Most dating apps are male-orientated but a new platform developed by a French woman is giving power and anonymity — back to its female users, writes Anna O’Donoghue.
Finding the perfect dating app is like an adaptation of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.
One is too invasive, another is a ghost town, but according to Parisian Clementine Lalande, her new app Pickable is just right.
Swiping right and left is now a cruel necessity in the age of modern dating.
If you aim to wait to meet someone in the traditional manner — aka face-to-face — you will more than likely end up being eaten by your cats, or, for the millennials out there, your plants.
Nowadays, it’s all about the perfectly angled selfie, first impressions, the first text, preferred location, and super likes — and don’t even get us started on ghosting, unsolicited pictures, and catfishing.
When you finally make a connection, you’ll either find yourself with a pen pal for three months or an embarrassing hookup story which is continuously retold at pre-drinks.
The current dating scene focuses mostly around brief encounters and, in a way, has normalised the culture of casual sex/relationships by making it accessible to anyone who owns a smart phone.
Usernames such as ‘looking4now’ — located only 200m away on apps — make lunchtime hookups a trending topic.
Sexual opportunism is no longer just for the hotel bedrooms of the rich and famous or college campus dorm rooms.
Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand and am here for the benefits and strengths of being sex positive but if you spend most of your 20s and 30s thinking that the common currency is sex, how else would you know what building a relationship entails?
Or how do you know your worth when you receive messages such as “what’s up s**t?” as you make your breakfast in your pyjamas on a Saturday morning.
“I felt we could do better than this,” Lalande says as we exchange dating war stories.
Similar to most of us, it was a heartbreak that pushed her to click the dreaded download icon.
Aged 29, she had just graduated from university with a degree in industrial engineering, secured a job as a project manager at the Boston Consulting Group, and was ready for a future of white-picket fences and children’s playdates with her Spanish boyfriend of seven years.
Never did she think she would be sitting on her couch receiving inappropriate messages from potential suitors a few months later.
As an engineer, Lalande has worked comfortably in male-dominated environments her entire life, even thrived in them, but it was something about the gender imbalance she encountered on these apps that made her feel like she was being hunted.
As we chatted it was clear, even though the locations of our dating tales were different, me in Ireland and her in Paris, the feeling of being powerless was mutual.
“I want to give women back control when it comes to their dating life,” she says. “Men are still leading the game in the online dating world with an 80% sign-up rate.”
Prior to the creation of Pickable, Lalande worked with the dating app Once where she delved into the algorithms of the matching process.
If you thought apps such as Tinder suggested potential matches on the basis of geographical proximity you’re about to be surprised.
Elo scoring, she explains, is the system used by most app companies, until recently, to rank their users.
The algorithm gives you a score on the basis of a series of criteria (including estimates of your attractiveness and education).
Elo scores are used to rank chess players, too, but in the context of dating apps, the more swipes you receive, the higher your Elo score, which supposedly makes you more desirable.
This desirability rating then determines where you appear in the list of suitors.
If you find yourself with a high ranking you are among the more attractive and if you have a low ranking you’ll only see people who might as well be known as the ‘misfortunes’.
Lalande describes it as “modern day sexism”, advising me to read up about it in French journalist Judith Duportail’s book, L’Amour Sous Algorithme (Love Under Algorithm).
Armed with facts and figures, the idea for Pickable came to Lalande after a friend rang from her work bathroom in a state of panic.
A match she had ghosted (when someone you’re dating ends the relationship by cutting off all communication, without any explanation) a few days prior because he was being too aggressive arrived at her work and asked to speak to her.
He discovered her location from identifying the surroundings in some of her profile pictures and, through searching the locations on Instagram, he found her account.
Within a few clicks, he learned where she worked and decided it was a good idea to pay her a visit.
“Where’s the empathy? Where are the social rules? They’re all gone out the window,” says Lalande.
And Lalande believes it’s the power of anonymity.
Women sign up to Pickable anonymously, meaning they don’t have to provide a name, photo, biography, or any other details.
No female user can be seen until she chooses, therefore protecting her privacy and allowing her to take back control.
Men, however, create a simple profile with their name and photo, as well as an optional bio.
A woman then is free to browse without being seen — also important if you have a boss who happens to be on the dating scene.
When she sees someone she wants to strike up a conversation with, she can choose to send him a message or not.
It is only after a male user is contacted that they’re able to see a photo of the female user.
They can either accept or deny her chat request and, if accepted, the match can message back and forth.
If a chat becomes inappropriate a connection can be closed and never found again.
“Anonymity also helps re-establish respect and balance” along with what Lalande describes as “slow love” — in short, good old fashioned romance.
It forces men to slow down and think about their reply instead of sending the standard copy and paste message to every match.
“A male friend of mine does 100 swipes a day and more on the weekends,” she says.
“Every match receives the same reply.”
Minimalist profiles mean matches are cutting out all the fluff that usually just ends up complicating things, and get straight to what’s most important: Meeting up in real life to see if you’re actually compatible.
Pickable was launched in France and Britain in November 2018 and so far boasts 1m users globally.
Rumours have it that it will arrive in Ireland at the end of the summer.
Why Irish people find dating difficult: