I’ve been on many first dates. And that’s not something to brag about. I’ve spent most of my 27 years being single, and being single in Colorado Springs isn’t easy.
I’m sure there are people out there who are plenty happy with their independence, but you could say I have longer-term relational aspirations. I want to find that special someone. I’d prefer a permanent plus-one. My married friends seem to want the same for me—they love to grab my phone and use my dating apps to “swipe right.” Sometimes they set me up with their husbands’ friends, which often doesn’t end well.
In general, people in relationships tend to imagine their single friends meeting other singles in bars, going on fabulous dates, and generally living a carefree life with an endless array of new men or women at their fingertips, all of them wonderful potential partners looking for a LTR, or long-term relationship—if that’s what you’re into. But that’s just not the case—for myself or most of my friends, both men and women. Instead, I’ve been on dates that include one guy who kept offering to show me the “YOLO” tattoo on his butt—it was a matching set with his buddy. Another man licked barbecue sauce out of a ramekin like a cat. Of course, there have been plenty of more normal dates where the chemistry just wasn’t there.
I’ve tried meeting men a number of ways: in bars, at the gym, blind dates, networking events. Heck, I’ve met men on Instagram. But the best relationships I’ve had started on Tinder or Bumble, even though they have yet to lead to any lasting love.
Is it just me? I’ve wondered.
Turns out, no. I’ve asked friends and acquaintances to find out their experiences. And for this article, I talked with and casually interviewed a variety of singles in Colorado Springs, a mix of men and women in their 20s and 30s, all with different tastes and goals when they look for a date—whether it be a way to get out of the house for a night, find a future soul mate or make a more, um, short-term connection.
I checked out the data too, which seems mixed. A 2017 survey by The Knot of 14,000 engaged or recently-married brides and grooms shows digital narrowly edging out friends as the most common way they met—that’s tallying online dating (17 percent) and social media (2 percent) versus friends (17 percent). But another 2017 study by ReportLinker.com, using a cross section of the American population, ranks friends as the leading way people met their partner—39 percent compared with 8 percent who met through the internet or a dating app. Other research in recent years clearly shows digital connections trending upward.
At least anecdotally, it’s clear that most people locally hope to meet a significant other naturally, but they go digital to find prospects and dates.
Take my friend, for example. We’ll call her Single Susan. She’s 34, has a great career, is attractive and fun—essentially, she’s a catch. Susan doesn’t like to use activities or outings to meet men—she exclusively uses apps to date, including Match.com, OK Cupid, Tinder and Bumble. She has taken golf lessons in hopes of possibly meeting new people, but in general, she doesn’t want to meet a potential significant other at a bar or during a social event with friends. “[Trying to meet men] puts pressure on those activities the whole time,” she says.
Dating-Around Dan, 29, felt the same way before meeting his current girlfriend online. While he might go to a bar and keep an open mind, he doesn’t head out when he wants to meet someone. He picks up his phone, opens Bumble or Hinge, and starts swiping right. “You know the person is there to date,” he says. “Going out [to bars], it’s hard to get past the awkward conversation of ‘Do you have a boyfriend?’”
Dating apps and profiles at least give you an idea of who is out there and looking, plus some hope for the future when it has been a while since you’ve met anyone you’d like to date.
So what can you find in the digital dating scene, especially in Colorado Springs? Here’s a snapshot through the lens of three dating apps that stood out in my exploration. Tinder, Bumble and Match seem to be the most frequently used apps whether you are looking to score a one-night stand, a date or a prospective partner.
One of the earliest players—perhaps literally—in the app era, Tinder is still one of the most popular dating apps. It tends to get a bad rap for shallow hookups, but it’s so widely used that not everyone on it is looking for a one-night stand. What is clear is its simplicity. You get a few photos and a short description to convince someone to swipe right for yes, or left for no. If you and another person both swipe right on each other, it’s a match, and you’re able to begin messaging. You set the age range, gender and location radius of profiles you want to see.
Most swiping decisions are made solely on looks, but as long as you’re clear on what you’re looking for, that’s not always the case. Looking for Love Lucy, 33, prefers Tinder and says the men she met on Bumble and Match were more professional and preppy—not really her type. Lucy prefers tattoos and piercings and describes her taste in men as “trashy and awesome.” “I don’t think I really had anyone send me an [inappropriate] pic, or had any bad experience with Tinder,” she says.
I once had a Tinder connection take me with him to go skydiving in Cañon City. While I personally would never jump out of a plane, it was fun to see him in his element, and it was a nice car ride to learn about each other. While things didn’t work out romantically, we’re still good friends to this day.
No one else we talked with prefers Tinder, even though most have tried it simply because it boasts a large pool of users—and potential partners.
“I always felt like I had to present my most beautiful self to get through the initial screen, especially on Tinder,” says Long-Term Lia, 37, who is now in a relationship that began through a mutual friend. “I used older photos of myself.”
Solo Sam, 39, says he’s found a varied pool of people from all around town on the app. “But the bios seem pretty generic. Everybody likes to hike; maybe it’s a regional thing.”
On the Market Owen, 33, says Tinder comes up short for the LGBTQ community. “Tinder isn’t really geared toward gay people,” he says. “We tend to use different apps.” He has used Zoosk, OK Cupid and Match instead.
