MR Round Table: The Business of Dating Apps
Now that dating apps are the norm, how are they actually being used? How are they viewed?
Today’s round table guests include former Oh Boy guest Karley Sciortino, the sex and relationships columnist at Vogue.com and the creator of Slutever.com; fashion consultant/stylist Shiona Turini (also a former Oh Boy guest); and James Demolet, Senior Fashion Editor at Cosmopolitan.
Leandra Medine: The idea behind this Round Table came up when Amelia and I were at dinner with a couple of friends and the conversation turned to dating apps. I learned that some straight women will change their “preference settings” to women so that they can check out the competition.
Amelia Diamond: Apparently not all apps’ filters take into account who the women are seeking — which means a straight woman could change her settings to “interested in women” and view ostensibly straight women looking for men.
Leandra: So we started talking about this idea of checking out the competition as a strategy, which led us to this thesis question: are apps making us more business-minded? Industrious? What is the business of dating apps actually doing for the dating landscape?
Karley Sciortino: I almost exclusively date people from apps now. That’s changed things drastically because it means that I meet people who I otherwise wouldn’t. I was sick of meeting people from my social scene or seeing the same type of person out. Now I’m dating people who I have zero friends in common with; talking to someone who you have zero friends in common with is a real novel, crazy thing.
Leandra: What are your favorite apps?
Shiona Turini: I don’t have one. I’ve only been on a couple of app dates. I did date a guy off of Instagram once.
Karley: Me too!
Shiona: Did you slide up in his DMs or did he slide up in yours?
Karley: Well, I requested him and then went back and strategically liked a lot of really old selfies so that he’d pay attention. And I slept with him within 24 hours. It was actually the quickest. It was so crazy. And it definitely makes you realize that Instagram is a better representation of a person and a personality than a dating app, where you really have to distill your personality down to such a weird, two-dimensional portrayal of “This is who I am!” in three images.
Shiona: I didn’t have a description until James [Demolet] took over my dating app account. Actually, I didn’t really start using dating apps until James said I had to get my life together.
James Demolet: We both said we wanted to date people who were new and different from our regular types.
Amelia: So that’s a strategy, right?
Karley: I’ve used them in ways that have felt strategic. For example, I went to Paris for work and there was this weird two-day gap where I didn’t have to do anything. I met someone on a dating app there because it was so easy to be open and say, “I’m only here for two days!”
Leandra: That’s what I meant by “the business of dating apps:” there are so many other uses for them. I was playing with Raya and I couldn’t believe how entertaining it was. I felt like I was on Snapchat or Instagram because you get to know all these weird things about other people.
Karley: Yeah! Distilled personalities are a weird and interesting thing. What a person decides is most important about them becomes an interesting asset of their personality in and of itself. What I think the most important factors of your personality are, you might not choose to represent in a dating app. Users think, “Okay, what would be more appealing to a potential match?” and put those forward.
Amelia: I just deleted my dating apps. But what I thought was interesting before I did that was the rise in people listing their Instagram handles. That wasn’t a thing when dating apps were starting; we were all wary of being “caught” or “seen” on an app by our bosses or exes or friends. Now it’s just assumed that each single person has at least one profile, so it’s been funny to watch them develop as self-promotional tools. If you put your Insta handle in your bio, someone swiping doesn’t have to match with you to see your handle and request to follow.
Raya is straight up head shots and songs. A song and slideshow play in tandem. I used it to find new music; people with head shots are probably using it for exposure. Comedians have been found on Twitter; I wouldn’t be shocked if the next model was found on Raya.
Leandra: And think about what J.W. Anderson did with Grindr last season — he streamed his menswear show on there.
James: Yeah, that’s kind of amazing.
Shiona: Do ads pop up on any of these apps yet?
Karley: Yeah, Tinder.
Amelia: Oh really?
Leandra: I’m sure. We live in the era of the single person as a publishing entity, so it doesn’t seem that far-fetched that these dating apps, what with the connections that they’re already striking, could be the next wave of how we connect and identify who’s an influencer and who’s not. And that’s not going away, right? Media brands now have to act as talent agencies and find influencers so that the content resonates and so their people want to commit to the content.
