In the short span of three years, Alex, a 25-year-old New Yorker, has watched dating apps evolve and change — “especially when it comes to women seeking women.”
“When I first started,” she told me of her online same-sex dating experience, “Tinder was the main thing. Now, in the scene that I’m in, Bumble’s the most socially acceptable option. It’s normalized.”
Bumble disrupted the antiquated dating norm of male initiation among heterosexual swipers when it launched in 2014. By nature of Bumble’s design, women make the first move; those on the receiving end have 24 hours to respond or a match expires. For same-sex-seeking users, it’s dating-app business as usual.
“Approximately 15% of users are those who seek the same sex; 10% of female users seek same-sex matches or both male and female matches,” Alexandra Williamson, VP of Brand Content at Bumble told me. “From what we’ve seen, same sex-users [who identify as female] are equally as engaged as heterosexual matches, since in both of these connections women are making the first move.”
Alex, plus two other women I spoke to for this story (Liz, a 31-year-old living in Portland, Ore. and Rachel, a 27-year-old NYC resident) all brought up Bumble’s time limit as a catalyst for conversation.
“I typically reach out to people because I hate when my friends are like, ‘He should message me,’” said Rachel. “I’ll ask, ‘Are YOU interested? Then say something!’ I’ve gotten lazy about that myself with other apps, though, so I like that Bumble adds the time pressure.”
“I don’t like risk,” said Liz. “In real life, I initiate everything up until the point that the other person asks me out. But say I was at a party and I thought someone was exceptionally attractive — I’d figure out a way to talk to her before I left.”
It’s not just the time that runs out, however. It’s the potential matches. I was told numerous times that the pool is smaller when you’re a woman looking for a woman on Bumble — and other dating apps in general. It’s something I’ve heard my friends who seek same-sex matches complain about often.
“My straight roommate has hit his ‘maximum likes for the day’ on Tinder,” Liz told me. “His experience is a thousand percent different from mine.”
Alex, who has switched her settings to include men from time to time, said, “It’s so much easier to meet a guy. You can get 15 matches in seconds. And I have never seen the same guy twice. I’ve seen the same 20 girls a thousand times. It’s exhausting.”
It also depends on who you ask. Rachel, a fairly new Bumble user, has seen more women seeking women on Bumble than on Hinge or The League, where she gets “a lot of overlap [of the same person].”
All agreed that there were people they legitimately found attractive on Bumble. And while three women don’t exactly make for a large sample, they confirmed that the trolling often associated with straight men on Tinder isn’t a problem they’ve encountered among the community of women looking for other women.
“It’s generally assumed that everyone’s looking for a girlfriend on Bumble,” Alex told me. “Or that you just got out a relationship. If you’re on there and not looking for a girlfriend, that can be viewed negatively.” She has used the app casually before, to date for fun and see who’s out there, though she noted, “People take it pretty seriously. It’s not seen as a hook-up app.”
Interestingly, Alex has met a global network of people thanks to Bumble. She’ll log on when in a new location — whether a new state or a different country — and meet people to hang out with. (Despite the above, she said there’s a mutual understanding when you’re traveling so long as you’re upfront about it. I’m sure you’ve seen this bio before: “In town for a few nights looking for cool people to hang out with.”) She said she’d never go to a gay bar in a foreign country alone and hit on someone, but she’s made lots of friends using the app. “There’s a lack of sexual pressure or expectation [on it].”
Though she’s had successful app-dates in the past, Liz doesn’t believe she’s going to find a meaningful relationship on dating apps. “One thing apps do give you,” she said, “is a great way to see who’s actually out there. The community for girls is super small in Portland. I feel like I’ve already met anyone who I would actually date.” Apps like Bumble broaden the spectrum.
“I had my friends hop on my Bumble account this weekend and it was very fun,” said Rachel. “Until they realized that I accidentally put a CHEESY FILTER on one of my pics that said something about going to the beach. So I may have ruined my life, but who knows. Other than that, using Bumble to meet girls is going pretty well.”
Illustrations by Maria Jia Ling Pitt, feature illustration background by Jill Heimann Collection via Getty Images.