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Bumble heralds end of honeymoon period for dating apps

Bumble CEO Lidiane Jones in California last year. Credit: Getty

May 2, 2024 - 10:00am

Dating apps seem to be facing a reckoning. This seems to be the case for Bumble, the second most-downloaded of these apps, which has lost $40 billion in market share value since 2021. In an attempt to rebrand, Bumble has just dropped the requirement that women must message a new match first, claiming they are responding to feedback that female users are becoming burnt out by having to make the first move.

This is a fundamental misunderstanding of Bumble’s problems. Dr Martin Graff, senior lecturer at the University of Wales, said that the app’s business model no longer works because “women are far more selective in evolutionary terms than men are.” Yet Bumble isn’t struggling (it laid off 30% of its workforce earlier this year) because of the biological differences between men and women. It is struggling because of the sheer exhaustion that comes with the online dating experience: the superficial, soul-destroying swiping; the transactional, formulaic conversations; the impossibility of finding genuine compatibility among the constant conveyor belt of faces. Women aren’t burnt out by having to initiate chats — they are burnt out by Bumble.

It is not just Bumble that users have fallen out of love with. Tinder’s annual downloads are down more than a third from the app’s 2014 peak, with paying users falling by 8% last year. Younger users seem to be particularly turned off by dating apps: one survey claimed that 90% of Gen-Z respondents said they felt “frustrated” by online dating, while another found that 79% of US college and graduate students did not use dating apps at all. For those who do, two-thirds claim that they are more likely to use these apps out of boredom than from genuine matchmaking intentions.

At worst, dating apps have become a breeding ground for objectification, sexual harassment and insecurity. At best, they are an administrative chore and a digital drain: keeping up with dozens, maybe even hundreds, of similar but marginally different conversations does not scream romance and spontaneity. Attraction has been reduced to an algorithmic formula, where users are given both infinite choice and the illusion of control, categorising potential suitors as if they were preparing for a job interview. The rise in “red flags” — supposed “warning signs” from potential dates — is also problematic. Users can feel demonised for the most minor of infractions, while this hyper-vigilance encourages people to constantly question whether others are manipulative, destructive, or simply useless.

Finally, and most importantly, dating apps are not meant to work. Contrary to Hinge’s slogan, dating apps are designed to never be deleted. If they are successful, they lose subscribers, they lose advertising revenue, and they lose their data. Therefore, they must remain pathologically addictive: the “gamification” of their features turning dating into the romantic equivalent of a slot machine. For years now, people have been serial swipers, a mass of singletons tethered to their smartphones, and now users are realising that, for all their marketing copy, these apps are not successful at anything other than fostering addiction.

Bumble, like so many other apps, can try to lure users back in with the promise of new features, new rebrands, new reputations. Tinder is no longer just for those who want hook-ups; Bumble is no longer for women who want to make the first move. Little do they realise, their users want so, so much more.


Kristina Murkett is a freelance writer and English teacher.

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Danny D
Danny D
22 days ago

feedback that female users are becoming burnt out by having to make the first move

Boy aren’t they happy now that gender differences exist and they can offload certain social responsibilities, like approaching romantic interests, to men? That’s the daily experience for single men. Besides, for many women the first move on Bumble amounted to as much as a simple “hey”. You don’t get burnt out from that, but you do get burnt out from the anxiety of possibly not getting a response, aka rejection. Again, been the experience for most men their whole lives.
Anyway, in general I’ll say after 10 years of using these apps on and off as a guy, you do get sick of them. If you do decide to get on one of the platforms though, use Hinge. It’s much less swipey and – at least in my experience – less shallow.

Vesselina Zaitzeva
Vesselina Zaitzeva
22 days ago

Interestingly enough, in today’s El Mundo there is an article on the same topic, the demise of dating apps, and the article, by and large, said the same as this article in UnHerd. The end of an era of dating apps? Or a (welcome) broader trend of de-digitalisation of human interaction?

William Shaw
William Shaw
21 days ago

They shouldn’t be called Dating Apps, Hookup Apps would be more accurate.

Danny D
Danny D
21 days ago
Reply to  William Shaw

I know multiple married couples with kids and couples that have been dating for 8+ years. Guess where they met?

William Cameron
William Cameron
21 days ago

Ten years ago I was widowed and afterwards went on line . I worked at it met my wife and we married.
Other ladies have since asked me how I managed to make it work . And the advice I gave them included.
You have to work hard at it and dont be too picky.e.g. All the girls who asked for advice all specified they wanted tall men . Why ? there are loads of very nice solvent polite chaps who are not tall. But that one specific eliminated the majority of the possible candidates for them. .
The other bit of advice I gave was dont do it unless you mean it. Nothing gets you scrubbed off the list faster than not being reasonably available. Being contacted on line and then saying to a potential candidate you have a diary slot for an hour in three weeks time is waste of time and money. No sane person is going to get involved with anyone so self centred.
Dont use appearance as a qualification – use achievements and social circumstances.
Finally check out very very carefully. We all have pasts . But beware the serial divorcees, the ones in flash cars on credit , and the ones who dont let you meet their friends, or who dont have any friends.
Generosity of spirit -The person that shares their last Rolo is more valuable than the person who splits a restaurant bill. Dont go out with a man who asks to go Dutch. Its not the money it’s the mindset.

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
21 days ago

Good advice, in the main. Just on that last point: i wouldn’t (and haven’t) asked to go Dutch. However… if after the second or third date the female (with her own income and financial security) hasn’t even offered to pay for something, i’d be thinking “freeloader” and say goodbye.
I’m in a happy, balanced relationship where the offer was made on the second date. Any woman worth being in a long term relationship with will also appreciate a man who isn’t too fixated with himself to accept the offer.

David Morley
David Morley
21 days ago

Dont go out with a man who asks to go Dutch. Its not the money it’s the mindset.

I’m curious to know what mindset you think that is. Man pays, woman lays? In an age of relative income equality going Dutch seems more appropriate. And it gives her some self respect. If she’s earning a lot less, fair enough.

If she’s blowing her own cash on pampering weekends with the girls and then expecting you to pay for everything on her return (because I’m already over budget this month) that’s surely going to build resentment.

If you’re paying for the spa trips too then I can only suggest you run – and don’t look back.

Point of Information
Point of Information
21 days ago
Reply to  David Morley

Take turns. The person who chooses the venue pays, then swap. That way each participant gets to introduce the other to “my favorite place” which tells you about their taste but also protects the lower income dater from a bill they can’t afford. (If no second date is planned, why bother with the meal?)

David Morley
David Morley
21 days ago

Sounds fair to me. And if you’re tight for cash cook them a meal. Show you have some skills beyond the ability to open a wallet.

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
21 days ago

Their honeymoon period’s just ending now? 2024?

Lucky.

I assume with Grindr the honeyed era would have ended with the first serial killer found using it to find prey.

David Morley
David Morley
21 days ago

Haven’t had to use them myself, but from what I’ve heard there’s an awful lot of women getting free meals with no intention of anything else, and a lot of men lying through their teeth to get laid. In amongst that, some successes.

Howard Clegg
Howard Clegg
19 days ago

I f*****g hate these things. My experience was akin to shouting into cardboard box. I stopped using them years ago, now I do fun stuff instead.