James: Did you see that Ted Talk by Amy Webb who found her husband by developing an algorithm? It was amazing. She identified the things she really needed in a person: what the maybes were, the things she didn’t need, the things she definitely did — and then she rated them on a scale of most important to least. My therapist has had me do something similar.
Amelia: She created a job description.
James: Yes, and men had to meet certain requirements in order for her to go out on a date with them. The algorithm worked, and that’s how she met her husband.
Amelia: It almost goes back to what you were saying about how you use yours as a tool to meet people who you wouldn’t normally because they’re completely outside of your circle. I used apps for the opposite reason: I liked having a one or two-degree connection so that I could run a background check. But the point is that we now have forms of technology that let us create — well, you can’t create your dream person — but you can create the search filters to find them.
Karley: And you can do it from home in your sweatpants.
What’s also interesting is how dating apps have given women sexual autonomy. When I was doing research for a Vice documentary on “The Mobile Love Industry,” I interviewed this man named Bernie Hogan; he’s a research fellow at Oxford who’s an expert in online relationships. He said that dating apps are a good tool for women in terms of this culture and its slut-shaming problem.
Think of it this way: the way many people used to meet, before apps, was through work and friends. So say that I was meeting guys through my social and work scene. Say I slept with two men who were in the work scene and two others who were in the same social scene. People talk. “Karley slept with these four guys.” Everyone knows your business and can judge you so easily! But with dating apps, I can have a totally secret and anonymous sex life. They give women a lot more sexual freedom — or freedom from judgement.
Leandra: Does it feel a little bit like Sex and the City in real life? Because that was always my impression. There’s this level of empowerment that I feel for the characters when I watch a rerun because they’re engaging in casual sex without apology, which is maybe because they are all largely anonymous women in New York City and they’re not confronted by the ghosts of their bedroom following the actual intercourse. Ya know? And I guess dating apps provide that.
Karley: Exactly. It’s just a little more random. In New York, everyone is living these parallel lives. You don’t engage much with people who aren’t a lot like you, but Tinder gives you this opportunity.
James: The more specific you are about what or who you’re looking for, the easier it is to find because you’re like, Oh, there he is. Exactly who I was looking for.
Leandra: You can make those settings in real life, also.
James: There are certain people who believe that’s possible in real life: to tweak the settings on how their career looks, how their life looks. But even if they’re right, it’s not as easy as ticking those boxes off like they can online.
Leandra: I find your use of the term “real life” interesting. Maybe part of what dating apps do is reinforce the reality that online dating is real life, too, and that you do have the power to set the search settings, period, across the board.
Amelia: But do you? Of course you have the power to set your standards and say what you want, but aren’t we told by our therapists and mothers to not create boxes? To not limit ourselves to “a type” because you could miss something real? In real life everyone coupled up tells everyone who’s single, “Don’t be so close-minded; don’t only look to the type of guy who you would normally date!”
James: Every time I’ve been iffy about a date but did it for that reason — to not get stuck in my box — I’ve thought to myself mid-date, “Why didn’t I cancel this? I knew I didn’t like this person.”
Karley: It’s taken me going on those kinds of dates to realize I was right in the beginning.
Leandra: What if you don’t know what you’re looking for but you just want companionship?
Shiona: I think that’s a good part about these apps. You can filter it if you want, or you can skip that and be completely open.
Karley: You know what else dating apps have changed? The date. Don’t you feel like apps brought back “the real date”? For a while, people were saying that dating is dead. It’s all about meeting while drunk at parties, then hooking up. But now, when I meet someone off an app, we go to a bar and have a drink and a conversation. Which is nice. It feels very Sex and the City, actually.
Another thing I remember from my interview with Bernie Hogan was how it has made meeting people easier and safer in the gay community for those members who may not live in a gay-friendly area.
James: That’s totally true. I grew up in a rural community in North Carolina. The only way gay people met was through Craigslist, so you’d have to drive miles to meet up with someone and have no clue what they were going to be like! Now, with Tinder and Grindr, I see young gay people excited that they’re meeting people in a much healthier and safer way.
