Expert Excerpts: Internet Dating


Tariq Shaukat – Current State of Internet Dating and How COVID Changed Dating Patterns

Tariq Shaukat Transcript

Thank you, Larry. And it is quite a hard pivot in topic, so let me do my best to keep everyone engaged. So, as you mentioned, I am a president at Bumble, Inc. We operate two of the largest dating apps in the world, one called Badoo, which is not terribly widely known here in the US but it’s one of the leading apps in Eastern, Western Europe, as well as Latin America. And then the Bumble app, which is much more widely known here in the US. But Bumble and Badoo are number two and number four, top-grossing dating apps globally, and Badoo in particular has a very global presence across, a top three app in over 60 countries around the world. In total, between the two apps, we have about 40 million monthly active users. So that’s a little bit of context about Bumble.

I felt what I might do is start with just a little bit of an overview around the online dating space and how it works in case some of your listeners are not terribly familiar with the space. And then I really want to dive into COVID, what’s happened with COVID, what’s happening after COVID and what behavior in the dating world is likely to be like, at least as best as we can tell. So if you haven’t been on an online dating site or on a mobile dating site as it’s probably more accurately termed these days, it is very different of course, than what it was in the early days of the internet. And online dating in many ways has been around since the days of bulletin boards and chat rooms, but now it is very mobile enabled. And with the smartphone, it has quickly become, I believe, the dominant way, particularly in the US that people are meeting each other.

The first step is to create a profile. And your profile will typically give you some information about who you are. It’ll let you express your personality in a fairly two-dimensional way. You get to put photos, you can add some hopefully witty comments and response to prompts and questions that we and others provide you, and you get to provide really what input, whatever information you choose to provide, gender identity, relationship goals, education level, zodiac signs, interests, and hobbies. We have over 150 badges on Bumble and Badoo that you can opt into and display.

Once you’ve created those profiles, you get to then browse other people’s profiles, and there’s a number of different ways this happens, but it is generally, on Bumble done asynchronously, meaning you swipe through a range of profiles. If you like the profile you swipe right or click yes, if you don’t want to meet the person you swipe left. And it’s essentially a double opt-in system where both parties have to basically swipe right to say that they want to match. Then once you match on our platform you can then start a conversation with people. You can have a text exchange, a video chat instead of audio messages, and you can even increasingly play games. We’ve launched trivia in app, as an example, as a way for people to break the ice, get a little bit deeper into getting to know each other before you decide if you want to meet somebody in person.

And as you mentioned at the very outset, on Bumble one of the key design elements is that women have to make the first move as we term it, which means that the opening message post-match is driven by the woman in the heterosexual relationship. Increasingly, there’s also a location element to it, and all sorts of other elements that you can bring in with augmented reality and other things like that.

So that’s just a little bit of how online dating works these days. It has, as I mentioned, really, we think, exploded in the last 10 years and really in the last five. There’s a study out of Stanford and the University of New Mexico in 2017 that showed, even back then, four years ago now, 40% of American couples met online. That’s a number that we believe has been growing very, very rapidly. And particularly with COVID, as I’ll come to, of course, the other competitors to that, if you will, which our bars and restaurants and meeting through friends and coworkers have been quite challenged. So we think that now online dating or mobile dating is the predominant way in which couples in the US are meeting. We also are seeing very rapid growth in this really all around the world. Some of our fastest growing and most organically growing countries are in Southeast Asia, as an example, especially Indonesia and the Philippines.

So it’s a global phenomenon, it’s becoming more and more just part of society. And what is really interesting about this space, probably contrary to a lot of assumptions people have is that the majority of people, on our dating apps at least, and I’m sure there’s counterpoints to this, but the majority of people on our app say that they are there for a “real” relationship. And I say quote unquote, because the definition of real is different for everybody. In some cases, they’re looking to get married. In other cases, they want to build sustained relationships and see where it goes with somebody. And that’s one of the things you can opt into in the beginning of saying what type of relationship you would like to have.

