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Fewer fish in a smaller sea

TRENDING | Young singles ditch dating apps for meaningful connections

Illustration by Anna Godeassi

Fewer fish in a smaller sea
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LEXI, a 25-year-old school administrative assistant, stopped using the Tinder dating app in 2018: She just wasn’t matching with the kind of guy she’d want to date. After several unpleasant experiences—like the time she matched with a guy who bet on sports for a living—she decided to tailor her expectations for future dates. Lexi hopes she’ll have a better shot using plain old word-processing.

Around Christmastime, she decided to create a “date-me doc.” These look a bit like résumés, and explain their creators’ interests and why they would make good partners. They’re reminiscent of the “Lonely Hearts” ads some newspapers used to run.

Lexi’s not the only one abandoning dating apps for lower tech options in hopes of finding love. The growing number of singles opting for alternatives suggests Gen Z may be burning out on hookup culture.

Date-me docs like Lexi’s have a lot of advantages over the apps. The docs usually feature a couple of photos, but unlike Tinder, pictures don’t become the main focus. Since the docs aren’t circulated through an algorithm like profiles in an app, it’s up to the creators to share them. That makes the process a lot less random. Lexi simply shares her date-me doc among her friend groups and asks the people who know her best to pass it along if they meet someone who might be a good match for her. In a little over 700 words, Lexi explains that she’s looking for a man who likes being in nature and has plenty of emotional intelligence, preferably someone who works in the tech industry and doesn’t mind spicy food. “Drugs?” she quips. “I work with children.”

It’s hard to estimate how many dating docs are out there, but they seem increasingly popular. In one online directory, there are over 300. Many belong to millennials, but there is a growing Gen Z presence on the site. The New York Times published an article about the date-me doc phenomenon in August, which may have helped to popularize the trend.

That’s where Lexi first heard about it. While making a date-me doc might sound unconventional by today’s standards, Lexi’s response to the cultural moment makes sense. She’s looking for the kind of male-­female relationship portrayed in the Genesis account of marriage and in the New Testament, one built on sacrifice, love, respect, and trust. Apps like Tinder subtly—and sometimes unsubtly—promise consequence-free sex, but it seems more American singles are realizing there’s no such thing.

That has young singles looking for love on non-dating platforms such as Duolingo, the language-learning app, and the professional networking site LinkedIn. Thanks in part to the exodus, dating apps are struggling—which is strange since there are more single Americans than ever. Since the 1960s, the number of unattached Americans has more than doubled, and today about every other American is single.

For a while, companies like Match Group, the owner of sites like Tinder and Hinge, made a mint tapping into a rich market. During the pandemic, Match Group had a market cap of over $40 billion, according to The Wall Street Journal. Tinder, now the most popular dating app by numbers, had about 75 million active users in 2022. The company has continued to earn more revenue each year, notching over $500 million in the third quarter of last year alone. Still, Match Group investors are worried about the decline in paying subscribers, down almost 1 million by last Christmas. Reuters reports Match Group stock fell 12 percent in 2023.

Match Group does a lot of marketing toward young people, the very age bracket that’s falling out of love with online dating. Tinder, for example, was piloted on college campuses, and 18- to 25-year-olds have historically made up the majority of users. Today, though, about 4 of 5 college and graduate ­students say they don’t currently date online. It’s not just that they could take it or leave it, either: Many say they would “rather walk across hot coals than go on another online date,” according to respondents in a survey from last year.

A hedge fund called Elliott Investment Management recently sank $1 billion into Match Group to improve the dating conglomerate’s stock market performance. Meanwhile, Tinder and Hinge are trying new strategies, hoping to convince singles to stick around. Both have launched pricier plans to recoup some lost profit. Elite Tinder users can now pay $6,000 yearly for Tinder Select, an invite-only plan that’s limited to just 1 percent of members. Despite the plan’s exclusivity, Match Group CFO Gary Swidler expects it to boost the company’s bottom line.

A dating profile on Hinge

A dating profile on Hinge Lila Barth/The New York Times/Redux

Costlier payment options likely won’t keep users from leaving if they’re already on the fence, but Match Group hopes to capitalize on their loyal customers. Meanwhile, Tinder may be rebranding itself as more than a hot spot for hookups. In October, the company announced the rollout of Tinder Matchmaker, which aims to make online dating more of a communal experience. Friends and family members can now recommend and view matches, even if they don’t have a Tinder account.

Hinge is also in a repositioning phase. In December, the app issued a press release about its “One More Hour” initiative, a $1 million investment to help Gen Zers connect in person.

It’s unclear whether these changes will prove too little too late—or if Gen Z even cares enough to rethink dating apps. For one thing, online dating is pretty time-consuming. Most people spend about eight months swiping through some 4,000 profiles before finding a compatible partner for a long-term relationship.

Another glaring issue: the abundance of predators. A Pew Research poll found that 60 percent of respondents feel companies should require a background check before allowing a person to create an online dating profile.

Date-me docs like the one Lexi is using seem safer but still pose their own set of risks. Other than the email address she made for respondents, she doesn’t include contact information. This might not be enough to deter all creeps, but she hopes the people who email will have genuine interest in getting to know her.

As a general rule for romance, Gen Zers prioritize in-person connections and are twice as likely as their grandparents were to start a relationship with someone who was first a friend. That longing for connection might play a strong role in Gen Z’s disappointment with sites like Tinder. The vast majority of young Americans who date do want a committed relationship with one partner.

That’s one reason Lexi doesn’t intend to hop back on Tinder anytime soon. “I’m not into hookups. That’s not who I am,” she explains. “I need to have an emotional connection and trust.” A few guys have already reached out about her date-me doc, but she’s not in any rush: “I’m at the point in life where I know what I want.”

Bekah McCallum

Bekah is a reviewer, reporter, and editorial assistant at WORLD. She is a graduate of World Journalism Institute and Anderson University.


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