Friday, June 17, 2016

Online Dating: A Very Biased Review of Tinder, Bumble, OkCupid and Coffee Meets Bagel

"Now where is my bagel?"

Despite being busy with fun stuff like training Brazilian jiu-jitsu and working, I am single and thus receptive of going out on a date every once in a while. And thanks to various mobile apps and online dating services, at times I happen to be dating quite actively.

Online dating used to be weird. I remember the days when it wasn't strange to suggest lying to your families about how you met, if you met your partner online. Today, so much of people's lives happens online, that online dating has successfully claimed its own sweet spot in our collective cyberspace as well. It is no longer much stranger than updating friends on what you ate or what you thought about the latest Marvel movie.

Online dating websites are still alive and well (or so I've heard), but it's online dating apps where it's at these days. I also find most of my dates online. My social circle, although not small by any means, happens to consist of people who are already settled, happily or otherwise. I work from home and spend a lot of time training BJJ, which limits my time and, indeed, opportunity to meet someone new in the wild (although things happen). So I turn to online dating again and again, despite not having much luck with the most popular dating apps out there.

After all, dating is fun, even if it doesn't bring desired results.

Oddly, when it comes to finding people online, I do best with Reddit. I owe Reddit several very close and very treasured friends, several casual relationships and one full-blown ex-boyfriend with whom I don't talk anymore. These are all stories worth telling, but not today.

The holy grail of online dating culture today are Tinder and OkCupid, but there are also Bumble and Coffee Meets Bagel. I've used all of them at some point and I'd like to share my experience as a straight white woman living in a big North American city.

(Disclaimer: there is also Plentyoffish, Happn and other apps I don't have much experience with, so they are not covered below. If you think I should try them, let me know!)


Ah Tinder, the ubiquitous hookup facilitator. Tinder used to be a dedicated pick-up app, where you could find a dude or a dudette for a night, although I'm sure there were still plenty of hopeless romantics lurking around. Tinder has changed: it's all sorts around there these days. Everyone - and I do mean everyone - has been on Tinder at least at some point. To try it out, to swipe left and right, to see where it goes.

Tinder's premise is simple and so shallow. It invites you to judge potential new acquaintances by looks. You connect your account to Facebook so that it doesn't accidentally offer you to boink your boss with whom you are Facebook friends. It pulls your photos from there, which you can keep or swap for more flattering ones. You also have an option of writing a short bio, but not many people do.

After that it's game on: the app finds people nearby and shows you a photo which you can swipe left on ("pass") or right on ("like"). If you swipe right on someone who already swiped right on you, a chat line opens up where you, in theory, get to know each other, exchange numbers and meet (not necessarily in this order).

Sounds fun? It does. And it is - for a couple of weeks, days or hours. You swipe and swipe, and it's difficult to stop because dudes just keep coming. The game aspect of Tinder is at once its blessing to which the app owes its popularity, and its curse, because so many swipes mean so many matches, but so little time to invest into talking to all of them.

Men get matched much less often than women. Women also are known not to message first and not to respond when men do. Of course, there are exceptions. But a lot of men don't respond to messages either. On my latest try with Tinder, I matched with quite a few people and messaged every single one, and received zero responses. Why?

I believe it is because even the best of us get sucked into the attractive and the inevitable line of thinking that accompanies much of the online dating experience. Who's waiting around the corner? What if I swipe for a few more minutes? Will I finally come across someone nearby whom I find attractive, funny and smart, who also doesn't offer sex after the first few messages?

So the swiping goes on and on. On and on. Until you get tired of all the throngs of people popping up on screen, forget your messages and delete the app.

I have met people through Tinder. Lots of them. I used it in Spain and I used it in Argentina. I used it to find people to meet in places where I hadn't known anyone (Buenos Aires) and I used it to simply ogle shirtless guys online (Sao Paulo, guilty as charged). I tried using it in Toronto - the only place where it actually mattered. But it never ever worked.


The premise of Bumble is very similar to Tinder, but with an intriguing twist: after both people swiped right on each other, it's the woman who has to message first. She only has 24 hours to do it, or the match will disappear. The man can't, even if he wanted to. After the woman messages, the man has another 24 hours to respond, or the match will, again, disappear. After the mutual contact has been established, the chat line is safe.