Amelia: Do you think dating apps are always going to be around? Sometimes I feel like we’ll grow tired of them. I’ve already seen a real decline — at least among my straight friends — in the use of them. When all the apps started becoming popular, everyone was dating off of apps like crazy. Now that the novelty has worn off and everyone treats it more like a game, or as a way to buy time while standing in line at the bank, no one’s really making an effort on them anymore.
I think because of that, it’s going to start driving people actually looking for real connections off the app. I know so many people now like, “I’m doing this weird thing and meeting people the old-fashioned way again!”
James: At bars?
Amelia: Yeah, or set-ups, or, I know a girl who was a big app user — she lives in a remote area — and now she’s going to a matchmaker.
Karley: I think that, statistically, it’s assumed that as the years go by, a great percentage of people will meet their partner online. It keeps increasing.
And if you take it seriously, it will be serious. If you don’t, it won’t be. It’s just another way to sit yourself in front of another person. Once you get there it’s about the real experience of dating. You have to be engaging and have a conversation and connect with them.
Shiona: I am still very undecided because I don’t think that I’ve used them in the best way — either appropriately, or enough.
Leandra: Do you feel like you sort of use it as a joke?
James: You don’t take it seriously at all.
Shiona: I do think that there are people like me who are using them but never feel motivated to actually go on a date. The only ones that I’ve been on are where the guy is like, “Hi, nice to meet you,” then there’s a few little pleasantries and then: “Let’s go get brunch this weekend.” But I have never started a conversation with anybody. Even if I’m like, “This guy is fine.”
James: The people who I know who have relationships thanks to Tinder went about it like finding an apartment. They went on a series of dates, over and over, until they found the one who they were looking for. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. But I think they were serious about it and open enough to be like, “I am on Tinder for a relationship.”
I think that it has to be your true belief that you’re going to meet someone on a dating app for it to actually happen. Shiona, when you and I were going through your profile and rearranging your pictures, I could tell that you didn’t think you were really gonna meet someone anyway, so it is just a silly game.
Karley: I think some people are put off by technology mediating any sort of sexual or romantic relationship, in the same way some people are really thrown off by pornography. I don’t know why I’m comparing those, but my friend who can’t watch porn is like, “It just feels so two-dimensional, and the relationship with technology just puts me off.”
Amelia: Versus those who view it as their favorite hobby.
Karley: I just don’t think it’s unsexy or unromantic to meet someone through an app. Charlotte from Sex and the City would be like, “It’s so not romantic to meet your boyfriend online.”
Shiona: Right. but then I think she’d get really into it.
James: She would.
Shiona: Charlotte would get so into it.
Leandra: If Sex and the City were coming out now Charlotte would be like, “No! No! I’m not on Tinder…but I am on…”
Karley: Happn. She would only be on Happn.
Shiona: What is that!
Karley: Happn is the one where it’s like you just passed someone and it’s a missed connection.
James: It’s like Missed Connections on Craigslist but an app.
Karley: It’s actually more like Grindr.
Shiona: Leandra, as the married woman at a table of single people, do you think that I should be taking the dating app more seriously?
Leandra: Yes. I think that dating apps provide a wonderful resource when it comes to meeting people. I think the criticism that dating apps are not genuine is dated and antiquated.
Shiona: This conversation has made me think I either get serious about dating apps or get off of them. Right now I am treating it as a game and I am not actually going on dates, so why am I doing it?
Amelia: You can use it for content…
Karley: Or inspiration. One time I used an app to do character research for a fictional story I was writing. I looked through men’s bios for ideas. I love dating apps so much. I actually feel like it’s the greatest product of the millennial generation.
Follow Karley Sciortino on Instagram @karleyslutever, visit her website, Slutever, and read her column on Vogue.com. Follow Shiona Turini on Instagram @shionat and check out her website. Follow James Demolet on Instagram @jamesdemolet and visit his website.
Photographed by Krista Anna Lewis; featuring an Arme De L’Amour gunmetal cuff and gold necklace as bracelet.