a phone using a dating app is seen on a pink background with a calendar connoting the days of the week there are dates. They are swiping right on a dating app.
Illustration by Slate. Photos by Getty Images Plus.

It might have been the tiny middle-aged man I matched with on Hinge who tried to lure me into his very short arms by telling me a well-rehearsed, technically touching story about the cancer charity he’d set up for his dead wife.

Or it may have been the (indefinitely benched) Premier League player who picked me up in a leased Maserati which no part of my skin was allowed to touch.

Or perhaps it was the guy who brought his laminated CV to a Brixton cocktail bar and tapped his finger on the Oxford University entry for an hour (I had, prematurely, ordered chicken wings I felt unable to abandon).

Advertisement

Quite possibly, it was all of them and others combined. But in any case, after years of calamitous dates with random strangers that sounded fun enough but face to face made me want to remove my insides and wash them, I snapped and vowed to never search the web for love again.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

I’m sure I’m one of many; for how widely used they are, dating apps are just as widely disliked. A flurry of recent reports and surveys suggest that many people associate dread and dismay with these services: One found that 56 percent of adults view dating apps as either somewhat or very negative, while a 2016 study found that Tinder users tend to have lower self-esteem and more body image issues than nonusers. Another particularly demoralizing report suggests that dating app users face three times the amount of stress in comparison to nonusers. Meanwhile, phrases such as “swipe fatigue,” “dating app gamification,” and “online dating burnout” have come to define the current zeitgeist, with some even having declared the dating app era over because user dissatisfaction has simply grown too big.

Advertisement

But in reality, many millions of us will continue to use them—will have to use them, even—if we want to date (eHarmony grimly predicts that 70 percent of all relationships will start online by the year 2040). So, here’s the good news: I made dating apps work for me, and I will tell you how.

After a period of abject loneliness during lockdown, I reluctantly reembarked on my quest to find a mate online. But as a (German) person who appreciates brutal clarity, I initially decided I needed a better understanding of what the chances of finding a worthy guy online were, if just for shits and giggles. I initially chose Plenty of Fish because it allowed me to select a minimum and maximum body height, preferred religious background, academic qualifications, and a salary expectation, alongside various other unhealthily specific characteristics. It felt like shopping for a rare antique vase.

Advertisement
Advertisement

When I pressed search, a whole of two men that fulfilled all my criteria were found within a 30-mile radius of my inner-city London postcode, an area estimated to have housed over 10.6 million people in 2021.

Advertisement

Dropping my salary expectation multiple times failed to bring any improvement. I dutifully dated one of the two for a couple of years before flinging 50 percent of my fish back into the sea.

By that point, I was in my early 30s, desperate to produce a sibling for my daughter, and even more desperate to stop paying rent on my own.

I resorted to consulting a friend, let’s call him H, who’d spent the better part of a decade frivolously enjoying himself scheduling Tinder dates for breakfast, lunch and, if the economy allowed it, dinner. As H advised, I simply had to wrap my head around the ways in which one had to “trick the algorithm,” something he had learned the hard way.

Advertisement

After a lucky streak of several months and many hot dates with delectable women, he had made the rookie error of swiping right on a profile because of a funny blurb—to reward, he said, a particularly clever joke. Most unfortunately, the profile belonged to a woman who, according to H, was “objectively not the most attractive.” But when she didn’t like him back, everything changed.

Advertisement
Advertisement

H’s theory was that his popularity rating on the app had been downgraded dramatically because he had liked a not-very-popular profile which, to make matters worse, had subsequently not returned the favor.

Instantaneously, he went from being shown multiple profiles of witty, fit, and successful women a day to only seeing women he found unattractive. Soon, he suspected that the algorithm deemed them rather unattractive, too, and was trying to increase H’s chances of a match and/or enact Darwinian justice by showing him unpopular candidates with possibly lower expectations than others.

