Finding love online was once a way of the future, or the perfect setup to the latest Tom Hanks romantic comedy. But now, meeting your potential soulmate online is just as plausible as meeting in a coffee shop. Ever since Match.com revolutionized the dating scene in the 1990s by making it virtual, each year more and more people are finding love on dating apps and websites. What used to carry a negative stigma—sometimes couples felt a little ashamed of telling their families how they met through Tinder—has become more acceptable and believable.
I may be one of the last few people in their 20s who hasn’t tried a dating app. It seems like everyone around me has either spent a few nights scrolling, matching, and even finding genuine connections on these apps. Whenever people find out I’ve never tried one, I’m met with a flurry of questions about why I haven’t and what’s holding me back. The answer: It’s overwhelming.
But recently, I decided to give online dating a whirl—albeit, carefully and methodically. Because I’ve heard too many dating app horror stories, I needed to make sure I’m being strategic with my time and my heart.
Instead of downloading every dating app and website I could think of and going into this virtual world blind, I decided to look at the data to see which apps are the most “successful” at online love. And of course, I had to make the data look pretty. Because love and dating is fun, I wanted my data visualization to reflect that.
Just listening to my friends, they rave about apps like Bumble because it puts the power in the women’s hands by allowing them to make the first move. Or Hinge, because it’s a dating app designed to be deleted. But after a quick research session, Tinder is, by far, the most successful app in terms of numbers, according to Pew Research Center. But these conversations were just starting points for me. If I decided to give one a try, which one should it be? Here’s what I found.
How many apps are too many?
There are 1,500 dating apps and websites as of December 2022, according to the product-reviews site Cloudwards, and that number only increases every year. With this many online platforms that could potentially introduce me to the love of my life, how do I know which app he’s using? The best idea? Go with the numbers.
I found some data on the number of monthly downloads by dating app as of June 2022. The fascinating thing about these numbers is that I had heard of the top three (Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge), but I hadn’t heard of the bottom three (Plenty of Fish, Grindr, and Badoo). And while it might look like there is a big drop off in numbers from the top three to the bottom three, those bottom three apps are still ranked among the most popular apps with their downloads reaching a quarter of a million. For numbers as large as these, a bar graph is the easiest way to effectively show these high numbers. Additionally, the phone app icons are just for a little embellishment.
As more and more people make the shift from chance meet-cutes, blind dates, and friends of friends setting them up, dating apps have become even more populated. Which means, once you finally decide to make a profile and you begin swiping, the options are seemingly endless—particularly when you’re in a more populated city. But if you’re not, don’t worry. Just extend your virtual radius as far as 150 miles. That means you could live in midtown Atlanta, Georgia, but your soulmate could be all the way in Columbus, Georgia.
On Tinder alone, there are 75 million active users per month, according to World Population Review. Nearly 8 million users are in the U.S. In addition, Tinder boasts 60 billion matches to date, and the number is continually increasing. According to Tinder, 1.5 million of its users go on at least one date per week. That’s a huge number of people searching for love through their phone screens. Which, to me, seems like good odds when it comes to matching with potential suitors. The more people, the more likely to meet the right person, right?
Per state, the most popular dating app differs greatly, according to state-level data from Dating News. And it was fascinating to see how the top apps reflected the state’s population. For example, North Carolina’s most popular app is Christian Mingle, while California’s is Coffee Meets Bagel. Since I live in Florida, where Tinder is the most popular, I decided to give that app a try.
But who’s actually searching for love?
Because there are so many people on some of these platforms, the big numbers can work against the users because users have different objectives. In these big catch-all apps like Tinder, Hinge, Bumble, and Ok Cupid, the user’s intentions can be anything from a summer fling to a serious relationship. It became nearly impossible to gauge what a man might be looking for—let alone if he and I were on the same page about our reasons for being on the app. So because of that, I soon realized, decided Tinder wasn’t for me.
It’s a problem when everyone is looking for different types of relationships. This mismatch leads to some of the most ridiculous stories and worst pick-up lines that send the other user screaming. It’s all mixed signals and ambiguity.
