Hinge CEO on how online dating is changing during coronavirus

  • Since the start of the pandemic, dating apps have seen a spike in usage.
  • But users also have new concerns that these apps have to address. 
  • Business Insider spoke with the founder and CEO of Hinge, Justin McLeod, on how coronavirus has changed the face of dating for good and what the company is doing about it. 
  • Hinge is taking steps like launching a partnership with mental health space Headspace and pushing for more video-based dates – which could stay popular even after it’s safe to meet in person. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The way people meet and date has changed dramatically since the onset of the pandemic, and dating apps like Hinge are trying to keep up with the shift. 

People are going on more dates than ever before, but they’re not meeting up as frequently, Justin McLeod, founder and CEO of the dating app Hinge, told Business Insider. Hinge has adjusted its app to account for these changes. The company launched a video chat and voice call option in June. It also added an in-app link to the World Health Organization’s coronavirus safety guide. 

“Everyone has very shifting senses of what the right type of dating for them to experience is,” he said. “Managing that amount of complexity, and helping our product team manage how the world is changing so quickly, has definitely been a huge challenge.”

Across the board dating apps are seeing more traction from users. Match Group, the online dating company that owns apps like Tinder, OkCupid, and Hinge, all saw a spike in premium subscriptions and downloads since the start of the pandemic. Hinge saw a 30% increase in messages among users this past March, according to the company’s research team, Hinge Labs.

While this increased usage is good, online dating services still face a unique problem: how can users connect on a deeper level when they might not want to meet in person? 

Business Insider spoke with McLeod about the evolution of online dating and how Hinge is meeting these new challenges. 

Dating is more stressful

Dating, in general, is stressful. But the health risks associated with meeting someone who you don’t know during a pandemic make it even more unnerving. One in four Hinge users feel anxiety around dating because of the coronavirus, according to the Hinge Labs data. 

“People are generally nervous before they go out on a date, and these days, given everything that’s going on, people’s nerves are elevated even further,” McLeod said. Practing meditation is one way users can cope with this stress, he said. 

Hinge launched a partnership with meditation app Headspace ahead of World Mental Health Day to provide users with a way to relax before their date. There are two types of meditations users can select, one for calming pre-date nerves, and another designed to quiet negative self-chatter, or the self-deprecating thoughts we have about ourselves. 

McLeod said that allowing users to clear their minds before a date can help them form better connections. 

“You can actually let your guard down a bit, be present and vulnerable with another person, and actually see the connection, which is what we thought would be most effective in partnering with them,” McLeod said. 

Video dating is here to stay

Since Hinge launched a video chat feature in June, almost half (44%) of users have been on a video date. 

Most people aren’t used to video dating, and it can take some convincing to get someone to agree to chat virtually, McLeod said. 

“This is something that I think people were pretty weirded out by, or just wasn’t a norm for people before,” McLeod said of video dating. “But out of necessity, people have started to do it.” 

But of the users who went on video dates, more than half (52%) told Hinge Labs they are likely to continue using video chat even after it’s safe to meet up in person. Video is a much more convenient way to see if you click with someone, McLeod said, and it may become a more permanent staple in the future. 

Video dating could also lead to a reduction in catfishing, or being untruthful about who you are online, Experience Magazine reported.

“It’s just a really nice way to get a vibe check on someone before you invest all of your time and energy and money in going out and meeting some of them,” McLeod said. 

People are taking dating more seriously

Ghosting, or an unexpected stop in communication from a romantic partner, is a common occurrence among dating app users. Some 91% said they’ve been ghosted before, according to Hinge data.

But this is becoming a less common occurrence during the pandemic. Indeed, 27% of users told Hinge Labs that they’re ghosting less often. This could signal users are lonely and seeking intimate connections. But it could also mean they’re taking dating more seriously, McLeod said. 

“There’s been a shift toward more intentionality,” he said. 

For example, daters who might have been quick to get physical with their partners are now taking more time to get to know them through long video chats. More casual daters are taking more time to invest in one partner, instead of dating multiple at once. 

“They’re developing healthier dating habits,” McLeod said. “I think that will carry for at least some period after the coronavirus.” 

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