(In case you are wondering, both people can message first if they are looking for a same-sex partner. There is also a BumbleBFF setting that I haven't personally used, but when turned on, it shows you only people looking for friends and hides you from people interested in dating. Either party can message first in this scenario.)

It all sounds clever, but unfortunately, Bumble is basically cute Tinder with yellow graphics and bee puns. The design of the app is more attractive and, more importantly, is somewhat more intuitive than Tinder's. You can scroll through a person's photos without clicking on their profile, which really annoys me on Tinder. Scrolling through photos on Bumble also goes up and down, rather than left to right, so there is less chance of accidentally swiping left on someone you like. The differences end there.

Thing is, the whole idea about women messaging first is a gimmick, because ultimately this is not where the problems lie with the online dating experience. It is the depth of connection - or lack thereof, really, that dooms Tinder and its brethren. These quick game-like scenarios of matching are fun for sure, but the quality isn't there, because there is very little room to establish it.

I had much fewer matches on Bumble than on Tinder, which made it easier to message everyone I matched with. Having fewer matches to me actually signified that people were being a bit more discriminate in their swiping. (Stories about Tinder guys swiping right on EVERYONE and waiting to see who bites abound.) So, whatever, fewer matches. But many never responded. Some did, and we would quickly establish how bored we were with the conversation. Some would just stop responding. That's cool. That's no one's fault. That's the premise's fault.

I met up with one guy from Bumble. He chose a really cool wine bar for the date, for which I'm super-grateful because I love Toronto wine bars. We had a nice conversation, but no spark. Regardless, I went home thinking that the date went well and we would see each other again. It was with a mixture of horror and sadness that I realized I thought the date was a success just because the guy wasn't repulsive and behaved well. That's how jaded online dating can make a person.

Bumble does have some advantages over Tinder, and I like it much more. But the end result is the same. Maybe something more in-depth is called for? Perhaps, OkCupid?


That's the dating website that has been around for a long time, before mobile dating even became a thing. I remember using OkCupid before smartphones really took off and having no luck with it whatsoever. (Some things never change.)

I really like OkCupid, I do. Because the stigma of meeting someone online has largely disappeared from the public consciousness, everyone willing to give it a try naturally gravitates towards OkCupid. It's free, user-friendly and also pretty fun. And everyone seems to be on it. And so the cycle continues.

It requires a lot more effort than Tinder, so it tends to attract people who are willing to put in said effort, although there are plenty of lousy profiles there too. OkCupid's selling point is its enormous set of profile matching questions, which it uses to calculate a possible match percentage between users. There is something about finding a person who is a 99% match, and these are not unheard of. That figure is not everything, but I hate to admit that it does give a somewhat accurate prediction.

OkCupid does not ask for your Facebook information, so seeing a familiar face there is a possibility - and it's quite fun to see how high you match with your friends. It's also funny to run into people you've met on a different dating app. For example, I once went out on a Coffee Meets Bagel (see below) date and I was really into the guy. Ecstatic, really, because I hadn't liked anyone like that in a long time. Sadly, the feeling was not mutual and the rejection followed two days later, swift and merciless. When I resuscitated my OkCupid account several days later, I promptly ran into the same guy. Match percentage: 96%.

I love the OkCupid app; it works well and makes messaging easy. I'd probably recommend OkCupid above all other online dating options just for the sheer number of people active on it. Depending on where you live, though, your mileage may vary.

Coffee Meets Bagel

The whole point of writing this enormous blog post was to talk about Coffee Meets Bagel. Its intricate matching process and the set of rules on who gets to do what at what time really sets it apart from any other dating app. Don't get your hopes up though, because it also has plenty of problems.

The way Coffee Meets Bagel (or CMB for short) works is this: after you sign up and give the app access to your Facebook friend list, you have the opportunity to fill in your profile and upload some photos. The profile filling is less painful than on Tinder/Bumble: the app actually asks you questions that you can answer with a few words, rather than try to come up with a self-description yourself, that seems to trouble so many wannabe daters.

