Dating apps: when did everyone start sounding the same?

     Dating apps are supposed to help us find people with the same interests. Instead they’ve given rise to a legion of identikit Peep Show and pizza lovers.     

“My dream dinner guest is Louis Theroux *heart eyes*”

“Need a travel buddy!! Japan next”

“Looking to leave the single market before the UK does”

“Just want someone to watch Peep Show hungover with”

“6’1… because apparently that’s important *rolling eye emoji*”

“Looking for someone who doesn’t take themselves too seriously…”

“Don’t be a slow walker”

“I have a 5* Uber rating”

Ring any bells? For weary dating app veterans, these lines are likely familiar. They are examples of a curious new trend that’s been thrown into light by swiping culture: that of the dating app stock phrase.

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For five years, I’ve been using dating apps on and off. I weathered the trend of taking pictures with tranquilised tigers and patiently waited for people to stop thinking that Tinder Powerpoint presentations were anything other than a one-way ticket to an instant left swipe.

Yet people adhering to those passing app fads were relatively few and far between compared to what I’ve noticed recently.

Over the past year-and-a-half, spaces designed for people to show their individuality – like a Tinder/Bumble bio or the answers to Hinge’s self-selected questions – have become littered with identical responses, or dating app ‘tropes’, if you will. An army of people who want you to know what makes them stand out from the seven-million other UK residents registered on dating sites, are their wildly unorthodox pursuits like uh, loving food, going to the gym and enjoying the odd holiday. Divisive. 

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“Louis Theroux, David Attenborough, Peep Show, Friends, a reference to Pam and Jim from The Office, gin/wine enthusiast, ‘Send me photos of your dog,’ something about going to the gym and ‘Looking for a partner in crime/travel buddy,’” reeled off 25-year-old Jack when I asked him what stock phrases he kept spotting among the women he was swiping through.

A Manchester-based Bumble, Hinge and Tinder user, Jack says the tropes are inescapable.

“When you’ve noticed a few of them once, you literally see them everywhere,” he told me.

“But it doesn’t make you stand out. I assume most people are part of this homogeneous glob of gin enthusiasts and Tough Mudder competitors and are all boring.”

It’s got to the stage that these recurring lines are so ubiquitous, they’re a reference point themselves, with other app users providing commentary on them.

“Why does everyone really hate slow walkers?” I saw someone confusedly enquire on their Hinge profile the other day. Buddy – that’s what I’m hoping to find out.  

Three years of this joke.

Initial admission: launching this investigation, I suspected the findings would be that straight men (my hunting ground) were the main offenders when it came to penning identikit dating profiles.

Yet it quickly emerged that, not only were men and women across the board guilty of a seeming failure of imagination on being presented with a blinking cursor and blank bio to fill out, the stock phrases they were falling back on remained broadly the same too.

What’s more, the flood of replies I received from social media users, when I posed the question of what dating app tropes kept cropping up, made it clear this was an issue that had been simmering for some time.

To put it plainly: we’re facing a crisis of self-representation that reaches across party lines. Everyone on dating apps has morphed into the same person – or at least that’s what their bios would have you believe. It’s Groundhog dating.

Have you ever confessed to being a "gin lover" on your profile?

“Everyone says their super skill is bingeing Netflix,” Esme, a straight 24-year-old in London, who primarily uses Hinge, tells Stylist.

“Or that they’re ‘always in the kitchen at parties’. Lots of dog-related comments too. And all captions on photos with women and babies say ‘Not my girlfriend/child.’ Honestly, who has written the rules for people on this? It’s like they’ve clubbed together to decide their stock answers.”

In a way, perhaps they have. In 2018, Tinder released their first ever ‘Year in Swipe’, which revealed that ‘Travel’, ‘Music’ and ‘Gym’ were the top three most frequently recurring terms in the bios of UK users. Unsurprisingly, when it came to TV shows, Friends reigned supreme as most cited. 

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The dating app tropes that have emerged are of a kind. First up are the collectively adored – but still appropriately adult, sorry Harry Potter – cultural touchstones like The Office, Peep Show, Louis Theroux, David Attenborough and being someone who drinks any alcoholic beverage (although wine and gin are clear frontrunners).

Then you have the vague attempts to establish individuality, tempered by an apparent fear that anything too specific (e.g. ‘Would love to meet someone equally mad about Mozart’) will narrow the field of potential partners, to their detriment.

Under this category falls: loving dogs, hating slow walkers/loud chewers, wanting to travel to Japan/Central or South America, any attempts to start debates about pineapple on pizza (or food in general; eat it or shuddup) and references to over-competitiveness, prefixed with a laugh-crying emoji that does nothing to add levity.

In addition, there are the fake reviews (“A good bloke,” – Keira Knightley’), 5* Uber ratings, and endless jokes about leaving single markets or drinking enough on dates so someone looks like their photos. Oh, and the cherry on top? A begrudging admission of height.

All of these supposed personality traits usually provide no more intel about what a person is really like than using ‘I am 60% water’ as an identifying detail would. In fact, their omnipresence is causing the opposite effect to occur; stick one of these tropes in your profile and you’re far more likely to blend in with the rest of the great unwashed. In short, a broad appeal bio makes you look… basic.  

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‘The most successful profiles on Tinder are the ones that are unique and represent you as an individual,” explains Jenny Campbell over email. She should know – she’s Tinder’s Chief Marketing Officer.

“Users who have complete profiles – a bio, at least four photos, a Tinder Spotify anthem and basic information such as your job see the most success on the app. If you are authentically and unapologetically in your profile, you will naturally form better connections.”

