The New York dating app, which is now available here, wants people to connect deeply and so it encourages them to meet in person and not stay online, says Suzanne Harrington
The hardened swipers of dating apps such as Tinder may be too jaded to notice that a New York alternative, Hinge, is now in Ireland.
It launched here in April, and its founder says Hinge is the fastest-growing dating app in Ireland. Although he provides no figures, he says that compared with other markets where Hinge recently launched — Scandinavia, the Netherlands — the uptake in Ireland is twice as high. Why is Hinge different? Could it be that we are all just exhausted by the hollow disposability of its rival apps?
“It’s designed to be deleted,” says Hinge founder, Justin McLeod. “There’s no swiping. It’s about connecting, rather than matching.” If Tinder is fast food, then Hinge is nourishment, he says. McLeod wants people to use the app to connect meaningfully.
Ironically, McLeod is not a big fan of tech — he avoids social media, because “the less I’m on it, the happier I am” — and wants Hinge to be used to connect people, rather than keeping people online, glued to their screens. The team even employed a ‘healthy tech advisor’, Catherine Price (author of How To Break Up With Your Phone) to drive users to connect in real life.
“We’ve been losing sight of the original purpose of connection,” he says. “Social media is designed for people to become products; not even users. With online dating, people are craving something different: authenticity; something real and refreshing. Lots of ‘likes’ provide validation and excitement, but not necessarily connection.
US presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg met his husband on Hinge, and user volume spiked afterwards, says McLeod.
I download the app and set about filling in my details (“adding basic information leads to better matches, so that you can delete us”). Under ‘What’s your gender?’, as well as man and woman, there are more than fifty options, from androgyne to polygender, trans to hijra to two-spirit; nobody has been left out, and there are categories I have never heard of. So far, so inclusive.
The ethnicity options are equally so, and the religion options include agnostic, which is refreshing. In the lifestyle questions, you are asked if you drink, smoke, smoke weed, or use drugs. I click ‘no’ to all of them, but it’s nice to be asked; it means I won’t end up on a date with a coke-snorting, beer-guzzling stoner, or with a clean-living green tea-sipper.
Once you’ve uploaded your photos, you then write a few lines in response to a selection of prompts: ‘You’ll know I like you if…’ ‘I’m a regular at…’ ‘My mantra is…’ ‘Don’t hate me if I…’ ‘Give me travel tips for…’ ‘Change my mind about…’ ‘Believe it or not, I…’ ‘I bet you can’t…’ ‘My most controversial opinion is…’ ‘I’m weirdly attracted to…’ ‘I recently discovered that…’ ‘My most irrational fear is…’ ‘One thing I’ll never do again is…’ ‘Worst idea I’ve ever had…’
Online daters really, really need these descriptions. One of the most tedious aspects of sparser, less structured apps is the number of men who write that they like most sports and don’t take life too seriously. As a potential date, that tells you nothing about them, other than that they lack imagination. I’d be far more upset to go on a date with a Donald Trump supporter than with an axe murderer. With Hinge, as with other, more thoughtful and detailed apps, you can weed out people with whom you would be culturally incompatible. My favourite Hinge prompt, the one that would undoubtedly save the most time and eye-rolls, is ‘You should *not* go out with me if…’
The most popular prompt amongst Irish users is, ‘We’ll get along if…’, and the main pet peeve in Ireland is slow walkers. (Seriously? That’s the worst thing we can think of?) The prompt that leads to the most dates in Ireland is, ‘Suggest a date if…’ There is a lot of emphasis on face-to-face meeting: ‘I’ll pick the first part of the date, you pick the second…’ ‘Which of these two date ideas sounds better?...’’The sign of a great first date…’ ‘I know the best spot in town for…’
All of which reflects the origins of the app: that is, Justin McLeod’s desire to connect, and his own tortuous journey to lasting love. It took Justin, 35, and his wife, Kate, fourteen years of on-again-off-again between their first date and their wedding day.
Amazon Prime are currently turning their story into something for the channel’s Modern Love series, and the producer of 500 Days of Summer and Juno is looking to make a film about them.
Kate, whose business supplies Gwyneth Paltrow with cocoa butter body products, met Justin when Justin was, in his words, “a mess” and “all over the place.” The first time she saw him, he was passed out on stairs at a private college: he had addiction problems. They dated, then she went to work for Goldman Sachs, met a trader, and moved to Switzerland. He got sober and went to Harvard Business School. Every year, for eight years, he wrote to her to apologise for his behaviour when he’d been using; every year, she ignored his letter.
Eventually, he turned up in Zurich, a month before she was due to marry someone else, hundreds of wedding invitations already sent out. They met in a café, where he opened up to her; she called off her wedding and returned to New York with him. They are expecting their first baby.
In their years apart, Justin developed a prototype Hinge.
“I was heartbroken,” he says.
Which is how Hinge started. He says that his own experience — humbling himself, making himself vulnerable — informed the ethos of the app: that it’s cool to commit; that it’s verging on radical, in an era of boundless romantic and sexual possibilities and opportunities.
Perhaps he’s right. During a year apart from someone I regarded very firmly as my ex, I’ve enjoyed a bewildering selection of swipe app dates: funny, interesting men who vanished after two dates; crashing bores who mansplained minutiae at me; handsome conspiracy theorists; men whose politics appalled me; and several lovely men I didn’t fancy. I met them all for coffee, had lots of interesting conversations, but still preferred the company of my dog.
Out of the blue, my ex appeared; not on an app, but in real life. Reader, we reconciled, although, tragically, nobody is making a film about us.