Once your profile goes live, what happens if you are a girl and what happens if you are a guy differs. The basic idea is that the fancy CMB algorithm will match you with other users and send you one match every day at noon. You then have 24 hours to like them or pass on them.

Now, if you are a lady, every Bagel you get will already have seen your profile and liked you. If you are a guy, when you get your daily Bagel and like them, you then have to wait till your profile gets to them as their daily Bagel, which they then can reject or like. This doesn't sit right with me. I'd prefer to get more Bagels every day that I could like, so that they could see my profile. Like or pass, that would make it fair. Instead, I'm stuck with an empty inbox, and dudes are encouraged to pay to get noticed (more on that later).

Once you choose to connect with your Bagel, and if they have already liked you, a private chat line opens up. It has a time limit, like Bumble, but it stays open for 7 days and tries to encourage you to meet up by sending automated reminders. After 7 days you get asked if you'd like to meet with the person and if both of you say yes, the chat gets extended for another 7 days. After that, it's gone forever. If you haven't exchanged numbers with the person, you are pretty much screwed.

Unless you are willing to pay, that is. Coffee Meets Bagel has its own currency called Beans that you can use to unlock certain additional reports about your profile, Retake a match (like a Bagel that you passed on before or whose chat line you let expire), Woo someone (tell them that you are REALLY interested, I guess) or simply Like/Take a person who is not in your daily Bagel section, but in the Discover tab on the app. There are plenty of people under Discover, but yes, that's right - to like any of them you gotta pay.

And let me tell you, these Beans aren't cheap! 100 Beans are $2.29, 3000 Beans are $28.99. But to Like someone on Discover will set you back 385 Beans, so unless you earn free Beans by inviting friends (500 Beans for each friend who actually registers and starts using the app), simply connecting with someone who isn't your daily Bagel costs almost $9.

Apart from luring friends into the CMB net, you get a few thousand Beans upon registering (I started off with 3000, I think). You can earn Beans by following Coffee Meets Bagel on Twitter and Instagram, as well as tweeting about them - each of these carries a one-time reward of 100 Beans. You also earn 1 Bean for each vote in the Photo Lab section where users upload two of their photos, and other users get to decide which one works better. This is not a bottomless well, though; I got cut off from voting at some point.

So unless your friends join the app on a regular basis and unless you are willing to settle for one Bagel a day (which is not even a guaranteed match for dudes), at some point you may have to pay to get something out of the app. Or, most likely, just quit. I certainly see myself quitting soon. I don't think the experience as it is right now justifies the high costs the app demands.

When I just signed up for Coffee Meets Bagel, I got four, five, six people every day and ended up with over ten active conversations going on after a week or so on the app. The wave of Bagels slowly turned into a trickle and then dried out completely. I haven't had a Bagel for weeks now. That said, I went on a lot of dates with people from CMB, because it really does a much better job of ensuring your app experience is not turned into a game like Tinder/Bumble.

Coffee Meets Bagel is worth giving a shot for sure. Unfortunately, not that many people use it yet, especially compared to OkCupid. The app is not even available everywhere because of how few users it has in some areas. In a big city like Toronto it seems to work out fine. It's probably the best in California, where most of the early adopters are (the app is made in San Francisco, where else). The app has recently received a complete design makeover and seems to be less buggy now. Which is good.

If I were to rate all four apps I described in terms of usefulness and usability...

Best quality of matches:
1. Coffee Meets Bagel 🌟🌟🌟🌟
2. OkCupid 🌟🌟🌟
3. Bumble 🌟🌟🌟
4. Tinder 🌟

Best by how many actual dates resulted from using the app:
1. Coffee Meets Bagel 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
2. Tinder 🌟🌟
3. OkCupid 🌟🌟
4. Bumble 🌟

Best app experience:
1. Bumble 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
3. Tinder 🌟🌟🌟
4. Coffee Meets Bagel 🌟🌟

Yup, I still like Bumble.

If you ever wanted to try online dating, now is a great time to give it a go. If you like Tinder's approach, but not its premise, give Bumble a go. If you are more of an OkCupid user, sign up for Coffee Meets Bagel and see what happens.

And good luck. You'll need it.

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