Bumble is similar to Tinder, but with a few key differences, the most significant being who makes first contact. If you make a heterosexual match, the woman has 24 hours to start a conversation. After she sends the first message, the man must respond within 24 hours for the match to stay in your queue. If that doesn’t happen, the match disappears. If it’s a same-sex match, either party can start the conversation, but the 24-hour rule still applies. This creates a sense of urgency, so users are more inclined to actually chat and meet. The app also recently launched new profile options to rule out deal-breaker criteria, such as whether you smoke or drink, if you want or have children, your religious and political beliefs, even what type of relationship you’re looking for.
Bumble is big in Colorado Springs. According to company spokesperson Sang Lee, Bumble users in the Springs send more messages than the national average. She also says the biggest local user groups are ages 23-29, followed by 30-39.
Susan, Dan and Lonely Luke, 32, all rank this as their favorite app. Single Susan likes the details that are important to her in a life partner, like religious views and the desire to have children. Dan says he thinks the quality of users on Bumble is better in the Colorado Springs market than other dating apps. In his opinion, the women are more attractive and career oriented. Luke likes that he doesn’t have to do the heavy lifting to start the conversation. “In some ways there’s a little bit more intentionality with Bumble,” Luke says. “If the girl actually reaches out, she opens the door.”
Match.com began in 1995 as the original online dating site. Its two main distinctions are that Match can be used on an internet browser and you have to pay if you want to actually match and chat with others. (You can still look for free.) Users create a profile, answering thorough questions and selecting and ranking detailed criteria in order of importance. Searching isn’t just swiping right or left like on most apps. You can browse through profiles and get a more in-depth idea of a person’s potential commonalities or qualities. And customized matches highlight similar hobbies and complementary preferences. If you don’t meet someone special in six months, Match will give you another six months for free.
Because Match requires a literal investment, it carries the stigma that its users are looking for a serious relationship. “If you’re on Match, you’re really serious,” says Susan, who is a user. “You’re putting in the money and the time. With other dating apps like Bumble or Tinder, you could just be bored and open a dating account.”
“Matches on Match seem to be the best, but they are still the fewest in the gay community,” says On the Market Owen, noting that he’s interested in a lasting relationship.
NOT SURPRISINGLY, everyone I talked to has different overall digital experiences. (After all, if relationships were easy, there wouldn’t be a multibillion-dollar industry helping us find Mr. or Ms. Right.) Looking for Love Lucy has dated each man she’s met on Tinder for at least a month, while Lonely Luke has only gone on single dates with his Bumble matches. Dating Around Dan found his current girlfriend on Hinge—after expanding his geographic range to include Denver. Single Susan continues to use Bumble regularly and says she has some great dates, but she plans to give Match another try this year. Solo Sam and On the Market Owen dabble sporadically but remain unimpressed with dating apps.
As for me, many connections have flourished into friendships. Some of the men I go out with can be wacky and require an “emergency” to leave, but most just aren’t a good fit romantically. So I continue to download Bumble, go on a couple dates, delete the app after a really bad date, redownload the app when I need a plus-one for an event, delete, redownload, repeat.
Why do we do it? “Because it seems to be the trend,” Sam says. “I guess because it’s another way to meet people. Obviously there are success stories, but it hasn’t worked for me.”
What comes through consistently and clearly is that the digital dating scene is not the way local singles would prefer to meet, and that it’s far from any fantasies that outsiders might envision. Almost everyone says they prefer meeting people in person but that’s it’s near impossible. They struggle with finding good options for doing so. “I wouldn’t know where to meet anyone unless it was online,” Lucy says.
Despite occasional great dates we’ve all gone on, Susan sums up the scene best: “I haven’t thought, I really want to just date for fun, because it’s not fun.”
Guess we’ll just keep swiping.
Love at First Swipe?
Here’s a cheatsheet for finding your favorite app to guide you to your soul mate or next fling. Try these if you’re looking for …
Curated Concierge Service
Coffee Meets Bagel uses your profile and Facebook data to give you up to 21 curated matches—bagels—every day at noon, so you don’t have to do as much work swiping. Plus, special features like activity reports and read receipts help diminish inactive users.
Deeper First Impressions
The draw of OK Cupid is more extensive user profiles, designed to take you a little deeper than skin-deep swiping. “I like OK Cupid because looks are not my strong point,” says Searching Steve, 36. “I can send a message and show that I’ve paid attention to their profile, that I’m literate, and lead with my strengths.”
If Jesus is your make-or-break nonnegotiable, Christian Mingle is the best place to look. Setup questionnaires include spiritual notes to help guide you to faith-centered connection.
Help Starting the Convo
Sometimes matching is easy, but starting the conversation is hard. Hinge gives icebreaker prompts to help pique your interest and begin messaging.
Users on eHarmony are there for heterosexual marriage (they’ve spun off Compatible Partners for the LGBTQ community). In-depth personality questionnaires and guided conversations are meant to make your matches matter. You can start free, but a paid membership is required to talk with any matches. If you’re not satisfied in three months, they’ll give you an additional three months for free.
Ain’t nobody got time for vetting all those users? The League skews career-driven and uses LinkedIn to avoid awkward encounters with business connections or co-workers.
Easy Cyber Assist
There’s not a lot of time-consuming setup here. Zoosk algorithms use your social media and online activity to suggest matches. It’s known as LGBTQ-friendly, but it can also get spammy.
Keep It Colorado
Tired of big national apps? Check out these Centennial State niche apps, but be ready to go to Denver to meet people.
MeetMindful:For the conscious-living set.
LuvByrd: Connect around outdoor activities.
SayAllo: “Intelligent” app uses Facebook and Google data to customize.