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Gillian Sisley

The Future of Online Dating, According to an Ex-Tinder and Bumble Scientist

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Gillian Sisley
Gillian Sisley
 2021-05-10

And what it means for women’s safety when cultivating new relationships.

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Image credit via Zoosk.com

The pandemic brought along with it a myriad of challenges for everyone around the world. From job losses, to sickness, to the worst-cases imaginable, it’s been a year of struggle and great trial.

One of the areas of life that many also found greatly affected by the pandemic was the dating scene — it virtually disappeared overnight.

We could barely get our hands on toilet paper, let alone get a number from that cute guy at the coffee shop we’ve been crushing on for months (hard to do when you can no longer step foot in said coffee shop…)

While in-person dating went virtually extinct around the globe for a year, dating entirely didn’t cease — it just when exclusively online.

For apps like Tinder, Bumble, OK Cupid, and hell even Christian Mingle, 2020 was a year of substantial growth that dating apps have never seen before.

Sure, around the holidays and Valentine’s Day they would see predicted booms, but nothing like this.

Everyone went online this year to look for love, and that fact has changed the online dating landscape forever.

COVID-19 caused unprecedented spikes in online dating app usage.

While it’s not exactly classy to say that anything thrived during the pandemic, the proof is in the pudding.

According to Forbes, OK Cupid saw a 700% increase in usage between March and May 2020.

Bumble saw a 70% increase in video calls this year.

Last month, we even saw Bumble founder Whitney Wolfe Herd become one of the youngest female billionaires in the world thanks to this year of usage surges.

That’s just some samples, but the data is truly staggering.

Dr. Jess Carbino, sociologist and a former scientist for both Tinder and Bumble, was recently interviewed by Indeed Hook to share her professional predictions for where the online dating landscape was headed once we entered post-COVID times, and her thoughts were quite fascinating:

“I do believe that what the dating apps are reporting is true in terms of a very dramatic and real increase in people using the apps,” Carbino told InsideHook. “Obviously, online dating had [already] been very widely adopted. We know that it’s incredibly common among all demographic groups; that’s been established by a variety of sources — both the dating apps themselves, and also independent sources like Pew Research Center. That’s not even subject to question, but [the pandemic] has really pushed people to consider digital technologies as the mechanism by which they connect, because they have had no other option.”

Online dating skeptics were finally won over in 2020.

We all have that friend, or several, who swore they’d never try online dating.

But in the times of a global pandemic, online dating was the only type of dating the world had at its disposal. And the world didn’t hesitate to hop on board the dating app train.

The critics who said they would “never try it" ended up giving it a shot, just to see. And many of them, with no other option available, found it wasn’t as bad as they’d imagined.

In fact, online dating takes out a lot of the awkwardness of in-person dating. If you’re not interested in someone, you just swipe left or don’t answer their messages. You no longer have to stand there, MmmHmming to someone you bumped into at a bar with who you have no chemistry, feeling too polite to just walk away.

While there are downsides to online dating, many found this year that there are plenty of notable perks as well.

Video dating is the way of the future, and women should be rejoicing.

Dr. Jess Carbino predicted in her interview with Indeed Hook that we’re not going to see the online dating surge end anytime soon.

In fact, she predicts that video dating is going to be something that comes more into practice, and stays for the long haul.

That said, I was disappointed that this interview barely touched on the further cultural relevance of this growing trend, so that’s what I’m here to do:

Reality is, the video dating trend will protect and save many lives of women, and that is a massive thing to celebrate.

When a cis man goes on a blind date with a cis woman, he’s often most worried about, “What if we don’t click?” Worst case, at least it’s a chance to eat out at a chic new place in town, or have a few drinks.

But when we as women go on a blind date with a man, our worries sound more so like this:

“What if I’ve read him totally wrong online?”
“What if he’s a psycho, or a serial killer?”
“What if he spikes my drink when I got to the bathroom?”
“What if I feel uncomfortable, but don’t feel safe getting out of there?”
“Which friends should I send his profile picture, info and date/time/place to for our meet-up to ensure that if I go missing, they have a prime suspect?”
“What if I’m not feeling the date, or I don’t want to go back to his place, and he won’t take my ‘no’ for an answer?”
“What if he follows me to my car?”
“What if the place we’re going isn’t public enough to be safe for me?”
“What if he has a group of friends who are also in on a ‘dark plot’ to kidnap, rape and murder me?”

If you think any of these concerns are over the top or exaggerated, you’re likely not a woman and don’t know what it’s like to live in a world that is not designed for your safety.

If you are a woman and have never experienced or heard of such fears, know that you are very lucky, and are not in the majority.

I’d love to say that I’ve never worried about these very things (wouldn’t that be nice…), but then again I did go on a date with a guy in university who turned out to be an attempted mass shooter, foiled only by his therapist calling the police after he divulged his plan.

Like most things, women have been tasked with the responsibility of danger-avoidance, rather than expecting better conduct from the individuals existing in our society.

We’ve been sold the narratives of:

  • Only meet in public spaces.
  • Don’t walk alone at night.
  • Never leave your drink unattended.
  • Have a ‘safe word’ to text a friend so that they’ll call you with a fake emergency if the date isn’t going well.
  • Preserve the man’s ego and feelings to get out alive.
  • Try not to insult him enough that he strikes you in frustration.
  • Be flirty, but not too flirty.
  • Be kind, but not too kind.
  • Dress sexy, but not like a slut.
  • Cover up, but not like a prude.

The list goes on and on and on… you get it. It’s exhausting.

Despite the increased safety of video calling, women still won’t have the luxury of letting their guard down completely.

As someone who did once try online dating for several months, I’m just going to say this:

There’s a lot to be said about being in the presence of a person and feeling their energy, rather than trying to read them through technology.

You can message with someone thinking they’re the best person ever, only to meet them in person and get a weird vibe that your instincts just won’t let up on.

Caution to us ladies to still choose safety over trust, every single time:

No matter how long you’ve been messaging with a person, or video calling with them, still be on high alert the first time you meet then in person for a date (COVID precautions allowing, of course).

Be mindful of what your female instincts and gut are trying to tell you. Listen to them — keep your eyes peeled.

Better to be rude and weird, as long as it means you can stay safe and get home in one piece.

I’ll be the first to stand up and say that this world is unfair to live in as a woman. As a survivor of sexual assault myself, I’ve heard every way the assault was my fault, rather than that of my attacker who ignored my consent and tried to take what he wanted despite the damage it caused me. It sucks that women, who are statistically most likely to be the victims of harm when it comes to dating, must also be in charge of safety protocols.

And why? Mostly because we expect so little from men in terms of conduct as a society that some feel they are entitled and can get away with mistreating others.

It’s simply easier to blame women in this game.

Why bother teaching men to be respectful and change a culture when it’s far easier to make a standard list of safety practices and hand it out to every woman on the planet?

And when a woman still gets attacked or harmed? Well, then the onus is on her, because she obviously didn’t follow the 'safety protocols' closely enough.

With all of that said, as soon as I read this article by Indeed Hook, my immediate thought was,

“Holy sh*t, so many women are going to be saved from being assaulted, raped and murdered if they’re screening dates via video call before meeting them in person.”

That thought came with great relief… I just hope my theory is true. Because as an advocate for women who have been victims of gender violence, it’s my dream to see less of that in the world.

And I’ll take it however which way I can get it.