In response, more apps have hit the scene to address this problem. Take Badoo, a dating app that has users state their intentions for using its service on their profiles. “Here to date,” “Ready for a relationship,” and “Open to chat” labels make intentions more transparent. This adds clarity in communication, which, as we can agree, we need more of in our love lives.
Got a specific hobby? Lifestyle choice? Religious preference? There’s a dating app for that
Because of the shared frustration of numbers, miscommunication, and bad pick- up lines, niche apps have hit the market. This is a potential bright spot in dating, and it’s also where the amount of dating apps skyrocket. Look up any kind of niche or hobby, and odds are, there’s a dating app or website dedicated to it. Farmer’s Only and Christian Mingle were some of the first to try niche communities, but hundreds have followed.
These specialized apps and websites elevated the online dating world by creating communities where everyone has something in common. They specifically cater to people with shared cultures, heritages, religion, sexuality, etc. These are the big lifestyle-based metrics, where users have their options narrowed down into their shared community. Like Stir, which is made for single parents to date other single parents.
Or they’re based on hobbies and interests, such as Sweatt, which is exclusively for fitness junkies. Or Dine, which caters to foodies who share similar appetites. Tastebuds compares users’ iPhone music libraries, while neqtr focuses on connecting people based on their values and volunteer service. The specialty dating app options are endless.
I’m personally intrigued by the idea of connecting with people who might share my lifestyles and interests. It would potentially mean I could skip over the awkward introductory conversations and jump right into talking about musical artists we both love. Since my failed Tinder experience, I’ve considered trying a data tool from this niche market, but haven’t committed to any particular one, yet.
The kind of people dating apps attract
But not everyone on dating apps is legitimate in looking for romance. Love online comes with the potential for catfishing—meaning people who are lying about their identity. This can either be through using a fake profile photo, lying about age, or going as far as creating a fake identity entirely.
The craziest real-life examples of this have been showcased in documentary films, like Netflix’s “Tinder Swindler,” which tells the story of a conman who used Tinder to match and emotionally manipulate women to give him money.
But this doesn’t just happen in the movies. A friend of mine was recently ghosted from one of her Hinge matches. After some social media digging, she figured out that the guy she’d been on several dates with—and shared a kiss with—was actually married. He lied to her and was using this app as a tool to “find love” while cheating on his wife.
There’s no shortage of additional data on negative experiences on dating apps, from unwanted explicit photos, name calling, and even physical threats. Women, in most cases, are the recipients of these actions, according to Pew Research Center.
To illustrate this data in a bar graph, I decided to group all male users into one category, and split the women into two age groups: 18-49 and over 50. This chart illustrates the wide gap between women’s negative experience compared to men’s. As a woman who’s trying to date online, I have to be prepared for negative experiences I might encounter, given my higher chances based on my gender.
However, not all these stories are cautionary tales. While there may be horror stories, there’s a growing success rate with love online. Another friend of mine downloaded Bumble, created her profile, and matched with the first guy who swiped right. They deleted their apps, are now happily dating and quickly on their way to an engagement. Two people who lived in different neighborhoods with paths that likely wouldn’t have crossed if it weren’t for this nifty app on their phones.
As shown below, about 40% of users are genuinely looking for marriage. And 14% of users are married to someone they met online—another number that I’m confident will continue to increase with more people downloading, swiping, and matching. And the stigma is changing. Meeting online and having a happy relationship is perfectly plausible as more people are doing so.
My interpretation of this data is that people are, in fact, looking for connections and relationships using digital dating tools, and that’s both celebratory and exciting. It gives me hope for what the future has in store with every swipe.
With the negative stigma slowly turning into a positive one, and more people genuinely looking for love online, it seems like these apps are only getting better and better at matchmaking. As I discussed this personal research project with my friends, it gave some of the long-time users some hope. And it gave me some courage to try another app, particularly a niche app. But I’ve yet to take the leap. Wish me luck—and love.
Victoria Radnothy is a recent graduate from the Savannah College of Art and Design with her degree in writing. When she’s not finding romance through fiction, she’s looking for it out in the real world and experimenting with gluten free baking. You can find her on bookstagram @victoria.rad.reads and on Twitter @VRadnothy.