Looking for something long term and serious

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Justin McLeod, boss of the dating app, talks about its massive rise in users, his difficult romantic past — and why people are now ditching their partners and looking for someone new. But it is also symbolic of the chasm between good intentions and reality that many of us may have experienced recently. He turns to look at its blank expanse. Which is not to say that McLeod has had a quiet year — far from it.

And revenues tripled. The pandemic has had a big impact on the dating landscape, he says. People switched to video dating, for a start. But the global catastrophe has also led to a big shift in priorities, and McLeod is expecting an even bigger dating boom.

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Is he expecting an influx of people who have spent a huge amount of time with their partner in the past year and now realise they want something different? And so those relationships are starting to end. By the middle of the next decade, it is thought more people will meet their partner online than in real life.

McLeod dismisses the idea that dating apps, with their checklists and personal branding, have taken the romance out of meeting someone. Still, there is evidence that dating apps may have caused a fair bit of misery.

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One survey in found Grindr was the app that made people most unhappywith Tinder in ninth place. McLeod insists his app is deed in a way to decrease that sort of behaviour. For instance, it has a more arduous profile-building stage, which he says weeds out about a quarter of people, and users are encouraged to engage with each other rather than simply swipe through profiles.

But, inevitably, it comes with cumulative rejection, ghosting, all of that. Does he worry about how that affects people? Dating has always been hard. It was hard before dating apps. Can dating apps be damaging to self-esteem? The Hinge algorithm essentially works by learning your tastes in the way that Amazon does book recommendations. Could dating apps one day steer you towards making better choices? McLeod has been bad at it in the past. The original version of Hinge was very much that — go through as many people as possible and swipe, swipe, swipe until you find your perfect puzzle piece, and then everything goes smoothly from there.

During his teenage years, McLeod developed addictions to alcohol and drugs. He still had high grades, captained sports teams and, at college, was student president, but getting clean was also part of his condition of returning to Colgate University in New York state. He spent the summer in rehab, went back to university and promptly got drunk and passed out in the stairwell.

That is where Kate met him and they had a tumultuous on-off relationship for the next few years. I was finding myself in dangerous situations. He had been messaging Kate, who by then was living in London, each year — she would ignore him, and blocked him on Facebook after he declared he would do anything to see her again. They chatted, and she said they could talk properly at the weekend.

By then, Kate had moved to Switzerland and was engaged. McLeod immediately booked a plane ticket and flew to Zurich. Or stalkerish? He laughs. This realisation influenced his app.

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And then she came back into my life and I realised, when I wanted to leave a few months later again, it was not about going through people until you find the perfect person. Does he think that feature, used by other apps, is damaging? He smiles. At the very least. If he is cagey about criticising rivals, it may partly be because some of them are Hinge stablemates — at the end ofMatch Group, the dating giant that also owns Tinder, bought the app. McLeod remains as CEO. Generally, though, we have an amazing working relationship, and I still run the company pretty independently.

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Has that changed his life much? Online dating. The original version of Hinge was very much that … swipe, swipe, swipe. Emine Saner.

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Fri 21 May Apps promised to revolutionize dating. Topics Online dating Dating Relationships Apps features.

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Looking for something long term and serious

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‘People are looking for something more serious’: the Hinge CEO on the pandemic dating boom