Stylist’s Chloe Gray hates dating – especially on apps. So she met with the man behind the world’s biggest dating app to convince her otherwise.
My name’s Chloe Gray, and I hate dating.
In a world obsessed with relationships and swiping, that’s no small thing. My gripes? Well, dating requires a lot of time (which I don’t have), a lot of conversation (conversation, I might add, that’s very boring), and a lot of thinking (which, after a day of work, is the last thing I want to do).
I’d like to clarify that I’m great at being in a relationship, if I do say so myself. It’s just the pre-relationship bit that I hate. And, while I very much believe that staying single is a brilliant life choice (I’ve happily done so for the past 18 months), I now feel it’s maybe time to unlock and unbolt that door.
But… well, I don’t know if I’ve made this clear enough already, but I hate dating.
So, when I was invited to meet with Justin McLeod, CEO and founder of Hinge, I got very excited. Because Justin very much sells the idea that dating is A Good Thing. The cynic in me wants to know why. So, naturally, I jumped at the chance to debate our stances on modern dating.
Before we got into it, I told him I’m well aware he’s not a therapist, and promised him that he didn’t have to work through my deep rooted issues with connection. However, Justin waved aside my concerns and insisted that, actually, he’s more into the love side than the tech side of his business.
And so the therapy began.
Justin really believes in love. Real love. Ridiculous, inconvenient, consuming, can’t-live-without-each-other love. And, in a world of instant gratification (and ‘Netflix and chill’ sessions), I’m curious to find out where he thinks this obsession with love has a place.
“It doesn’t mean there’s not a time in your life where you just want to have a few drinks and have fun and go out,” he tells me. “But what people are craving is intimacy and vulnerability, not validation and matching and that kind of [swiping] world.”
So does that mean he’s against Tinder flings?
“I don’t think we should outlaw fast food,” he says. “I just think that we should have the alternative for people who want something better. Which isn’t as satisfying and fun frankly as, like, the quick hit. But it also leaves you feeling much better in the long run.”
To Justin, if Tinder is McDonalds, Hinge is a home cooked risotto (and trust me, they take bloody ages to make). And the main ingredient in Justin’s recipe is vulnerability… to which I think I am, quite frankly, allergic.
He tells me that, pre-wife, he once played ‘36 questions to fall in love’ on a date. I tell him that if I was at a pub with a man I’d just met and he asked me if I wanted to fall in love, I’d freak out. Justin says it’s not about that exact game per se: rather, it’s about opening up the conversation.
“Asking someone, ‘What are you interested in?’, ‘How was your day?’, ‘What’s work like?’, is just boring and tiring,” he says. “I was doing a podcast with someone and she said that she would sometimes go out and purposely leave the tag from her shirt sticking out, so that people would point it out to her. That gave her what she needed to start a conversation.”
He adds: “Give someone a way to approach you. [You have to] make yourself a little bit vulnerable.”
One of my biggest gripes with dating is the assumption that women must be gagging to meet someone. That we have a large human-shaped hole in our lives that must be filled at all costs. But that’s not the case anymore, especially for my generation. We have been raised to be independent and taught to keep our backs up against the patriarchy. Being vulnerable with a man I’ve just met – and purposely vulnerable, no less – feels like I’m giving in to the stereotype of needing a relationship to feel complete. It’s counter-intuitive to everything I know.
“It’s not just being submissive or subversive. It’s not about having no boundaries and emotionally vomiting on the other person. It’s got to be something that happens mutually,” Justin says, when I raise my concerns. “I think women and men have toxic masculine qualities, like strong shell, and don’t show any emotion, don’t show any weakness. But that’s brittleness and I don’t think it’s a successful life strategy.”
The new order
It’s probably not the first time Justin has heard someone accuse online dating of ruining human connection, either. Personally, I just think that things were easier when you could actually talk to people in real life. “You’re 22?” he laughs, when I tell him my age. “You have no fucking clue. You have no clue what it was like before this world. It was tough!”
As I’ve made very clear already, I’m not a hopeless romantic, I don’t believe that I will lock eyes with a stranger across the room and fall in love, and I don’t believe in ‘the one’. But even I still think the idea of finding love through an app feels…. well, it feels forced and artificial. After all, it’s not called AI for nothing. But Justin, again, waves away my concerns.
“We used to have arranged marriages and that was how people used to meet,” he says. “Then it evolved and I’m sure people thought it was weird to just meet a random person on the street and start dating them. Now, we’ve had another revolution.”
