Dating services are an age-old staple for singletons in Britain, with the first one appearing in 1695.
The first dating profile appeared in an agricultural journal at the end of the seventeenth century with an advert that read, "A Gentleman about 30 years of age, that says he has a very good estate, would willingly match himself to some good young Gentlewoman that has a fortune of £3,000 or thereabouts."
In 2016, dating has gone digital. People are more likely to swipe on Tinder than leaf through the lonely hearts pages of a newspaper, but does that mean you should use a dating app? And if so, which one? To help navigate modern love's virtual terrain, here's what you need to know about dating apps, and whether they're right for you.
Should I be using dating apps?
Hundreds of thousands of Britons of all ages turn to dating apps every day in the hope of finding a potential partner.
The stigma of online dating has swiftly become a thing of the past. It's now as common to go on a mid-week Tinder date as it was texting for an Orange Wednesday code five years ago. An estimated one in five relationships now starts online, and the industry generates more than $1.7 billion (£1.17bn) annually.
As one Telegraph pundit put it: "If you don’t use dating apps these days, you’re either happily married or living in a hedge off the A34."
Even David Cameron is on Tinder, albeit to promote the stay campaign in the EU Referendum. But his presence is nevertheless resounding proof that dating apps are par for the course in modern relationships.
The ubiquity of online dating started with Tinder - the dating app that 'gamified' the process of selecting a potential partner with its 'swipe left for a no, right for a yes' design.
Tinder rapidly became the must-have dating app. Less than two years after its launch in 2012, users were racking up a billion swipes per day, and they have now swiped their way to 11 billion matches worldwide.
Entrepreneurs wanting to capitalise on the app's success have launched countless rivals. There is now a dating app for almost everything - there are those meant for double dating, those designed for "death professionals", and there's even one for people with herpes.
Dating apps offer a new way to meet people when you're balancing work, seeing friends, and the trappings of modern life.
The bad boy of digital dating, Tinder was launched in 2012 and despite its early reputation of being for hook-ups, it has quickly become one of the most popular dating apps in the world.
Users are presented with a picture of their would-be beau and given the option to swipe left for no or right for yes. It’s been criticised for its promotion of hot-or-not style military tactics, but with well over a billion swipes being made each day, we doubt founder Sean Rad loses any sleep over it. In fact, he has hired female employees he’d matched in the past.
Who uses it?
Tinder’s core audience is young, social and connected. It recently introduced the ability to ‘like’ individual messages and illustrate your desire for your new match via gifs, so twenty and thirty-somethings.
Tinder is fun and fast-paced, requiring absolute minimum effort to set up and even less to actually use. Swiping quickly becomes addictive, and it’s quite easy to quickly swipe an arsenal of matches.
Possibly due to the ease of setting up a profile, some Tinder users are less serious about finding The One. As a woman, you’re likely to receive the odd unsolicited nude, and the only way to turn back the clock if you happen to accidentally swipe no on the partner of your dreams is to pay a monthly fee for Tinder Plus. Priced from £3.99 for one month, enhanced membership also allows you to change your location, such as swiping in Ibiza ahead of an upcoming holiday.
Set up by Tinder co-founder Whitney Wolfe, Bumble is a female-first dating app, meaning the ladies have to mkae the first move, and message first. Bumble works on the same swipe left or right basis as Tinder, but has a twist - the girl has just 24 hours to message before the potential date disappears. Men can extend this time for a further 24 hours if they’re really keen.
Who uses it?
Bumble’s crowd seems to be particularly attractive, almost too good to be true. It’s mostly a young professional and creative crowd, made up of people in their mid to late twenties.
You can basically just swipe right (yes) to everyone, because they’re so attractive. The women-first design and rules mean that conversation is generally of a higher calibre.
Are the users too good-looking to be true? Conspiracies abound as to whether there are fake profiles on Bumble, but Wolfe assured the Telegraph all profiles are legitimate. With just over 500,000 users in the UK, you'll often run out of matches - an obvious negative.