Now, that is something that has really been an evolution of the space, and it has I think come with, or maybe been propelled by the de-stigmatization of online dating. There certainly have been times in the past when a lot of people were embarrassed to say that they met line or never really revealed to their friends that that is how they met their significant other. Research that we recently did showed that 91% of single people in the US believe there is no longer a stigma attached to online dating. And you see that more and more with how part of the culture it has become, how much part of the conversation between friends it really is.

The other piece that goes along with that is just a lot of investment by us and by others in safety and accountability, making the experience a safer experience to use. For example, we’ve pioneered the use of artificial intelligence to help protect people against unwanted images being sent to them, using AI the image would come across blurred, as an example. And so those are just some examples of the types of technologies that are being brought to this connections platform, this social discovery platform.

And I promised to talk about how this has been evolving with COVID, and really it has been remarkable to watch or to have this view into society as COVID has happened. One thing that you saw very early on in COVID was a pretty radical change in social activity, that’s probably the most obvious statement that I could make in this call. But if you remember that 40% number I said before, obviously that 40% spiked up to something much larger. The majority of people who were still involved in the dating world were dating online in some way, shape or form. And what we saw in the US was a 70% increase in the number of voice and video calls on our platform once the state of emergencies were declared in March and April well, 2020. So you’ve clearly seen people migrating their dating behaviors into this digital world, with the digital world becoming the norm. And as we’ve seen with video conferencing and all sorts of other things, that it is becoming normal now.

And of course, there’s a lot of people who are suffering terribly in the pandemic, and we did see some disengagement from the dating world, particularly frontline workers in the pandemic who were a more socially isolated, more distressed have been disengaging. But what we’ve seen was that for those who stayed engaged, their daily engagement as a percentage of people engage on a monthly basis, for example, has been increasing and remained at very, very high rates.
Now, as I mentioned, there’s a lot of behaviors that we believe have been learned or practice as a part of this transition during COVID, and one of the biggest… And we believe a lot of these are likely to be sticky, and we’re seeing that stickiness as the pandemic relents in different parts of the world.
One of the things that we’ve noticed is that even for people in their early to mid-twenties, they are generally speaking, taking dating, what we are referring to as much more intentionally, meaning they are much more specific about what they want out of a relationship, that they are much more seeking a, as I mentioned earlier, real relationship. Again, that doesn’t mean they necessarily want to get married tomorrow, but they are being much more clear. 55% of our global users have told us that they are less willing to compromise on what they want or need from a relationship, but a large part of that is at 40% of people are being much more clear or have noticed a much clearer statement of intentions and communication around expectations in the dating world, what they’re looking to get out of the relationship is being stated upfront and much more clearly.

Now that’s one thing that we’ve seen be a real change in this COVID, in this pandemic time. Another is this notion that we’re calling slow dating. And slow dating is the idea that you’re using online tools, you’re using dating apps, you’re using FaceTime and all sorts of other means to get to know somebody before meeting them in real life. 40% of our users are telling us that they enjoy going on virtual dates because they believe that it’s safer to go on a first date or a second date virtually. Than otherwise, about a third like the virtual data because it saves them time and money, about a quarter like them because they don’t have to get as dressed up, they don’t have to invest as much time.

And as one user said, and this is paraphrasing, but more or less the quote was, “Why do I ever want to go to a random bar to meet a random stranger only to find out we have no chemistry, and he’s not really what he said. It’s a complete waste of several hours of my life.” And that is increasingly becoming the sentiment that you hear from our users on these platforms. They’ve understood, they’ve gotten used to the idea of meeting someone virtually, getting to know someone virtually, and then they’ll meet up when there’s a real they’re there. So that again is something that we think is likely to be sticky post pandemic.
And then finally, as the pandemic starts to relent in different parts of the world, and of course, it’s not relenting everywhere, it’s still very full on in many, many parts of the world. We are seeing that people are coming back out and they want to meet up. Well, one of the things that is striking is how nuanced this point is. When the governor of a particular state says, “You no longer need to wear masks, you can now go to a restaurant.” We’re not finding a lot of change in user behavior on our platforms, at least.

