Maheen Behrana

Naked Politics Blogger

In recent years, it seems that dating apps have become part and parcel of the way we form relationships. Of course, many concerns have been raised about this method of meeting new people. Psychologists such as Madeleine Mason Roantree have noted the instant gratification that can arise from getting a match on one of these apps, and the subsequent feelings of depression that can arise from the falseness of the world a dating app creates.

Like it or not, dating apps are here to stay. At least 45% of us have used them at some point – and for a range of reasons: some to gain feelings of validation, others for the thrill of a match. Some use apps because of their wide user-base, and the sheer volume of new people that the app enables you to connect with.

However, it increasingly appears that some apps do just the opposite of this. Apps such as The Inner Circle and Toffee have taken off, both of which offer Tinder-style swiping but with an added pinch of elitism. The Inner Circle screens all profiles before allowing them on their site. Ultimately only allowing those they define as young, successful and attractive professionals to use the platform. With an acceptance rate of just 40% and over 450,000 on its waiting list, The Inner Circle has definitely captured attention but generally delivers only rejection for those so desperate to use it.

Toffee can also be seen to have a selective criterion, allowing only those who went to private school to sign up. Lydia Davis, its founder, claims that Toffee has thousands of members. She also insists that the app is not designed to be socially exclusive, but to help people meet those with whom they may have more in common.

It’s a difficult one: on the one hand, these apps appear to be engaging in blatant social selection. On the other, they seem to have found a gap in the market for services that people are clamouring to use. But why are so many people desperate to be part of clubs that won’t let them join, exposing themselves to rejection before they’ve even met potential matches?

Indeed, the evidence is actually against exclusivity as a method. Zoe Strimpel’s PhD research on dating in the 1970s and 80s found that 75% of those using dating agencies which catered to ordinary people claimed to have found love in some form. Just 25% of those using dating agencies which offered an exclusive selection of people claimed the same.

In the digital era, it also seems that variety is key to finding the right match. Apps like Tinder and Bumble, open to all and without the price tag, are important tools in encouraging dating habits to be as inclusive and open-minded as possible. Yes, the process of finding a suitable match may be more arduous and painstaking, but for all the negatives, this can often produce some unexpectedly good results. Experts have also noted that the rise in dating apps such as Tinder has resulted in greater numbers of mixed-race marriages, suggesting that it has the power to break down barriers and forge a more interconnected society.

Nonetheless, people still believe that limiting their choices will help them make the best match. Whilst wanting to meet people with similar interests is understandable, exclusive dating apps take that instinct in an unpleasant direction. Plus they don’t work, because a lot of what we put across in our online profiles is what we want other people to see. So when you encounter a profile on a socially exclusive dating app, the person behind it clearly believes there is something definitive about their social status.

When you flick through countless profiles of people who believe in the paramount importance of their private schooling, not only are you likely to feel overwhelmed by the sameness of each profile, but you are also unlikely to be pleasantly surprised by the profiles that come up.

By opening ourselves to all the possibilities (and the legwork) that using an inclusive dating app presents, the opportunity to experience those moments of pleasant surprise increase. We are more likely to meet people who are unlike ourselves, to take a chance on someone a bit different, as long as we are given the option. It is sad that so many of us are choosing not to have those options. Though we often complain generally about inequality in society, it seems that given the choice, many of us crave the status of belonging to a higher echelon.

So maybe we should seriously consider whether exclusive dating apps are useful, or even fair. And whether their very existence is preventing us from being the open-minded people that inclusive apps show we can be.

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Last Update: September 26, 2018