It’s Not About the App: Why You Can’t Get a 2nd Date

ShoppingCartDating apps are prolific.  New ones are emerging all the time.  There’s even a hugely popular podcast that follows the story of startup Dating Ring as the founders try to launch their app.

You would think that the only problems left were technical.  If someone can just figure out the right formula, the right user experience, then the problem will be solved.  Apps have all sorts of hooks:  go out on a date tonight, let women make the first move, take a 200+ personality questionnaire, create your own set of questions, and choose potential dates by their voice alone.

Yet so many people are still searching for love.

On Bravo’s TV show the Millionaire Matchmaker, Patti Stanger tries to find love for rich people who haven’t met their mate.  Over and over, her clients say they simply “haven’t met the right person”.  If only Patti could find them that person, they’d be ready to settle down in blissful true love.

But despite coaching by Patti on how to choose someone more compatible, how to conduct themselves on their first date, how to take it to the next level—most of the clients on the show don’t find “the one”.  They continue to choose people that initially attract them, knowing full well they won’t be compatible.  They interrogate their dates as if they’re interviewing for a job in the CIA.  They dismiss them for superficial reasons, such as not being tall/fit/successful/young enough.

The more I learn about what makes relationships successful, the more I circle back to the same conclusion:  it’s not that you haven’t met the right person.  It’s that everyone needs a class in How to Be a Good Date.

Apps focus on finding people.  Some focus on giving you lots of matches as quickly as possible (Tinder), and some focus on fewer, but supposedly higher-quality matches, much more slowly (eHarmony).

The problem is, we think the matter can be solved by this shopping approach.  With Tinder, even if you find someone you like, there is always the option of someone even better just a swipe away.  This is human nature.  Even in 1965, when the first computer-based matchmaking system matched two people successfully, they still entered their names during the second round, figuring since they’d done so well the first time around, they would do even better the second.  (They’ve now been married for 46 years, by the way.)

With sites like eHarmony, you’re under the illusion you can have a checklist of your perfect mate; it’s just a matter of finding the one who fills all the boxes.  If you’re not madly in love after date one, there are plenty of other fish in the sea.

Having too many choices is not always a good thing.  It can lead to indecision, waffling, and delay.  In addition, research increasingly shows it’s not about how compatible you are up front.  It’s not about having the exact same views on finances or travel, or about having the same Meyers-Brigg score.  A successful relationship is about how you treat each other, and how you treat the relationship.  Decades of research by John Gottman and his team says that the two most important factors in a successful relationship are kindness and generosity.

All this has got me thinking about how to really change the model.  Apps today are focused on finding people for you to date.  I’m not knocking that; it’s crucial to be able to expand your dating pool, especially once you’re out of school.  But then they just leave you hanging.  We need apps that help YOU become a better dater.  To coach you on how to be a good first date.  To give you the tools to know when someone would not be a good partner, despite being super hot and a great conversationalist.

I’m not saying we need to settle, or give up on finding someone we have great chemistry with.  But we need to get away  from the model of simply parading people in front of us, swiping left because they haven’t read Neuromancer (true story).  The idea of “there is always someone better out there, who will fit more of my list” is damaging.

Imagine an app that helps you analyze how your date went.  You can provide feedback on the person you went on a date with:  for example, did they talk about their ex too much?  Dominate the conversation?  Treat the waiter rudely?  When you shared the good news that you just got a promotion, did they say ‘That’s nice,’ and check their phone?

If you set up the date:  did you make it clear it’s a date?  Did you set up a time and place to meet well in advance, and arrive on time?  Did you ask your date questions without giving them the third degree?  Did you give someone a second chance that did not immediately make you hear wedding bells?

If you go on 20 dates and 15 people think you talk about work too much and 10 people think you dressed too casually:  wouldn’t you want to know?  Performance reviews at work are a standard.  Maybe it’s time for performance reviews in our relationships, as well.  (And they shouldn’t just stop once you’re married!)

Apps like The Grade allow you to rate users’ profiles, response rates, and message quality.  Mesh lets you set filters, such as how much vulgarity is ok with you, and the importance of grammar.  Bristlr calls out how many times someone has copied and pasted the exact same message they sent to you.  Bumble makes photos blurry until you consent to viewing them—and the photos are watermarked with the name and photo of the person who sent it..  These are awesome tools that can help weed out people who just aren’t ready for dating.

So a call to action to all the daters out there:  don’t make your “dealbreaker” list an impossible set of things to achieve.  Be a good date.  Give people a chance.  And above all, practice kindness and generosity.