Dating is a bruising sport; that's always been the trouble. Apps like Tinder were supposed to save people from the ache of rejection by matching those who have already expressed interest in each other. But these platforms only created a new problem. The scourge of modern singledom is no longer the unrequited crush - it's the tepid, mutual "like" ... that nobody can be bothered to do anything about.
Why do people swipe right on each other, but then never connect? A preliminary new study from researchers at Queen Mary University of London, Sapienza University of Rome, and the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group collected data on just how bad this phenomenon is.
Researchers created 14 decoy Tinder profiles in London - male and female - and automatically liked everybody within a 100-mile radius. Then they waited to see what fraction of people would like them back, and what fraction of those would send a message.
The fake male profiles received little attention. They matched with others around 0.6 per cent of the time.
The fake female profiles were much more popular - about 10 per cent of people liked them back (most of them men).
Men were much less likely to start a conversation with the decoy profiles. Only 7 per cent of men who matched with a fake profile sent a message, compared to 21 per cent of women who matched with a fake profile. In total though, many more men sent messages since the overwhelming majority of matches came from men.
These statistics illustrate how men and women use Tinder differently. The researchers say that men seem to be much less discriminating - they are more likely to swipe right, but also much less likely to follow through with a message. Women, on the other hand, tend to swipe right when they are serious about connecting.
This, of course, squares with the anecdotal experience of many people who use these dating apps. A follow-up survey of Tinder users confirmed that about one third of men said that most of the time they "casually like most profiles," while women overwhelmingly said that they only swiped right on profiles they were actually attracted to.
The researchers caution that these behaviours may be self-reinforcing. When men are swipe-happy on Tinder, women can get overwhelmed with attention, making them choosier. This makes men even more desperate, and even less discerning about who they like. So the situation descends into confusion.
"This gaming of the system undermines its operation and likely leads to much frustration," they write. People start to get suspicious of their matches - did the other party actually look at their profile? Or were they just swiping right on everyone?
Another study by Jennie Zhang and Taha Yasseri of Oxford analyzed the conversations that people had after they already match. Zhang and Yasseri cannot disclose which dating app they looked at, but it seems very similar to Tinder. They collected about 2 million conversations involving 400,000 heterosexual users from the United States.
The results were bleak. About half of the conversations were completely one-sided - the other person just didn't respond. When there was a mutual conversation, people exchanged phone numbers only about 19 per cent of the time.
Those who did decide to send a message tended to be quick about it. Half of people who reached out waited less than eight hours after being notified of their match. About 15 per cent sent a message within the first minute. If the other party responded, half usually did it within a few hours, while a large fraction waited a day or more.
Zhang and Yasseri also noticed strange gender differences in response rates. Men, who initiated about 80 per cent of the conversations, were more likely than women to get a response. When men messaged first, women wrote back about 53 per cent of the time. When women messaged first, men wrote back only 42 per cent of the time.
This is more evidence, they argue, that men take these kinds of apps less seriously. When a woman matches with a man, she can't be sure how interested he is; it's riskier for her to reach out. This encourages women to be less proactive on these apps, reinforcing gender stereotypes.
Online dating is not all terrible, but these studies confirm that the problems of the real world pretty much recapitulate themselves online. People are desperate to connect with each other, but also terrified of rejection. If apps like Tinder and Hinge seem frustrating and unproductive, it's not just you. That's pretty much the average experience for people, everywhere (but we find happiness anyway).