New apps for the well-off could remove the element of chance that makes dating so brilliant in the first placeby Jessica Brown / April 20, 2018 / Leave a comment
Earlier this month, the announcement of a new dating app had the internet outraged. Toffee Dating’s users can only join if they went to private school, like its founder, Lydia Davis. The app helps bring together people who are accustomed to a certain lifestyle—not like the rest of us.
But Toffee isn’t the only dating app matching people on such terms; the industry is starting to rely less on algorithms to matchmake, and turning to other ways to attract similar-minded people into a smaller dating pool. For apps like Toffee Dating, this apparently means sorting the wheat from the chaff and, in practice, the low-income and less-educated from the more privileged. But while apps that accept people based on their jobs and education might sound harmless enough, they’ve been criticised for being elitist.
These apps include Luxy, where two fifths of the dating pool are millionaires, and The League, where hopeful members are screened on their job title and education, and are kicked back onto the waiting list if they consistently don’t message their matches.
If they sound like exclusive nightclubs, that’s no coincidence. The man behind The Inner Circle app, which accepts or declines people based on the quality of their profile, wanted just that when he set up his app five years ago from the Netherlands.
David Vermeulen was single and looking on dating apps for a serious relationship when he had his brainwave. He didn’t like how many people were on these apps, or the level of attention he received from them.
“If you go out, there are places where everyone can go in, and there are also more high-end clubs where you have someone at the door,” he says. But if that makes the app sound elitist, Vermeulen argues it’s far from it.
“The moment you don’t let everyone in, you’re elitist—this is a typical English thing. If the definition of elitist is that not everyone can join, then yes, we are elitist, but really, we just focus more on quality,” Vermeulen says. “People are tired of Tinder and Bumble, where users will hardly have any description.”
He says the app aims to gather “like-minded” people who are serious about dating, but he doesn’t like the app to be full of rich people straight from Oxbridge, and disapproves of new app Toffee for this reason. However, around 95 per cent The Inner Circle’s users completed higher education, and the app’s approval method sounds vague, at best.
“When people register, we look at their profile, but we’re also looking for the right combination of profiles so we can balance our platform. We look at what the person is doing for work, and what kind of picture they use—someone who uploads a selfie with a duck face in front of the mirror, it’s not a platform for them.”
When asked if more attractive people are selected, Vermeulen goes down the “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” line, but says the quality of photos tends to be better. “On Tinder, I can upload pic of monkey and I’ll get on it,” he says.
There must be something to the app’s secret door policy, however, because Vermeulen says he has a “baby wall” in his office, made up of cards from parents who met on the app. This might be because sticking to our own social class is something we’re programmed to do.
Jessi Streib, assistant professor of Sociology at Duke University and researcher of social class inequality, argues that elitist apps haven’t caused us to stick to our own, but ride an already existing trend.
“Before these apps were created, sociologists observed that people tend to marry someone who shares their level of education. This trend has been increasing since the 1980s, when women surpassed men in graduating from college.”
“I don’t think we know if these apps are increasing the amount that people marry people like them, or if they just make it easier for people to do what they would have done anyway,” she says.
Regular dating app Happn, one that lets in all sorts and matches users who walk past each other, is upholding another pre-technology dating behaviour: chance meetings. Claire Certain, the app’s head of trends, argues that using an app that narrows the dating pool down to just certain professions takes away the serendipity of dating, plus, filtering by education or social status is downright discriminatory, she adds.
“What makes an encounter possible is to be brought together by chance, to be in the same place at the same time. You get together because you get along, because you have a crush on someone and don’t know why, not because of your education or because you both went to private school,” Certain says.
“You might cross paths with people you’re compatible with outside of your direct surroundings or friendship group. If you want to go on an elitist app that filters by education or whether you’re a pet-lover or gluten-free, you know what you’re going to find.
“You register on Happn if you’re open-minded and don’t know what looking for, if you accept that it’s not the app that’s going to help you find someone, but you.”