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Dating is harder than it should be and it’s not your faultFeatured

As a 39-year-old single woman, I had “achieved” all that was expected of me - great schools, great companies, great community. Yet, I felt embarrassed by my relationship status. Being single didn’t feel like it had a space in society. I was also frustrated because I’d tried everything - 13 apps and even $10K on a dating service. I was on this journey alone, without any support.

In the end, I managed to hack my own dating solution. I met someone, and I’m now building a company called Meet The Otter to scale what worked for me. But it all started with my own pain - namely embarrassment and also frustration.

Sometimes it was watching a younger cousin get married that was hard. Other times it was feeling lost in a work conversation when everyone connected over their kids’ most recent birthday party or Halloween costume. Once, it was serving as the CEO of a small startup and realizing I was the only single person at the 24-person company. I felt qualified from a resume perspective, yet I remember feeling dismissed at times by brand partners and colleagues, as if I was lacking “life experience” for being single. I got curious - why did I feel this way? And is it just me?

I dug deep into data on singles, dating apps, relationship success rates, divorce rates, widow rates, and everything in between. It turns out when people say “dating is broken”, it really is. Society as a whole would benefit from understanding this problem better. Here are the four hard truths I discovered.

The data on dating is bleak. Currently seven apps control the dating experience for 91% of daters - Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, Match.com, Plenty of Fish, OkCupid, and eHarmony. Except for Bumble, these dating apps are owned by one publicly traded company, IAC, which is likely not incentivized to have folks delete the app. It’s not that other solutions haven’t been attempted. For example, there are 1500+ dating apps. Yet the average person swipes on 2-3 apps to get more access to matches. They do that because dating apps have been proven to be as addictive as gambling. This also explains why the average dater spends ninety minutes a day swiping on dating apps. The alternate tool to dating apps is dating services (e.g. Three Day Rule, Tawkify), which start at $1000/date.

We are doing it wrong according to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Love and Belonging is the third most important human need, after Physiological and Safety. In the current dating environment, single people spend 90 minutes alone swiping on a dating app with no guarantee of a date or even a response in the event of a basic match, which is also a gamble. This might be why 83% of singles describe dating as “painful”. Swiping alone with zero certainty of an outcome, zero support, and zero safe spaces to talk about this experience is the opposite of tending to one of the most fundamental human needs. It makes sense that dating app usage can result in mental health issues, such as low self esteem, increased anxiety and stress.

Being single is stigmatized in society. Alexandra N. Fisher and John K. Sakaluk completed a study in 2020 entitled, “Are single people a Stigmatized ‘Group’?” The short answer is yes. As a society, we stand for racial equality, gender equality, income equality, and more. The concept of relationship status inequality does not have a voice. The research gives the example of how landlords prefer to rent an apartment to a married couple rather than a single. In prior roles, my direct reports voiced concerns on picking up extra work for others who have children. That feeling of frustration appears for different reasons as a common denominator among singles since data show they can be overlooked.

Singles are still underrepresented in the law. In the 1972 case of Charles E. Moritz v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg fought for Mr. Moritz to receive a tax deduction for the cost of a caregiver who tended to his sick mother. The law only allowed women and formerly married men for this deduction. Single men were unrecognized until this case was won. This case is one example of how singles have gone unrecognized. Today there are still 1136 federal benefits, protections, and privileges available only to legally married people. In 2017 egg freezing became the “hot new benefit” for singles at tech giants. However, this benefit is to help with a potential future scenario, not the current state. It’s another social cue of how the journey from single to partnered goes unnoticed.

In the most basic way, there is no clearly defined way to support singles who are looking for their partner. The tools single people have access to are not serving the customer’s needs, and research shows they need support. How can we help?

