It’s been 10 years since Tinder radically altered the landscape of online dating with its tagline: Swipe Right® to like someone or Swipe Left™ to say “nope”. This month, as it celebrates a whopping 75 million monthly active users, it’s a tagline that is coming under increasing scrutiny as more and more of us are beginning to question the repercussions of our constant swiping – and it would appear as if daters like CJ are looking for alternatives that better match their needs and wants.
“There are many examples of users who have gone on virtual reality dates, who have fallen in love, moved in together, and have plans to get married and have kids,” Nevermet’s CEO and co-founder, Cam Mullen, says over a Zoom call in Brooklyn. CJ isn’t the only one who has found something tangible within a hypothetical world. “We have tens of thousands of users and have created over 300,000 metaverse relationships to date,” Mullen informs me. A significant number, for sure – but is virtual reality really the future?
What is undeniable is that most of us are now seeking out new partners via digital means. According to research made available this year, over 300 million people are using dating apps worldwide, with 20 million of those paying for premium features. Yes, dating apps are “the new normal”, Mullen says. “But we’ve discovered that they’re not really working for the majority of their users.” Which is what led Mullen to launch his “personality-first dating app” this year; an app that is led by fictional avatars, not Instagram selfies, where VR enthusiasts (74% of whom are aged between 18 and 24) match and arrange a date somewhere in the metaverse. “We’re at this interesting intersection of a rising Gen Z culture that’s more tolerant to themes of fluidity – identity, gender, sexuality – and I think that our metaverse space is actually allowing people to have that fluidity safely,” he says. Although it’s worth noting that the metaverse is, at large, a relatively new and unregulated space, subject to the same levels of trolling, microaggressions and harassment as anywhere else.
VR dating is just one industry response to a growing ennui that shows no signs of dissipating. After a decade of swiping, the paralysis is real for many. In an infinite world of revolving profiles, where any conversation can be terminated at any time (and usually is without so much as a hand-waving emoji), it’s easy to feel lost in the melee. “Difficult years of the pandemic have induced mass self-reflection, and subsequently self-empowerment, in which daters are coming into their own standards and true desires in the romantic realm of their lives,” says Rachel Lee, insights and cultural analyst at The Digital Fairy, as we discuss this languor and the ways in which daters are seeking alternative routes in their love lives, turned off by inaccurate algorithms and online discrimination.