Start with Attraction
We all know what it’s like. It’s not a thought process or a rational assessment or anything more than instinct. When you see someone attractive, it’s an instant reaction: You know it. It’s either there or it’s not.
Even in dating apps, photos take priority. It’s not a potential match’s hobbies that first catch your eye, it’s their eyes, the symmetry of their face, and other subtle features that you find attractive.
Attraction is the most important aspect of finding a match that most dating apps completely ignore. That’s at least one reason why 80% of people in one survey said they feel frustrated after using a dating app. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
What most dating apps get wrong
Every app uses a slightly different algorithm to connect potential matches. Each algorithm is a window into how each app thinks attraction works. All of them get it wrong.
For years, Tinder was basically a popularity contest — profiles were matched by scores based on how other users interacted with those profiles. Now it prioritizes proximity, like Grindr. OkCupid matches based on compatibility. Hinge matches users based on mutual interest, connecting them with their highest pick that shares the feeling.
While there can certainly be successful matches based on these approaches, all of them either ignore or deprioritize the role of attraction in finding a match. They match you based on where you are or what you’re interested in instead of whether you find the other person attractive. It gets everything backward.
Matches need to start with primary attraction, the instantaneous and instinctive recognition of interest.
Why attraction comes first
Certainly, any fulfilling and long-lasting relationship is more than skin deep. There are emotional connections, shared interests, shared memories, and so on that bind people together. But the first spark of any relationship is attraction. Without attraction, there’s no interest, and without interest, it doesn’t matter how close a person is to your current location or whether they enjoy reading a book on the beach more than a hike in the mountains.
Attraction is hard-wired. It’s influenced by culture, but also by decisions made by our ancestors over tens of thousands of years. Who we find attractive can be as deep as our DNA. Attraction subconsciously recognizes your opinion of a potential match’s health and suitability as a partner. Attraction spurs dopamine and norepinephrine that light up the “reward” centers in the brain, not only creating feelings of euphoria but also making us alert and eager to learn more.
The feeling of attraction, then, is not only the foundation of any match, but the doorway to the deeper connections that sustain a relationship over time. There’s a reason attraction comes first in real life, and it’s the same reason why dating apps that delay that initial response leave users frustrated. Without that initial attraction, you can’t get to any of the deeper emotions and connections.
Making attraction efficient
Of course, the reason dating apps match people based on engagement or interests or location or their top picks is that those are easy to uncover and connect. Two people like the Lord of the Rings? Maybe they’ll be attracted to each other. Two people live on the same block? Maybe they’ll be a match. You like this person? Let’s see if it’s mutual.
The signals are all simple to measure and compare. And sometimes they do work out. They’re just not very efficient. You could be surrounded by people and your interests could be shared by millions, but you’d find a vanishingly small percentage of them attractive. There are many people you’re attracted to who won’t share the feeling.
With machine learning, we can now better understand the features that someone finds attractive and present more matches that fit those criteria. The system learns over time what attractive means to you, showing you not only more matches you find attractive but people that find you attractive as well.
By starting with attraction, you can raise the chances of a successful match. No more sorting through hundreds of people who like running to find the one you find attractive. Instead, you get a group of people you find attractive and want to learn more about.
Of course, the concept of mutuality is key as well. Rather than sifting through a mass of matches for a mutual attraction, start with the mutual attraction. Suddenly, the list of matches is all interesting and exciting. That doesn’t guarantee they’ll work out, but the work of searching and discovering has been done for you.
Many of us don’t want to admit that attractiveness matters as much as it does. We don’t want to seem shallow or discount the other connections that are critical to a successful match and long-term relationship. But to deny the importance of attraction is to deny your human instinct.
All the dating apps that continue to ignore that will continue to leave users frustrated and searching for that feeling where connection begins.