  1. Acknowledge: Know these data and share these facts. It helps singles feel understood, and you are an educated member of society.
  2. Celebrate: Celebrate them for where they are - go big on the elements of their lives they are talking about - the new dog, the new promotion, the new couch. Don’t wait for the wedding or a baby registry to appreciate or add gravitas to a life moment.
  3. Ask: Ask what was one thing they liked about their last date. Make the question more specific rather than open-ended so they can lean into a data point or story rather than their overarching feelings in case they don’t feel like talking about it.
  4. Share: Ask them how they are caring for themselves this week or month and share what you did last month. Everyone needs self care.
  5. Participate: There is a role to play in helping singles who are looking for their partner regardless of your relationship status. One option is Meet The Otter, the first community dedicated to singles and their dating journey where non-singles compose the emotionally supportive community and can help with matchmaking too.
This is only slightly tongue in cheek, but what if the issue is not with women, or how women approach dating, but... men? Just this week there were two whole threads about women having major issues in their relationships. I've seen several more over the past year about how women are always cleaning up after men/wearing the pants/being the planners and go-getters because apparently their men expect that that's just what the woman will do. Though these threads were about relationships (seems like most of them were longer-term), it also seemed like the issues were things that could have been noted while dating these men earlier on. I'm not saying I have any solutions, I'm just pointing out what I've been observing here on elpha. Maybe it's hard because there truly are very few quality men out there. Aside from that, I 110% agree with you on how terrible singles are treated in society.
You have a very valid point, the patriarchy has really ruined a lot of men in their thinking
At the early dating stage, I simply don't agree that these are the top problems. Like @SimranKD is saying, single people are having trouble even getting first (or second) dates. I've never been in a position where I'm like, "Wow, I just met a guy I'm really excited about, but I'm worried he won't do chores once we get married, so I won't go on a second date." The way bigger issue is finding someone I'm even excited about to begin with.I do agree that there is a numbers issue though. Let's say you are a career-oriented woman who went to an elite college who wants to date a man who also clears this bar. We know that men in the U.S. graduate college at a lower rate than women do, so there are already fewer men to begin with (46% of women aged 25+ have degrees vs. only 36% of men). Then on top of that, a lot of men don't necessarily care if their partner has an "equal" education or a prestigious career. So you have even fewer men who are college-educated with careers who are looking for college-educated career women. And that's ignoring literally everything else about a person besides job and education.I personally found myself making compromises in other areas. When I'd find someone who met these really basic criteria, I might not find them physically attractive, or we might have different political views. Sometimes we would have incompatible cultural upbringings (such as an Indian man who isn't allowed by his family to marry a white woman).The conclusion I came to personally is that I would prefer to be single than to make compromises on attraction or values. My parents made big personal sacrifices for me to go to college, and it would be hard for me to date someone who wasn't liberal or who didn't also value education (especially for our potential children).I'm still not sure what the solution is!
What do you mean by "getting" a date though? I think the solution is a straightforward but time consuming and not necessarily easy one: keep putting yourself out there doing things that interest you. There is a far higher likelihood you'll meet someone likeminded this way vs hoping to meet someone at a bar or via an app.
I'm just talking about "getting" a date from a dating app (which I think is what the post is about).Are you currently experiencing lots of success meeting people to date from activities you do in real life? Would love to hear about your dating experiences.Personally, I found dating very easy in college. In general though, my leisure interests and favorite activities tend to be things that are female-heavy or attract people who are aged 50+, so dating without apps has been a lot harder for me post-college. It's hard to imagine meeting men very often while doing things in my spare time (I meet tons of men at work, they are just off limits IMO). It also doesn't help that tons of my friends are partnered and don't want to do much these days now that they are raising children.It's happened only twice in the past 10 years that I've met a man in real life that I ended up going on a date with, and with those men I didn't have an interest in a second date. Whereas I've had 4 serious relationships with men I met on dating apps (I don't even want to tell you how many first dates I went on).I don't want to start faking an interest in male-dominated activities purely to try to meet men, so I'd say that dating apps work better for me personally (that's great though if you are meeting people through your activities). My prior reply was just to point out that the odds on dating apps are don't favor college-educated women over 30 (but you can still meet people if you persist).
