I believe I have been on Tinder dates with six people in my entire life. All pretty awkward. Boring. Uncomfortable. Strange. And most with close-to-zero attraction.

Many of us poor singles do occasionally fall prey to the Siren calls of dating apps. We’re not proud of it, but we do it. And we have very little to show for it.

Despite our hard-held convictions and heavy-dose of skepticism we do hear stories about people finding their soulmates on Tinder: that guy on your block, someone at work and didn’t your friend’s cousin met her boyfriend on Tinder? So, a few times a year we install and uninstall these god-forsaken apps and give this hopeless venture another shot.

Maybe this time will be different, you know. And then again, what’s the harm? Worst case, nothing happens. Anyway, I’m still just hanging about, watching Keira Knightley ace it in some beautiful love story. What’s the big deal?

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A downside of Tinder, but ultimately its largest appeal, is that it quickly turns into a numbers game. There are such a vast amount of people out there, surely at least some of them would satisfy the double coincidence of wants in this strange market. More swipes yield more potential matches and the more people we expose ourselves to, the bigger our chances to find that elusive partner — maybe just a few more swipes.

This time, one of my tiresome Tinder spells happened to align with lockdown and social distancing, if anything making dating apps a more viable option. Tinder even allowed us a nice little experiment: swiping and matching with people all over the world.

Having given in to this soul-wrecking piece of technology, I decided to share some recent experiences. Let’s run some numbers on this hateful numbers game.

First of all, I’m glad to confirm what I’ve long suspected for my own part: in some places of the world, Tinder doesn’t work very well for me. In London and New York (and Poland of all places…), I match with more girls than I have time or perseverance to talk to — even with the abundance of spare time given by corona-induced social distancing. In other places such as Budapest or Sydney or Cape Town, I hardly match with anyone.

This lines up with my experience from tindering in these places pre-corona, IRL.

Now, this could be because the culture and frequency with which people use the app in those places is much less pronounced than in London — that there’s a systemic difference between places, making some Tinder markets deeper and more liquid and more likely to result in matches. Or it could be that because whatever my profile projects is less demanded in these places; after all, tastes in cuisine and clothing differ across these places so it would be strange if taste in partners and dates didn’t.

As a way to estimate the number of swipes (sadly, I didn’t keep a record), I use the 12-hour limit of around a 100 likes that Tinder allows its non-paying users. In the last two weeks I have probably hit this limit about five times, for a good few hundred likes — say 600 in total (5x100 for the days I hit the limit, plus some more Tindering on other days).

Anecdotally from noticing how I use the app, there are about 5 swipes left for every swipe right — for a total of 3,600 swipes. (Yes, the quality of people on Tinder is surprisingly poor). Between one-tenth and one-fifteenth of likes result in a match: in the last two weeks I counted 45 matches (1.25% match rate) — an outsized number of whom came from setting my app to New York or London. This is roughly in-line with other quantitative assessments of Tinder.

For a good half of my matches I find myself wondering why I even swiped right and I usually just ignore them. After all, I only have so much energy to say something interesting and there is, unfortunately, only so much (read: nothing) I have to say to a 22-year-old girl with greyish-blond hair and a caption that reads nothing, or “No ONS.”

Of the 20-odd girls that I did message, 7 of them never got back to me; 5 went AWOL after one or two responses; a few of them held out a little longer (about four replies), before they too disappeared; and a sheer total of 6 girls resulted in some kind of conversation.
Swipes-to-conversation rate: 6/3,600 = 0.167%

Don’t get me wrong, some of those conversations were, um, interesting. I got to

  • practice my Portuguese with a Brazilian girl living in Lisbon (very nice!)

Needless to say, within a few days, all of them stopped replying. Swipes-to-date rate: 0/3,600 = 0%.

Judging by the numbers above and the ~150 matches that my app still has on record (as some disappeared when switching phones and others have been de-matched by me or the girl, say 200 lifetime matches), my Tinder record is pretty appalling: 200 matches would have required roughly 2,000-3,000 likes, originating from between 10,000 and 15,000 swipes — that’s over twenty hours worth of swiping. And a few more wasted in (mostly) dull conversations.

Of these 200 matches, ~50 are already gone. Scrolling through them now, another 100 or so consist of my lines echoing eerily against a white Tinder background (because in these times of enlightened feminism, girls couldn’t possibly message first…? Or, you know, respond). Some are just conversations that briefly flared up and disappeared, with people whose company I might have enjoyed in real life.

If memory serves me right, I had about eight dates in total: one each with three average-looking girls from whom I couldn’t escape fast enough. Another girl I awkwardly met twice — not that it helped — and two girls I had brief flings with in Glasgow and in Oxford. Both pretty awful, and in hindsight I wish I hadn’t.

Swipes-to-date conversion rate: 6/10,000=0.06% (or 0.04% if we use 15,000 swipes as denominator)
Matches-to-date conversion rate: 6/200 =3% (which, it seems from Brayden Gerrard at Towards Data Science, is a pretty good number).

The best conversation I ever had with anyone in Tinder was actually in Sydney (American girl, though). After chatting about literature and Jane Austen and emotions and traveling for a week or so, we decided to meet up. So far, so good — that’s how it’s supposed to work, isn’t it?

Except that she was, conservatively speaking, at least twice the size she looked from the pictures, probably five years older, and a whole lot less cute.

Classic tinder.

To get anywhere on this seemingly-efficient but treacherous app, I seem to need some 1,500 swipes — but that only yields me one date on average, a date that at least 4 times out of 6 couldn’t have been less meaningful. Perhaps 5,000 swipes will, on average, yield me a decent date. Let’s double that to get to a date with a girl I might actually like and that might like me back: 10,000 swipes.

I can’t exactly reject the null hypothesis that I’m boring or thoroughly unattractive — God, I hope not — but, bar that, I’m not exactly overwhelmed by the usefulness of Tinder. As Michael Downie describes his Tinder dating:

Half of the joy of dating is finding someone you like, getting to know them, the first date, the first kiss, the anticipation of the first night together, all of these different facets make finding someone wonderful and exciting.

That’s all true, and the appeal of Tinder is that it raises the chances of finding that from your average day’s big fat zero to, say, 0.04% of swipes. That tiny little sliver of hope is what pulls us back — again and again and again.

This won’t be the last time I abandon this hopeless dating app, but at least now I have some quantitative estimate of what it’ll take to get anywhere, and the investment (in effort and time) required to get there.

It’s definitely hard work, and usually not very rewarding or even nice work. Enjoy swiping.

P.S. I do wonder what the relevant baseline numbers are, i.e. how many non-virtual “swipes” people do as they go through their regular days — girls at the coffee counter, lady in the supermarket, random jogger outside your house or at the gym. And how many of those swipes end up in (meaningful) conversations. And how many of those become actual dates and relationship.

Probably not that dissimilar from Tinder, actually.

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Writer, editor, and student of money past and present. Here: mostly off-topic stories, personal finance-musings, worldly observations and Reykjavík reflections.

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