What does seem to be happening, however, is that as vaccination rates are increasing in different parts of the country, in different parts of the world, that is triggering people to come out again. So the Northeast US as an example, has grown faster than other parts of the country here. And maybe the best example of this, somewhat tragically, is what’s happening in Australia. Where if you look at open table data or other data sources, you would see restaurant visits being very high compared to what it was both last year and the year before, but we weren’t seeing that in dating behavior. And we believe that it is largely because of the low vaccination rates, people are happy to interact in their pods with their close friends, with their family, but they’re not as willing to meet new people.

And so one of the things that we’ve been leaning into as the pandemic is starting to relent in different parts of the world is allowing people to state their pandemic preferences. Do you only want to be virtually, or do you want to go for a socially distance date, or are you okay meeting at a restaurant? We’ve joined with the Biden Administration in helping to promote vaccinations and are soon launching vaccination badges, so you can actually tell people if you are vaccinated or not. And we know that 30% of the people that we surveyed will not go out on a date with somebody who has not received the COVID vaccine, or at least that’s what they are telling us. So there’s a lot of changes that are happening. It’s still a very fluid situation with COVID, but there are some real lights at the end of the tunnel here. And as vaccinations do roll out, we do believe that things will continue to become more social, people will continue to go out and want to meet new people.

And I guess the final point is that this is not restricted, in our experience, to just romantic relationships. What we’ve seen through the pandemic is an increase, a dramatic increase in the number of people using our platform to try and meet friends, both platonic relationships and in some cases, professional relationships. We noticed this starting a couple of years ago pre-pandemic, but it really has accelerated in the pandemic. We have a product called Bumble BFF, which is for finding friends, and what we found in our research is that one-third of US singles have tried making friends online during the pandemic. And in the first three months of 2021, we’ve seen a 44% increase in the amount of time spent by women on the BFF platform, an 83% increase in the amount of time men are spending. And it’s actually working, 90% of people on the platform are finding a match when they initiate something.

So we do think that there’s a real epidemic, if you will, of loneliness that has existed for a while has in expanding with the pandemic. We’ve known that women’s social networks, for example, shrink by 40% between the ages of 25 and 40, that’s a stat out of the book, Social Chemistry by Marissa King. And we think there’s a real need there that the same technology applied to dating, the matching algorithms, the user engagement, can be applied to the friend finding and platonic world as well.


Susan Patton – Get Married in Your 20s

Susan Patton Transcript

Thank you very much. I don’t only use the acronym… I am The Princeton Mom. Come on, I have two sons who graduated from Princeton, as did my daughter-in-law, as I did, of course. I’d like to share a few thoughts with young women who will be headed back to campus in a couple of months, especially those who know that marriage and motherhood are essential components for their life plan for happiness. Here’s my advice to you girls, find yourself a husband on campus before you graduate. You’ll never again have a greater concentration of outstanding men to choose from as you do while you’re a student. These are men who are single, they are age appropriate and they’re of comparable intellect. That’s critically important if you’re a super smart girl, men regularly marry women who are younger, less intelligent, less educated. It’s amazing how forgiving men can be about a woman’s lack of erudition if she is really pretty and willing to have sex with him, that seems to be the two criteria that men need.

Smart women shouldn’t marry men who aren’t at least they’re intellectual equal, and super smart, Ivy League women have almost priced themselves out of the market. Simply put, there’s a limited population of men who are smart or smarter than they are. And you can choose a man who has other things to recommend him besides a soaring intellect, but ultimately it will frustrate you to be with a man who just isn’t as smart as you are. Can you meet brilliant, marriageable men after college? Yeah, just not that many of them. And in fact, once you’re off campus and out in the real world, you’ll be stunned by how smart the men are not. Can you meet men at work? I guess so, but it’s hazardous to get romantically involved with coworkers and some companies now prohibit it.

