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?
- Acknowledge: Know these data and share these facts. It helps singles feel understood, and you are an educated member of society.
- 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.
- 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.
- Share: Ask them how they are caring for themselves this week or month and share what you did last month. Everyone needs self care.
- 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.