Advertisement

My initial skepticism about his theory dissipated quickly: A cursory Google revealed a whole industry of dating coaches who specialize in decoding an app’s current algorithm, and that apps do indeed rate users’ attractiveness before trying to match them with profiles that have a similar score. Apparently, some dating apps also measure how active you are on the platform, reward those who swipe on large numbers of people, and relegate those who only occasionally dip into it to the lower popularity ranks of mere mortals.

Advertisement

I knew what I had to do. Spirited, optimistic attempts to match with guys who looked too good to be true were now forbidden, as was listlessly swiping on two-dozen lads while the kettle was boiling before going offline for a fortnight. I now had to be strategic and engaged, and I had to be that way all the time.

Advertisement
Advertisement

I freelance, so it wasn’t hard to book a week off work to put the method into practice. I signed up for Bumble and got to swiping, which I did all the time—for hours each day. My primary task was to make an informed guess about whether any man that was shown to me was A) considered popular by the algorithm (aka who was objectively attractive), and B) whether there was a reasonable chance that he would like me back (that part was guesswork). If the answer was “yes” on both counts, I would HAVE TO swipe right, whether I actually fancied him or not, just to improve my rating and bag a high-scoring match. But more importantly, if there was a reasonable risk that the answer to one of these questions might be “no,” my hands were tied: It was imperative to avoid expressing potentially unrequited interest, and, if there was a risk of rejection, to let what might have been my soulmate float back into the ether.

Advertisement

To my great shock, being disciplined about these rules worked. After a couple of days of matching with cheerful charity workers and pleasant real estate agents, the algorithm began learning, and I started to get much more attractive prospects than the topless men holding fish or borrowed children I’d been shown before. I matched with a BBC reporter who sounded needlessly confident. A cluster of smooth and seemingly highly paid investment bankers followed. A match was bagged, and then suddenly it was raining heart surgeons. Pearly-toothed, altruistic, perfectly formed heart surgeons who read Virginia Woolf, tolerated smokers, were looking to commit, wanted children, and did not have a dog.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

By this point, I had swiped on tens of thousands of men in about three days, and the app had twice run out of candidates to show me in the London metropolitan area. I called my mother to tell her I was suddenly drowning in fitting suitors—some were even Jewish. Then I created a spreadsheet to keep track of them all.

Advertisement

I like order, particularly in intellectual and emotional matters, and seeing all my options in front of me before making a complex decision. Ranking things in spreadsheets calms me down: places I’d like to work; favorite moisturizers; lovers; enemies.

Over the next few days, I ranked my Bumble conquests by appeal. Character traits, professions, habits, talents, and lifestyle choices were entered into Pros and Cons columns. Good spelling or acerbic humor trumped an Ivy League degree; feminist allies outmaneuvered summer houses in France. When I had shortlisted around 20 candidates, a handful of them Jewish, I started from the top. The conversation with No. 1 fizzled out quickly—he may well have been using me to extract the Kourtney to his Travis from the app’s cavernous belly.

Advertisement

No. 2—a wholesome, tall enough, consummately hilarious, and occasionally magniloquent Mancunian barrister who had grown up with a Jewish single mother from New York—effortlessly swept me off my feet over two weeks or so of chatting. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the only entry in his Cons column had been “wore a gilet once.” A first date in a grubby London watering hole on Rosh Hashana was a formality. Our daughter was born 18 months later, and he remains mildly amused that I ever thought he’d merely be my second-best option.

For those who—understandably—can’t bear the thought of swiping on 50,000 men in a week, a new generation of dating apps promising deeper levels of compatibility with the help of more sophisticated algorithms may bring alternative, less laborious relief. But for the rest of you: I suggest you make peace with the fact that you may have to strategically swipe on the population size of Liechtenstein before the algorithms learn to show you the kind of person your heart and loins desire.

In the meantime, lads: Do yourselves a favor, and put down your neighbors’ babies.

Advertisement