French-founded Happn is a location-based app which lists potential dates you’ve passed by in the street as one long, never-ending list of their main profile picture, age and job. Once you’ve tapped on their profile, you can check the exact point at which you crossed paths, on your commute or night out.
You quickly work out those who live or work near you as you can see how many times you’ve crossed paths with each user, and can only strike up a conversation once you’ve mutually liked each other by tapping the heart button. You can try and catch their attention by sending them a charm, but be warned, this can look a bit desperate.
Who uses it?
Happn’s users, while generally in their twenties, rarely seem to message anyone once a match has been made.
It’s quite fun to pinpoint the exact point at which you crossed paths with someone, unlike Tinder which just pulls potential matches from your chosen radius.
Using Happn is a fairly hands-off dating experience. There is no way to search for the beautiful stranger you passed several days back and, as the majority of users leave their profiles relatively blank, there’s not always a lot to go on.
OkCupid began life as a desktop site in 2004, and matches uses through a series of questions intended to reveal certain aspects of your personality; for example, ‘If you were to die, would whoever goes through your personal belongings be shocked by what they find?’ and ‘Would you consider sleeping with someone on a first date?’ Your answers are converted into a percentage, meaning the higher your match percentage with someone, the better the theoretical chance of your compatibility.
Who uses it?
OkCupid’s demographic seems to be more relationship-focused than Tinder’s, and is largely populated by young professionals in their twenties and thirties.
OkCupid has a clean interface and is fairly easy to navigate. It’s not as strictly location-based as other apps, which means you’re free to peruse potential partners in other countries should you so wish. The option to filter matches by ethnicity, age and certain key words is also useful for narrowing down potentials if you’ve got a certain type.
The object of your affection can see each and every time you visit their profile, making stalking more difficult than on other apps. Non A-List (e.g. paying) users can’t see who has ‘liked’ your profile, meaning you’ll rack up a whole lot of likes without having a clue who’s been dropping by.
The granddaddy of online dating, Match.com was founded in 1995. It claims responsibility for the conception of more than one million babies and close to 100,000 mariages. The site, which has the same owners as Tinder, prides itself on making astute matches, which it achieves through asking a series of key questions when creating your profile - have you been married, do you smoke, do you want children.
Who uses it?
Though Match.com has a more traditional image than say, Tinder, there are plenty of people in their twenties and thirties as well as older users. Given the subscription fee, users are probably more interested in meeting someone for a long-term relationship than some users on some of the free platforms.
Match.com's app looks great - it's clean, intuitive and simple to use. It also has an enormous user base, and comprehensive ways of whittling down suitors on the fully paid version.
With so many adequate dating apps available for free, it's difficult to justify having to fork out around £30 a month, depending on whether you choose to purchase a one month, three month or yearly subscription. Its search filtering is also less sophisticated than OKCupid's.
How to create the optimum profile
- A profile picture that expresses something about your interests or personality
- Model poses don't work
- And mirror shots are unforgivable
- Use a total of six images: avoid head shots and photos with friends, instead use action shots of you doing the things you enjoy
- Include your job title and education background
- Write an interesting, funny bio
Is app dating safe?
Meeting strangers through dating apps has its risks. There have been reports that apps such as Tinder and Grindr are responsible for an increase in crime, including rape, child sex grooming and attempted murder. Separately, a study claimed that Tinder users are twice as likely to have a sexually transmitted infection as those not on the app.
But there are many factors that could have caused both these numbers, not least being the dramatic rise in people using dating apps. By following a few precautionary measures you can make sure you stay safe while using dating apps.
How to stay safe using dating apps.
- Don't give away too many personal details about yourself in your profile
- Don't tell someone you don't know your exact location
- Arrange to meet somewhere public
- Plan how you will leave the date
- Let a friend or family member know where you are going to be and when
- Do your due diligence, i.e. research them on Facebook, Twitter, Google and LinkedIn as much as you can before meeting
- Be careful when giving out your phone number
- Stop talking to people that make you feel uncomfortable
Organisations such as Get Safe Online offer more advice on how to stay safe when app dating.