The USP of this new revolution is choice, which Justin thinks is great.
“It used to be hard for people to meet and people stayed in shitty relationships because they were like ‘well how else am I gonna meet someone?’” he says. “Now they have the option to keep dating and keep meeting new people and then eventually they decide what they really want. They’re [choosing] it from love rather than that fear. That is romantic.”
While I do agree that an informed decision is (usually) a good decision, there’s no denying that the amount of choice is overwhelming. We’re living in a time of information overload: I genuinely can’t decide what to have for dinner thanks to the thousands of restaurants on delivery apps that I can access from my pocket. I re-wear the same clothes, because how on earth do you pick a new dress when website after website drops new collections every single day? And, with an unlimited amount of men at my fingertips, how do I know when I’ve found one worth committing to?
“Dating apps enable you to date more people, so you really learn what’s important to you and what’s not important to you in a relationship,” says Justin. But, he quickly caveats, “even though we do show you a lot of people, the number of you that are actually going to go on dates and the people that you’re going to like and people who are going to like you back is actually still relatively limited.”
On this subject, I have to ask him about rejection. In life we very rarely tell people we like them, yet on an app we spend hours and hours doing just that… and it’s not always reciprocated. The difference between a real life like and an app ‘tick’, according to Justin, is that there’s “less commitment behind those likes, there’s less charge”.
Then, he throws me a curveball.
“I think rejection is, in a way, a good thing,” he says. “Don’t you?”
Dealing with rejection
I can understand that, from a psychological point of view, learning to deal with rejection is probably a good thing. But from an egotistical (and, let’s be honest, ego always comes into it when we’re dealing with dating) point of view, it’s not what anybody wants.
“I believe that you’re learning,” says Justin. “You’re learning who likes you, and who you like, and you’re learning what it feels like to have your heart broken, even a little bit.”
I’m flustered. Why would I want to let lots of strange men on the internet break my heart every day? I just don’t get it.
“I don’t think you can just have the good and not the bad,” Justin tells me. “You can prevent yourself from being rejected but you’re also going to prevent yourself from feeling the joy of what it means to put yourself out there and then to have that returned. And so that’s part of the game.”
I find Justin’s love of tech very much at odds with his love of… well, love. We know that apps have gamified dating, and that now-infamous Vanity Fair article has called it the “dawn of the dating apocalypse” for this exact reason. Justin insists that the Hinge reboot in 2015 was a changing point for that.
“I just thought that we weren’t living up to our mission of helping people get offline,” he says. “Because we spent so much time focusing on our competitors we hadn’t created that world. I think the context of seeing a person at a time seeing a single photo, throwing them to the left, or throwing them into the right makes you think of them as these internet people that are just like disposable and that’s how you start seeing the whole dating experience, like it’s a consumption thing.”
Justin even has stats that suggest people don’t use his platform for consumption: in fact, 20% of people who download the app quit before joining. “I mean if you talk to all the venture capital guys here, someone who is all about growth, you know, that’s insane,” he says.
So why is he bragging about it?
“No one quits [other apps] because all you do is hit [sync] on Facebook and it’s showing you people,” he explains. “Those 20% of people who don’t even want to put in enough effort to fill out a profile, they’re not ready to put in enough effort to find a relationship. We’re trying to create a community of people who are intentioned and thoughtful and by removing the 20% of people, we end up creating much, much better grades.”
Maybe it is possible to find something meaningful online after all? “I think you have to view it as the first step, that’s it,” he hedges. “I don’t think we pretend to say that this person [on the app] is definitely your soul mate but we are probably going to introduce you to people who are more your type and open up the conversation for you a little bit faster.”
Am I convinced that I need to sign up? Yes. Am I convinced I’m going to enjoy the experience? No. I download the app, I swipe, I occasionally match and even have a couple of conversations. But when I try to find a date to meet up with Tom, a curly haired, west London resident, my fears legitimised. Over the course of three weeks, we have no time to see each other, unless I travel to Fulham at 9pm on a Monday night to meet this stranger who may or may not be a waste of time (spoiler: I don’t go).
I don’t care what Justin says: locking eyes over the bar and falling in, well, not even necessarily love but at least lust, sounds a lot bloody easier than spending hours analysing a profile, attempting a conversation and navigating a first date. Maybe it’s just time for me to catch up, or maybe this is a legitimate reason as to why I hate dating.