So if we agree that for most women who want family, marriage, motherhood, the cornerstone of your future happiness will be inextricably linked to the man you marry. And I say it again, you’ll never have the concentration of smart men to choose from that you do when you are on campus. And honestly, what are you waiting for? You’re not getting any younger, but the competition for the men you’ll be interested in marrying most definitely is getting younger. Think about it, women who say to me, “Oh, I want to spend the first 10 years out of college focusing on building my career, and then I’ll think about finding a husband and getting married.” Well, so that means when you finally get around to looking for a husband you’re going to be in your 30s competing with women in their 20s, that’s not a competition in which you’re likely to fare well.

And if you want to have children, your biological clock is going to start ticking loud enough to ward off any potential suitors, and then desperation sets in. And it has the effect of being a man repellent, men pick that up… You all know women like this in their mid to late 30s, and that desperation is palpable. And this is the brutal reality, men and women are not equal. Men can have babies well into their old age, women can’t. So if you know that you want children, you’d be wise to start planning early.

Planning for your personal happiness with at least the same commitment and dedication that you’re planning for your professional success, in fact, you should focus much more on your personal happiness. You could always restart your career or start a new career, but once your fertility is gone, it’s gone.

Can you marry a man who isn’t your intellectual or professional equal? Yeah, you can. But again, you will be frustrated to be with someone who just can’t keep up with you. He doesn’t get the jokes. When the conversation turns to Diaghilev or the Bayeux Tapestry, or any number of other things, that glazed look that comes over his face, it’s not at all appealing. And then when you start to out earn him, which the likelihood is you will if you’re better educated and more focused, more committed to success, very few men have egos that can endure what they will see as a form of emasculation. So what’s the smart girl to do, start looking for the right man early, and stop wasting time dating men who aren’t good for you. Stop dating bad boys, crazy guys, married men, these are not good for you. And when you do find a good man, by the way, take it slowly. Casual sex is, of course, irresistible to men, free sex, nothing beats free sex, but the smart move is to not have sex quickly. If you offer intimacy without commitment, the incentive to commit is eliminated. The grandmotherly message of yesterday is still true today. Men won’t buy the cow, if the milk is free. Or in the words of the ancient Hebrew prophets, no huppah, no shtuppah.

Now not all women want marriage or motherhood. I get that. But if you do, you have to start listening to your gut and avoid falling for the PC, feminist, man-hating rhetoric that has misled so many young women for years. There’s nothing in Congress about educated, ambitious women, wanting to be wives and mothers. Don’t let anyone tell you that those traditional roles are retrograde. They’re perfectly natural. And in fact, they’re wonderful.

Okay? So you didn’t find them while you were in school. I can suggest some strategies for successful dating and none of them include online. I hate online dating. Online dating sites are often havens for liars, cheaters, and scammers. They prey on naive, desperate women. People who rely on these sites to find meaningful relationships are usually desperate and lazy. They’ve tried to meet someone in more traditional ways, but have been unsuccessful. And they have resorted to this easier, if hazardous, option. At best, it’s an inelegant path to romance. At worst, you put yourself in a security at risk. Your security is at risk being with someone that there’s no one to vouch for.

And the inelegance of all of it. Everyone is there for one purpose, hunting for a mate. I mean, that feels desperate and unnatural and almost predatory to be judged and to judge so blatantly. The subtlety and finesse of courtship is completely absent. I know why you’re here. You know why I’m here. What could be less romantic?

And of course, online profiles are full of lies. Men include photos of themselves and fancy sports cars that they don’t own, lounging on yachts that don’t belong to them, relaxing poolside on estates that they’ve only visited. And their marital status, they’re often married, but they claim otherwise. Before the internet, cheating husbands had to actually go to single’s bars to pick up gullible women. Now, they could set up their adulterous trysts from the comfort of their living room, while their wives are in the cleaning up after dinner.

Yes, I do know people who have met online and sometimes it’s worked out well, but not one of them is proud to say they met online. It’s interesting to hear an online dating site claim that 91% surveyed say there’s no stigma to online dating. Yeah, I believe that the way I believe the guys in the Wuhan lab saying, “Oh, the virus didn’t come from us. No, no, no.”