I'm not dating currently, but I have met people I dated in language classes and extracurricular activities/hobbies like art classes. I have also dated people I've met on apps, but we were both wanting to give it a go beyond just one date. I come from a culture where families set up their children, so maybe it was just in my psyche that I'm not going to know from one date if someone is 'the one' or not. (I've had friends set me up, to no success.)I hear you that your activities are female-heavy which makes it harder, and agree that men in professional arena are off limits! I don't think there's an easy, one-size-fits-all answer. I wasn't implying that one should fake interest in activities they aren't truly interested in. There are so many things like reading groups, continuing ed classes for adults that are gender non-specific though.
This sounds really interesting, and I looked on your website as well, but I couldn't really find any info on how your website is different from dating apps...? Even when I go to the button next to "Why is otter different?" I get to a page that still doesn't really tell me anything (other than you have lived it).
Maybe we can start a slack or discord for Elpha single women to provide that community support for one another as we maneuver this. 💚
or that's what meet the otter is? it's a little hard to tell without signing up.
I can’t tell after signing up, either. There’s no additional information. The only thing I can do is look at my account, which has 3 options - Orders (which says No Orders Yet), Address, and Profile. And the only options in Profile are First Name, Last Name, and Update Password. Super weird!
This is my experience too! @SimranKD, is there anything we are supposed to do to activate our accounts?
I got an email that had a link to verify my account. Still no additional info.
Hi @natalie14 and @rae79 - That's strange. See screenshot below. You should be able to just enter your email there, and I'll follow-up with a welcome email. Please let me know if you have any issues! Thanks for letting me know.
The numbers issue is a tough one. Based on my research, that can be region based. @iris777 - Thanks for asking! There are 1500 dating apps but none of them include nonsingles and there are no meaningful communities around dating. Regardless of your relationship status, we all love a dating story so we are trying to build our community by connecting over these stories. It's a relatable weekly touchpoint on the dating experience (when singles are swiping alone 90 mins/day). Now that our community is growing, we are running our first matchmaking pilot. Next year we will be inviting the community to events and an app experience. Hope that helps clarify! Always happy to talk more about it.
Hey Simran! Are you able to share a little more what your platform does currently? I am interested in learning more, but would love more details before signing up. TY!
Hi @amandaschulze - Sure thing! Right now we are building our community and send out a weekly newsletter on Tuesdays. It includes two dating stories and a rotating topic. Regardless of the relationship status we can all connect over a dating story - whether you are single and swiping alone, married with two, going through a divorce, or recently widowed. The rotating topic is usually data or insights on what's happening in dating. Right now we are also testing a matchmaking pilot which we talk about in the newsletter. As far as in person experiences and an app, that is something we are working on for next year! Hope that helps. The best way to stay up to date is to just go to meettheotter.com and sign up for the newsletter there. Hope that helps! Hope you join us.
Great, thanks so much for clarifying! It actually sounds great and I might sign up :)Also, do you happen to need a founding designer? I am a long time Lead Product Designer as wel as Brand Designer with 17 years experience and currently studying psychology. I have designed and redesigned the complete front-end and brand experience for many companies over the years, for example; I was recently the lead Product Designer of a complete redesign for a B2B SaaS product that is being used by over 39 national, and international high stakes companies with each between 1 million and +33 million users. I’m exploring new opportunities, what you describe in your dating story sounds very recognizable to me and I love what you are trying to solve! <3 I would love to be part of it, let me know if you want to chat or book a time here:https://calendly.com/iris-shields/30min
@iris777 - Sure thing! Also thanks for offering. I just set up time with you for next week. Looking forward to it!
Hi Simran, love your research based approach-- other fun facts that I've come across, only 1/3 of people on the apps have ever been on a date (this could be because they aren't invited, but also includes all the fake accounts); for heteros, women rate only 15% of men on the apps as 'attractive' and select on about 5-6% of them; men ALSO rate only 15% of the women as attractive, but still swipe/select on about half. Marriages that result from apps fail at 3x those that happen more organically / IRL. I thought alot about building a 'better' dating experience and spoke to a VC friend of mine pitching him on various ideas... the bottom line as you've stated is that these apps are owned by one large company and it is working-- for them -- not for the user. I'd love to connect with you and discuss more. Ping me on LinkedIn if you want to get connected and good luck! ~Jocelyn
@jocelyndegance- the numbers are so grounding. It helps realize just how big of a problem of this - 83% of people describe it as painful and there isn't a single disease on the planet that impacts that many people. Thanks for sharing the data! Would love to know the source to include it on a future newsletter too!
Woah!! What’s the source on the metrics that marriages from apps fail at a 3x the rate of non-app marriages? That’s insane!