For sure – but how have so many people settled on such a small pool of identical responses to represent themselves?

“We’ve found the way Tinder users present themselves is often a reflection of culture, which explains why there are commonalities in some profiles. Whether it’s highlighting trends in music or referencing popular culture, these signals help users show off what’s important and relevant to them – also providing good context for sparking up a conversation with a new match,” Jenny says. 

To a degree, perhaps. Yet what’s so fascinating about the emergence of the stock dating app phrase is how they transcend simple repetition of the same broad likes and dislikes (see: Friends). The behaviour goes beyond simply invoking a trope; instead the trope is reproduced in almost identical fashion across a staggeringly large amount of people. All of whom are individuals in their own right, with unique personalities – so how can they all want to represent themselves through their dislike of ‘loud chewers?’

Plus, the existence of these standard responses have become recognised enough that they’re now mocked or parodied by other users – which, in a meta turn of events, is becoming a burgeoning trope in its own right. There’s widespread acknowledgement that wanting to travel to Japan is the Pumpkin Spice Latte of trying to find love (or a plus one for a wedding – another popular demand). People are seeing the stock phrases crop up time and time again, including the perpetrators. Nevertheless, they persist. Why?   

Perhaps too simple…

“I’ve definitely used my Uber rating on my dating app bios,” says Ben, one of the only people willing to confess to Stylist that he was guilty of employing a dating app cliché. Funnily enough, most people aren’t keen to elaborate on a behaviour when it seems to suggests they are bores.

“It lead to chatting about something specific; people would brag that their rating was higher or share an embarrassing story about why it wasn’t.”

The 21-year-old – who swipes in Glasgow – is consciously aware it wasn’t exactly a pioneering choice of bio.

“I did realise it was a bit of a trope but didn’t think it was major enough to be in everyone’s bios,” he remarks. “At the very least, it seemed like it could prompt a good chat. I sacrificed originality for more chance at starting conversation, basically. And it worked – it got the most replies at the time in direct relation to the bio, as opposed to someone just saying ‘hi’.”

On Ben’s part, employing a reference to Uber was born of dating app fatigue.

“Using that trope was a last resort,” he explains. “I was so bored of awkwardly swapping ‘Heys’ and not really knowing where to go with the conversation.”

“My friend also used the ‘I’m going to shops, do you want anything?’ line from [Netflix series] Master of None for quite a while and said that really worked.”

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It’s certainly true that including something in your dating app profiles that people can respond to is going to up your interaction rates. But why are so many people opting to paint with the broadest brush strokes?

“When I first used Tinder I tried to craft a perfectly succinct, original bio,” muses Ben. “But on later re-downloads I just wanted to have something there that was vaguely funny.”

General consensus seems to be that singles are paralysed by the pressure to winningly – and accurately – sell themselves to complete strangers. The majority of the population aren’t professional writers or possess Don Draper’s command of the dark advertising arts. So when it comes to trying to appeal to an unknown audience, the panic sets in – and instead app users fall back on stock phrases and traits that are the equivalent of Ed Sheeran: crowd-pleasing, widely appealing and unimaginative as hell.

“Coming up with a good dating bio is dead hard,” observes Manchester swiper, Jack.

“It can take time to have this single witty line that shows people who you are while also working as a way to entice a potential match – and act as an icebreaker. I [wonder] if it’s a thing where people also see [these tropes] and adopt them themselves. Louis Theroux and David Attenborough are universally loved figures; they’re uncontroversial and easy to relate to.”

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Although spotting stock phrases dampen Jack’s enthusiasm, he’s discovered they’re not a dealbreaker.

“I had two perfectly fine dates with a self-confessed Peep Show enthusiast,” he recounts.

“In the end we decided neither of us were right for each other but it was no better or worse than dozens of other dates I’ve been on, including people with truly excellent bios. It’s made me think I’ve been far too judgemental on all these people. The One is actually out there with a ‘wine lover’ bio but I’ve swiped left on her.”

In contrast, London-based Stephanie thinks an identikit bio denotes a lack of effort – and as a result isn’t prepared to put in any herself.

“I immediately swipe left [if I see a trope],” says the 30-year-old, who uses Bumble, Tinder, Hinge, OKCupid and Plenty of Fish.

“If the person can’t be bothered to be original and write something funny and honest, it tells me a lot about their general personality. It often feels like men google ‘good opening lines and bios’, then copy and paste others’ content. I’ve seen so many copies of the same bio and it’s pretty disappointing.”

It’s not them, it’s us.

Ultimately, anyone tempted to fall back on a ‘single market’ gag or express their love for Louis Theroux – however truthful – when trying to entice potential partners, may want to think twice.

Although resorting to references nodding to extremely popular TV shows or choosing to represent yourself through your passion for pasta may seem a surefire way to widen the pool of choice, using tropes not only fails to make a person stand-out – other users are actively beginning to reject people upon clocking them. A lack of imagination just isn’t sexy.

Plus, lasering in on something specific and personal – like a bit of trivia you adore or a joke about your most embarrassing moment - is far more likely to also help you find your people – not just every warm body within 10 miles who loves pizza and Peep Show.

And if you really want to employ these clichés, add a little razzle dazzle. 30-year-old Mattia told me he re-frames his love of travel on Hinge with a reference to Skyscanner and impulsive trips. It shows far more personality than just writing ‘Love travel,’ accompanied by a plane emoji.

So if you’re suffering from a persistent failure to ignite on dating apps, it could be time to rethink that David Attenborough shout out. Beloved as he is, the nation’s grandad is not doing your love life any favours.

Images: Getty/Hinge


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