Okay. So we eliminated online dating as hazardous and desperate and awful. What do you do if you didn’t meet them on campus? How do you connect with a meaningful date with someone that maybe is a marriageable person that could lead to future happiness and family? These are my suggestions.

One, remain connected to your school through the alumni associations. Every school has one and some are extraordinarily robust social organizations. You share commonalities with these people. You went to the same school. There are vibrant alumni groups that host fantastic events all over the country, get involved. You’ll enjoy the events and you never know who you’ll meet.

Two, continuing education is a great way for grownups to meet new people in a wholesome, organic environment. You don’t have to pursue an advanced degree, although, that’s not a bad idea, but take a course in something that interests you. Not a lecture type of thing where you sit in the dark auditorium, but pick something that’s interactive, and that requires more than just listening to somebody speak. A pottery class, a cooking class, a woodworking class that allows for plenty of interaction among participants during workshop sessions. That meets on Saturdays from 2:00 to 5:00, and at 4:30 everybody stops and it takes a break. You could taste my spaghetti sauce. I could taste your spaghetti sauce. This is how people connect wholesomely, organically, learn new skills and maybe even create something you can be proud of.

Here’s another suggestion, go to synagogue or church or mosque or whatever your house of worship is. Get to know the cleric. Let the cleric know that you would like to meet other single members of the congregation. This is one of the cleric’s jobs to connect congregants with each other. They’d be delighted to assist you in this. And again, you have a lot in common with people who literally and figuratively sing out of the same hymnal as you do.

And another suggestion would be tell everyone you know and trust that you would be receptive to and appreciative of an introduction to any single man they know that they think may be appropriate for you. Your friends may be reluctant to do this without your telling them that you would like them to do so, so be forthcoming. They may not want to seem intrusive or presumption, so you have to let them know that it’s okay. More than okay, that you would consider it a favor. And be even a little more proactive. Say to them, “Think for a minute, who do you know that might be happy to meet me and that I’d be happy to meet?”
So those are ways in which you can organically, wholesomely meet people in a way that you’re not at risk and there are groups that can vouch for the person that you’re getting to know. These are appropriate means of finding people to date. But, again, the very best advice, find them on campus before you graduate.


Brad Schneider – Today’s Dating Market from the Male Perspective

Brad Schneider Transcript

Thanks, Larry. I’m a little embarrassed to say I participated after Susan’s description of online daters, but I’ll pick my confidence up off the floor and continue. But I think it’s worth kind of giving just a little bit of background on myself and then sort of how that gives me a little bit of color on this market.

So, one, I run a business that’s similar to a dating site, except instead of people we’re introducing companies, data companies and data buyers. And so I’m constantly thinking about the data side of dating. What makes online dating work is something that I spend a lot of time thinking about. And then just from a dating context, I moved to New York in 2010, but starting in about 2013 was using online dating. Really the first time I was single in a very long time, and so I was coming into this dating market, while these apps were really starting to explode and spent a couple of years using a variety of them.
And if you ask any single people, online dating is one of their favorite things to talk about, so I’ve had hundreds of conversations with people about this. Whether they’re single or married, it’s people’s favorite topic.

So, a few things that I wanted to talk about. One question that always comes up is, who does online dating actually work for? And I think the answer depends on a few things. One, what are you looking for? Are you looking for something short term? Are you looking for something long-term? If you’re looking for something short-term, online dating is amazing. You are, basically, at on demand access to people in a way that really hasn’t existed before. And the volume, it’s basically like drinking from a fire hose. So if that’s what you’re looking for, it’s an amazing way to meet people.

When I think about the long-term, obviously, it’s a great way to meet people and a lot of people get married that way, but I think there are structural problems that it causes for the long-term dating market. And we’ll go into some of these in a little bit, but it creates this overwhelming sense of demand on different people, and I’ll get into more what that means.

