I'm making a pandemic dating app, Part 1

Well, technically I haven't started yet. But I plan to start building it soon.

Why I'm making a dating app now

I've dreamed of making a dating app for the past ten years, but haven't actually made one yet. My phone is filled with notes on different ideas for dating apps, but for one reason or another I've never actually followed through with any of them.

In the past I've hesitated for two reasons: I'm afraid of starting things and dating apps depend on network-effects to be successful. Because of my personality I'm reluctant to start anything. I'm definitely a "Let's just stay home" kind of person, so it's hard for me to take initiative and start something on my own, especially something as daunting as starting a business.

Creating a dating app is an especially scary prospect for me because it depends on network-effects to be successful. What this means is that its value to users hinges on how many users are actively using it. If you're the only person on a dating app, it's useless. The same is true for social media services, which is why you don't see many serious challenges to Facebook and Twitter's dominance. In terms of dating apps, the best app is arguably Tinder. Not because it has the best features, but just because it has the most users.

So to make a "good" dating app, it needs to be great and offer something new, otherwise it will never be able to grow its user base to a critical mass and actually become useful.

So why am I serious about making a dating app now? First, this pandemic has created a unique situation that I believe calls for a new type of dating app from what currently exists, and I think I can make that app. And second, I've got nothing better to do right now. There's a pandemic, I'm single, and I'm not interested in baking bread 😁

Do we really need another dating app?

I think there are two ways to think about that question. On the one hand, with all of the problems that exist in the world, is another dating app really what we need right now? No, of course not.

Although dating apps aren't the most important thing in the world, I still think they have the potential to be valuable. As Anne Hathaway awkwardly put it in Interstellar, "Love is the one thing we're capable of perceiving that transcends time and space." Putting aside cringe-worthy movie lines, I do believe that love is real and I would feel proud if I could make something that helped some people find it.

I'm not naïve though – I know that many people use dating apps for hook-ups. But I don't have anything against people looking for a hook-up. As long as it's consensual and people are honest about what they're looking for, I'm all for it.

Anyway, there's another way of looking at the question. Is there room for a new dating app to offer something that the existing apps don't already offer? In my opinion, the answer is an absolute yes.

I've downloaded and tried lots of different dating apps (Tinder, Bumble, OkCupid, CMB, Hinge, Feeld, Pure, and more). I've also talked to anyone willing to talk to me about their own experiences with dating apps.

From my own experiences and what I've heard from others, I've learned one thing: everyone hates dating apps. You might be wondering how dating apps could be simultaneously extremely popular and extremely disliked. I think what's happening is people download them because they feel like they're the only way to meet people anymore, but they leave much to be desired. I mean, if you're not in college, what are you supposed to do? Go to a bar and hope for the best? If this was ever an effective strategy, it's certainly not possible or advised now in the time of COVID. So people use dating apps because they don't have any other options.

I'll get to what people don't like about the current dating apps soon. But the important thing is that the current apps are bad. And I think this is a missed opportunity. After overcoming its initial stigma, online dating should have been the panacea for all single people in the world. With so many options for online dating, how could they all be so bad?

Why the existing dating apps are bad

Full disclosure: I've never tried Match.com or any other paid dating app. I've also never tried exclusive dating apps like The League. Maybe they're great. Maybe the problems below don't apply to them. But even if these apps are better than the free and open options, I don't care. I'm not interested in any dating app that filters its potential user base by charging a subscription or excluding people they deem unworthy.

The number one complaint I've heard about dating apps is that they waste your time. This isn't how it's usually phrased to me, but that's what it boils down to. This problem is also not limited to one gender – it's a problem for everyone.

Not trying to stereotype, but from what I've heard many men complain that they don't get enough matches on dating apps. They spend hours swiping through profiles, yet never manage to land a date with someone.

The women I've talked to have the opposite problem. They get flooded with matches. But the bulk of those matches are "junk". Most conversations fizzle out and never lead to a date, or end when they're asked for the umpteenth time to "send nudes."

And if you do manage to actually make it through the swiping-and-messaging tar pits and go on a date, there's a high likelihood that the the person will turn out to not be as great as you had hoped. And now you've wasted one of your precious free nights on that person.

It's exhausting.

The second problem I've heard about dating apps, and which I've personally experienced, is that they lower your self-esteem. People often talk about dating apps being a "numbers game," meaning that you have to work your way through a lot of people to find a good one. But it's hard not to feel bad about yourself when you're confronted with so much failure. You'll try to tell yourself not to take it personally, and there's nothing wrong with you and that this is how dating apps feel for everyone. But everyone has that one friend who found a serious relationship after downloading an app and casually using it for a week. Why do dating apps work for some people but not for me? What's wrong with me?

On the other hand, some people actually use dating apps for a self-esteem boost. If you're someone who gets a lot of matches, it's nice to see all of the people who liked your profile. Maybe this is actually effective for some people, but my understanding is that this is not a good way to develop lasting self-esteem.

Also, maybe it's just me, but I feel like dating apps don't actually care whether or not I find a date. It seems like the actual goal of dating apps is to make me so frustrated that I cave and buy more Super Likes or their premium subscription.

If you've used dating apps before, I hope that these problems align with your own experience. But they may not. Most of what I know comes from anecdotes shared by my friends, who are mostly cis-gendered, White and Asian, men and women. None of my friends are non-binary, and I would imagine that the dating experience of a trans woman of would be very different from my own. I'm planning to add comments to my blog soon, and then you'll be able to tell me what your experience with dating apps has been.

Why my dating app will be better

Sorry, but I think this post has gone on long enough. In Part 2, I'll go into detail about how my app will be different and how it will address some of these problems. I'll link to it here once I've written it.

Read next: I'm making a pandemic dating app, Part 2


  1. Is the idea of a "tar pit" a well-known metaphor? I don't know. But the idea is that it's a really sticky thing that animals get stuck in. I know it from The Mythical Man-Month, but that's not a well-known book outside of software engineering.

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