(This article previously appeared on Cafe.com)
I first heard about the new dating app Hinge from my 19-year-old son. Then his father told me about it, too. If two people from two totally different generations are telling you to try something, you try it — particularly if the alternatives leave so much, beyond love, to be desired.
People, let me ask you a question: Have you ever tried filling out an online dating profile? More saliently, did you succeed?
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I tried a month after my ex moved across the country and I never even got through it. I’d crawl into bed with my new lover, MacBook Air, after homework/dinner/dishes/bath/Read me a story/I need water/Is that a monster under my bed?/Mom no don’t leave/You forgot to sign my permission slip/Can you help me edit my college app?/Mom! Mom! Mom! and after answering 72 million emails and “liking” and commenting on a bunch of your vacation photos from Italy (“Ooh, you’re in Florence? Say hi to David!”), Mac and I would settle in for a long-overdue conversation about what I really wanted and needed in a soul mate.
All Those Questions!
Except it wasn’t really a conversation, now was it? It was more like an epic journey in the guise of an inquisition. What sports do you like? How much do you drink? What do you earn? “Jesus, Mac, seriously?” I’d say, exhausted. “Can’t we just talk about all of this tomorrow? You’re so demanding.”
The next morning, I’d wake up with Mac still painfully open and vulnerable, either on my lap or tipped over on his side of the bed, “sleeping” and annoyed by our lack of communication.
“Sorry, Mac,” I’d say. “Now where were we? Right. Are you a smoker?” No, I clicked. But wait. Where’s the box for, “But I did for many years, and boy do I regret that?” Because I would totally date someone who filled in that box.
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I think you really need to be in your 20s to have both the time and the naiveté to believe that if you answer 100 questions about your personality and predilections, any of this will actually matter in the grand scheme of love. Love is alchemy, not SurveyMonkey. Would I be willing to date someone with kids? That’s not a binary question. That would require a New York Review of Books-length essay wholly dependent on the man, his children and my children’s reaction to his children. How would I describe myself? Seriously? Even if I cut and pasted all of my published works as well as all those sad, half-finished novels on my hard drive into that teeny tiny box, we still wouldn’t scratch the surface. What’s my idea of a perfect date? Girlfriend, please. Does it involve food and sex? We’re good.
Where's Mr. Perfect?
And don’t even get me started on Tinder. I downloaded Tinder for an hour — an hour! — one morning before work, and in that single hour of my Tinderdom I saw things no woman should ever have to see.
There was George, 58, posing with his man boobs in a Flashdance T-shirt next to a little red Corvette which may or may not have been his. There was Pasquale, 36, who quoted the heavy metal band Pantera with poor punctuation and misspellings. Nik, 35, posted a photo of himself breathing fire. Yes, actual fire. Jimmy, 53, posed un-ironically with Santa, wearing gabardine slacks polka-dotted with red, green and white Christmas balls. Joe, 51, eschewed the entire concept of a photo altogether and instead posted a screenshot of his Tinder texts, including, “Hey, girls, stop using tinder to find a relationship and start using it to f**k, thanks,” and “I could kill myself with my f***ing morning wood.” Swoon! Luva (lover? loofa?), 33, secured the bottom of his wife-beater under his chin, all the better to reveal his six-pack abs in front of an Employees Only bathroom.
Ryan, 35, posed with his identical twin. In identical twin outfits. He was handsome enough, but I was married to an identical twin for 20-plus years, so I know how that ends, plus his quote confused me: “Whenever I come to a fork in the road, I pick it up because you never know when you’re going to need a fork.” Wait, what? Was that supposed to be funny or a commentary on choosing between him and his brother?
Also, there was this: “Can spell the word definitely correct,” he wrote, “even without spell check.” Dude, if you’re going to point out how smart you are on the language front, at least use an adverb to modify a verb.
“Correctly!” I shouted into my phone. “For f**k’s sake, correctly!” It was 8:41 in the morning, and I was already yelling at an inanimate object.
I swiped Tinder clear from my phone and tried going incognito for a day on Match.com. “Just looking,” I think they called it, but I’m not going back into that hellhole to factcheck, because without so much as having posted a photo of myself or any other identifying information aside from gender and age, my email inbox was suddenly flooded with suitors interested in meeting me sight unseen.
Flattered by such an outpouring of attention though I may have been — are some men’s requirements for love so low that a faceless, 48-year-old body and a willingness to use it are all that’s needed? — it seemed, well, creepy is putting it mildly, and I already have a full-time job with a full inbox, thank you very much.
Hinge to the Rescue
Enter Hinge, a mobile app that is not so much dating app as it is dating Yente, as its algorithm matches you with people with whom you share Facebook friends. Meaning, you can see real first names, they can see your real first name, and if you’re savvy enough — or cautious enough, like me, to be wary of the kind of men you might find online, because you went to college with a typewriter and have not dated anyone since the fall of the Berlin Wall — you can figure out their last names as well just by checking your mutual friend’s Facebook friends list. (You’re welcome.)
Also, because it simply pulled all of my photos and information from my Facebook profile, it took me less than five minutes, if that, to join.
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Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match, indeed. Hinge's design, in fact, is so simple and elegant, so intuitive and smart — so much like the village Yente in Anatevka — I can’t believe anyone hasn’t invented it before now. Meaning (you heard it here first), Hinge is poised to become the online dating disruptor for single people of all ages, particularly for those of us wary of fire breathers and too old, wizened and battered to waste time on meaningless sex.