Another thing that matters, in terms of your success with online dating, is how picky you are. If you’re someone that is not very picky, again, online dating is amazing. You’re going to meet tons of people, the likelihood that you’re going to find somebody that’s good enough, very high. If you’re somebody that’s picky, I’d say it’s more of a double-edged sword. So it helps in that you get to see a lot of volume, so you’re more likely to find somebody that that fits your criteria. But as you see more and more people, your criteria change. So it actually raises the bar that you’re looking for, which ultimately makes it more challenging.

And I think the most important one is, what your access to the dating pool was like before online dating? So, for people that had low access to the dating pool, let’s say, you’re working a very challenging job, you’re working in a remote area, you’re not particularly comfortable going up to strangers. Again, online dating, amazing, because it lowers the barrier so much, it lowers the anxiety that it really provides you unlimited access to a market that you had no access to before.

When you think about people that had high access already, it’s almost like giving drugs to a drug addict. It’s just almost exacerbates some of the issues around dating, and ultimately impairs the long-term ability for people to find partners.

The second thing I wanted to talk about, which I think is the most interesting is how internet dating changes dating behavior. The cost to approach people, basically, goes to zero. If I think back to when I was growing up, if I was interested in, let’s say, a girl in my class, I would have to somehow get her phone number. I would have to build up the courage to actually pick up the phone and call her. Then I would have to speak to her parents, most likely, ask to speak to her, and then I had to, on the fly, figure out what to say. I had to react to what she was saying, and hope that there was some interest there, while, obviously, being very anxious the whole time.

And likewise, the impact on the other side, it used to be a high cost to feigning interest in someone that you weren’t interested in. You probably know this person, you’ll interact with them. Whereas in the world of online dating, that isn’t the case, so the cost to engage with someone temporarily is pretty close to zero. And so this causes a few things to happen, I think, in the dating market.

One of the things that happens as a result of online dating is that the data market feels a lot bigger. Because each person, instead of interacting with one or two people as one would before internet dating, I’ve seen friends interacting with dozens of people at a time, having 40, 50 conversations. I’ll never forget the first time I saw someone’s list of people. It just made no sense how you could communicate with this many people.

But on the other side of that, you’re getting in-bounds from that many people, and so it feels like you have so many opportunities. And for a lot of people, this creates a fear of missing out. There always feels like there’s someone else in the pipeline. This causes other behaviors like ghosting. You can’t obviously speak with 50 people for a long period of time, so you end up just dropping conversations. And so there’s a lot of wasted time, where you think something is going somewhere and then, poof, it just disappears.

Another issue that this causes is, it creates a perception of very low switching costs. When people are actually on dates, meeting in person, if there’s any friction in the relationship, especially early on, there’s a feeling that there’s a 100 people right behind them. They go to the bathroom, you open your app, 20 new possibilities showed up. Why would I deal with this and go on another date? Why would I put in more effort? Why would I deal with this friction? And I think that causes a lot of these relationships to end more early than they otherwise would.

Another thing it leads to is very large age differences, and I’ve talked with Larry about my theories on this quite a bit. But basically, if you’re saying single, let’s say in your early 20s, there’s some percentage chance every year that you’re going to get taken off the dating market. You’re going to enter a long-term relationship. You’re going to get married. So as you get older, the pool of people that are age appropriate, just mathematically shrinks dramatically. And so I’ve seen both men and women dating dramatically younger because that’s where the volume is.

And so my last point is just around profiles. It is very hard to capture the essence of a person in a dating profile, and the dating apps are pushing ahead with new features, video calling, and all of that helps, but it is still very hard to capture who a person is and get a sense of who they are and whether or not you want to spend time with them through these profiles. So what that leads to is, a lot of people meeting and forming this opinion in their head of who they’re about to see, and then when they meet, it’s a different person. And that has created a lot of friction for people to get together, which I’ve seen among friends. It’s just so unreliable what you’re going to get that I’d rather not get involved.

But just to end it, there’s a lot of positives around online dating. One, is randomness. It really allows you to meet people completely outside of your bubble. It also makes dating a lot more on demand, and it makes it a lot safer. And if you’ve done it for a while, you have probably seen so many different types of people that whatever decision you make, hopefully, you come away feeling a lot better about it.