When it comes to online dating, options are proliferating at a dizzying speed. Every day, there seems to be a new dating app or even a Chrome extension to help singles (or polyamorous couples) find love (or sex) digitally. Each has its gimmick: Bumble lets women makes the first move, Happn shows people in your vicinity, and the Tab Chrome extension shows you a new match each time you open a new tab in your browser. It's hard to keep track of them all, let alone test them out.
But, I've done my best. I started online dating during college, when a friend told me she met her girlfriend on OkCupid. Two friends and I joined together as a joke, sharing laughs over the ridiculous people the site matched us with, but the joke was on us: We not only entered into relationships through the site but also branched out and made new friends outside of school. To this day, I have two good friends I first met through common interests on OkCupid (and a few exes, though those relationships were clearly shorter-lasting). I had so much success with OkCupid that it took months of listening to my roommate's Tinder date stories for me to expand my online dating repertoire. Then, another friend met her boyfriend on Coffee Meets Bagel, so I gave that one a shot too. And I had to try Hinge after it matched my coworker with a former Bachelorette contestant. Before I knew it, dating apps took up half my phone's screen.
Here are my feelings about each of the apps I've tried in order of how much I'd recommend them to someone looking for love, not just a hookup.
How it works:
On the off chance that you haven't heard, Tinder users swipe right or left to indicate "hot" or "not" (yes, it sounds superficial, but that's what happens when you're working with hundreds of photos and almost no text). Then, the app notifies its users of mutual right swipes. Though a lot of apps do this now, Tinder popularized the system of opening a messaging line between two people only after they've indicated interest in each other, saving both parties the time and hassle of messaging someone unlikely to respond.
There's no getting around it: I think Tinder is a hookup app. There are a few exceptional couples that met on Tinder, but if you're looking for something meaningful and long-lasting, the return on investment is higher elsewhere. I've only met one person in real life through Tinder, and the rest of my conversations died out or descended into one-sided sexting very quickly. Some matches introduced themselves with elaborate sexual fantasies I couldn't even follow. And when one responded to my innocent "Hey!" With "How about a blow job?" I knew it was time to take my energy elsewhere, though not before explaining that if he's going to bring up sex that soon, he should at least not be selfish about it. Needless to say, Tinder is not for the faint of heart.
How it works:
Hinge is different from Tinder in that everyone it shows you is a friend of a friend — or at least a Facebook friend of a Facebook friend. These connections create automatic conversation starters, increase the chances that you'll have something in common with a match, and provide quality control so you don't end up associating with creepers none of your friends would dare befriend themselves. Matches are also timed, so you have 24 hours to start a conversation or the match will expire. As an added bonus, Hinge exposes cheaters based on its users' Facebook relationship statuses. Hinge also recently introduced Story Cards, a series of swipeable questions to answer based on your interests and experiences and the ability for users to list what type of relationship they're looking for.
I can't tell if there was some announcement I missed calling on the bros of the world to congregate on Hinge or if my friends just happen to be friends with lots of bros. Either way, nearly all the photos I see on Hinge set off my bro-rometer. Sports caps and beer-pong tables aside, I also find Hinge less likely to produce mutual "yes" swipes than Tinder, Coffee Meets Bagel, or OkCupid Quick Match, maybe because people are less likely to check it. Or perhaps I need to accept that the bros of Hinge are just not that into me. (I try to be open-minded about them.)
How it works:
I'm new to this one, but the concept is cool — and sort of creepy. This app shows you exactly when and where you've crossed paths with other users. Forget about OkCupid telling you how many miles away someone is: Happn will tell you where on a map they appeared near you and at precisely what time. You can then mark people who have crossed your path with a heart, which functions like a right swipe on Tinder, or a charm, a more overt way of indicating interest.
My data is limited, but the one conversation I've started on Happn so far turned out to be with someone visiting from Europe, which suggests Happn users aren't exactly seeking lasting love. Another issue that strikes me is that the location gimmick only works if you use it in real time as you're walking around. Otherwise, by the time you scroll through the people who have crossed your path and initiate a conversation, they probably won't be near you anymore. It could, however, help you identify your neighbors.
How it works:
Each day, Coffee Meets Bagel's app or website shows you a "bagel" — a person who meets your criteria for age, gender, and location — with a bit of information including profession, alma mater, and mutual Facebook friends. Then, like Tinder and Hinge, the app lets you know if you and your bagel like each other and opens a line between you for several days.
In contrast to most other apps, which contain infinite options, Coffee Meets Bagel gives you one match per day, forcing both participants to deeply consider their compatibility. Perhaps that's why the app is virtually free of creepers: Its users take dating seriously enough to emphasize quality over quantity, so they're usually in it for an actual date. These dates do occur, but a word to the wise: The line that opens between matches closes after a few days, so you need to take the conversation seriously enough to determine if you'd like to exchange numbers within that time span. Coffee Meets Bagel isn't for halfhearted online daters.
How it works:
OkCupid is your classic dating site. Its profiles contain a series of prompts like "six things I could never do without" and "the most private thing I'm willing to admit," it assigns each set of users "match" and "enemy" percentages, and anyone can message anyone as long as they don't say anything inappropriate enough to be blocked or reported. To provide the best of both worlds, OkCupid also has a "Quick Match" feature that lets users star each other and get notified of mutual "like"s as they would on Tinder.
Maybe it's just because I've been using it for so long, but I'm ever true to OkCupid. The site's profile questions force users to reflect on who they are and what they're looking for, giving viewers a far more complete picture of them than the other apps on this list. While they were designed as just that — apps — OkCupid was first a website, so its interface lends itself to longer and more informative profiles and messages. And rather than simply deciding whether others on the site are hot or not, OkCupid users answer tons of survey questions, which are fun to answer in their own right and also form the basis of match and enemy scores.
When all you have to go on is looks, as is the case with Tinder, Hinge, Happn, and (to a lesser extent) Coffee Meets Bagel, the weeding-out process starts with the messages, which can take up a lot of time. OkCupid profiles even include whether each person is looking for a relationship or just a hookup, which Hinge now does as well, so people who aren't on the same page don't have to waste time with each other. So, basically, I'm biased toward OkCupid. But there are also dozens of apps I haven't tried yet, so I'll reserve the "best dating app" award for another article.
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