In essence, it mimics what my friends would be doing for me if they weren’t so busy going to couples therapy. In fact, the very first man who popped up in my feed and I had 22 Facebook friends in common. Twenty-two! And I either knew, liked or admired all of them. So I simply called the woman I knew best on that list and asked for her opinion. A bit of a Yente herself, she was shocked she hadn’t thought of putting us together on her own. Hinge, in essence, had done the thinking for her, allowing her to simply give us her blessing. “Yes,” she said. “Go for it.”
With that blessing in my pocket, I went for it, shaking only from nerves, not fear, as I rode the subway to our lunch. That lunch went so well, I actually contacted Justin McLeod, the 30-year-old CEO of Hinge, to thank him personally for the introduction. If nothing else, I told him, Hinge had found me a soulful, beautiful and smart new friend in the same middle-aged, single parenting boat as I, whose company and conversation I deeply enjoyed. Which, says McLeod, is the whole point of the endeavor: to make not only love connections, but people connections.
“I have always been a connector of groups of friends,” he tells me when we sit down for our own “date” on a park bench near his office, so we can chat privately. “All of my high school friends know my college friends and all my college friends know my business school friends. We really wanted to create an environment that reflected the best of the real world. And where do you often find your new connections? It is at a dinner party or a house party or a wedding or something like that where you’re in a curated environment. Of course, the only problem with house parties and dinners and weddings is that they do not happen often enough.”
Hinge began, he tells me, at a “Last Chance Dance” at Harvard Business School, during which his classmates were urged to admit their crushes before everyone scattered to far-flung jobs all over the globe. “The student government couldn’t really pull it together because the logistics were complex,” says McLeod, “so I got together with a friend who worked at Google, and she and I whipped together something on Facebook that would allow you to anonymously list your crushes via Facebook, and if two people liked one another, then we would let them know.”
But the more significant piece of this origin story puzzle, at least in this reporter’s opinion, is that McLeod is a self-professed “hopeless romantic.” One time, he tells me, he was sitting in a café near his office, and he ended up chatting with a beautiful woman whose name he did not catch, but he remembered she worked as a reporter at Bloomberg. After she left, he frantically Googled Bloomberg reporters, but to no avail. The next day — cue the rom-com music — she showed up in his Hinge feed, and they arranged to go out on a date that went really well.
Both of them, however, travel a lot for work, so the next time she could meet up, on a Sunday night before she had to fly off again, McLeod already had another date planned. He decided, unusually, to doublebook his evening, telling the woman he really liked he’d meet her at 10. Except when they finally met up after his first date, she was standoffish in the extreme. “So did you or did you not see that I was sitting right next to you the entire time you were on your date earlier tonight?” she said to him.
“It was killer,” says McLeod, reddening at the mere memory of it. “I was nailed.”
“But you know you are going to have to end up marrying her,” I tell him. “That would be the rom-com version of this.”
“I know,” he says, laughing. “We will see. She is pretty great actually. You’ve just reminded me. I need to reach out to her again.”
At the end of our date, I ask him a simple question that I’m surprised no one has ever asked him before. “Have you ever been in love?” I say. It’s a throwaway question. I’m already late to pick up my eight-year-old from afterschool.
McLeod’s eyes immediately mist up, threatening to spill over. “Yes,” he says. “But I did not recognize it until it was too late.” Regaining composure, if barely, he asks me to turn off my tape recorder. Then he tells me the tale of a former love, now engaged to be married to someone else, that is so beautiful and tragic, so full of twists and turns that should have gone one way but went another, by the end of his narrative, I’m crying, too. She’s his Rosebud, it hits me: the raison d’être for his empire.
Then things gets real. I tell him a secret about my own life I’ve told no one, if only because I think it’s germane to our discussion, and now we’re onto a far more philosophical discussion about the nature of love. “If you’re lucky,” I tell him, from my perch of failure and experience, “you’ll find real love three times in your life, if that. If you’re lucky.”
I suddenly have an overwhelming urge to do what Hinge does for McLeod every single day: present him with a better chance at finding that needle in the haystack. My daughter, at 17, is far too young for him, but don’t think the unrepentant Yente in me didn’t actually stop to think about it, because who wouldn't want McLeod as a son-in-law? He's kind, he's smart and he tears up at love. That's the best we can hope for in a mate for our children.
I rack my brain to come up with a better option than my own underage child — I’ve set up four marriages, three of which are still going strong, why not a fifth? — but I don’t have many friends in the 22-to-30-year age range.
Luckily for McLeod, Hinge has millions. And every day he’ll get to meet 10 to 20 of them, depending on how generous the algorithm is feeling.
'You Have to Love'
My own Hinge date met me the other night in front of my office, holding two apples.
We’re on different schedules in terms of love. I know that. I’m already a year out of a two-decade marriage; he’s still licking fresh wounds. I sometimes feel like that narrator in the W.H. Auden poem, pining for the stars. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t already nourished one another in whatever ways we could. A few nights before he showed up with those apples, I’d sent him one of my favorite quotes from Louise Erdrich:
“Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won't either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.”
He handed me an apple. “Hungry?” he said.
“Oh my god, yes.” I took a giant, ravenous bite. “Thank you so much,” I said, grabbing his hand. “I was starving.”
Deborah Copaken is The New York Times bestselling author of The Red Book, Between Here and April, Shutterbabe and Hell Is Other Parents. Her writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Nation, Slate and The Financial Times, among others.
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