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The Harsh Reality Men Face on Dating Apps

... and why more men are chronically, involuntarily single.

Key points

  • Recent data suggests physical attractiveness exceeds warmth, intelligence, and income in women's preferences.
  • Limited public dating app data suggests a high consensus of the most attractive users.
  • Given matching at all is the exception, daters should strike up a conversation within 24 hours.
Ketut Subiyanto/Pexels
Source: Ketut Subiyanto/Pexels

A few years before the pandemic swept our world, more people reported meeting romantic interests online than any other way (Rosenfeld et al., 2019).

The promise of algorithmic magic connecting singles to their ideal matches has grown into a $3 billion industry.

But for some, our current technological advances have not solved a problem that is likely to become more challenging.

Dating Decisions Under Time Constraints

Recent industry survey data out of the U.K. suggests app users spend up to 55 minutes a day perusing profiles. Users typically turn on the app for shorter bursts of time in the morning and the evening.

On an app like Hinge, with over 23 million users, the mix of time constraints and the sheer number of perceived matches replicates a speed-dating scenario.

What is the impact of physical attractiveness, income, warmth, and intelligence on female dating preferences in this scenario?

Given the primacy of photos and limited time spent on each profile, participants privileged physical attractiveness above any other variable. Characteristics like income, intelligence, and warmth were only weighted after establishing there was physical attraction (Woloszyn et al, 2020).

The bottom line is that dating apps don’t appear to have given a leg up to those perceived as less physically attractive (Selterman & Gideon, 2022).

Fewer Men With Disproportionate Advantage

A widely reported on but now-deleted 2017 analysis by Hinge Engineer Aviv Goldgeier suggested that men initiate matches three times more often than women.

He discovered that 50 percent of their attempts, or "likes," went to just 25 percent of women on the app at that time.

More surprising was that 50 percent of women’s likes went to just 15 percent of men.

We know competition was already fierce for heterosexual men given men represent more than 60 percent of dating app users.

If physical attractiveness remains a driving force for matches and a majority of men on apps are perceived as less than exceptionally attractive, the chances for matches become more limited.

A Window For Charm, Warmth, and Intelligence

The biggest opportunity for the greatest number of men is to first illustrate their personality, warmth, and wit on their profile by responding to prompts or drafting charming “about me” sections.

The conundrum is being able to establish an emotional connection in the initial 24-48 hours after matching on a dating app (especially on Bumble, where only women can initiate conversations and matches disappear after 24 hours).

It's here that the development of quick emotional attunement can translate into a phone call or first date and daters have a chance to start a standout conversation while their potential date may be chatting up multiple people on the app.

Here are three tips for everyone to level up their dating profile today:

  1. Knowing physical attractiveness is so central on dating apps, choose four to six of your favorite photos with great lighting. I’d recommend one or two profile shots that are relatively recent, and while activity shots like climbing or kayaking are great, don’t be too far off in those photos. Many users make a decision on a profile based on the first photo within a few seconds.
  2. Create an engaging caption that is authentic and can serve to foster communication. Describing your favorite hobbies, latest adventure, or ideal partner in creative ways can be attention-grabbing for a great match.
  3. Strike up a conversation within the first 24 hours of matching. With millions of active monthly users, it is easy to become just another match who is not pursued. Lead with simple, funny, or endearing, and be responsive if your match replies in short order.

Dating seems to be getting harder for a growing number of men who may be chronically and involuntarily single and sexless. In the coming decade, we will need to support young men to first become emotionally attuned to themselves and then to become effective communicators and connectors. The dating success of a large number of men will require it.

Facebook image: TetianaKtv/Shutterstock


Rosenfeld, M., Thomas, R. J., & Hausen, S. (2019). Disintermediating your friends: How online dating in the United States displaces other ways of meeting. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116(36), 17753–17758. pnas.1908630116

Selterman, D., & Gideon, S. (2022). Experiences of Romantic Attraction Are Similar Across Dating Apps and Offline Dates in Young Adults. Journal of Social Psychology Research, 1(2), 145–163.

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