Dating before the internet era is a fascinating concept to anyone born after 1985.

While it remains possible to fall head over heels in love with a like-minded stranger in a bar or club, the idea of finding a life-long partner by chance at a party today seems sweetly old-fashioned and somewhat unscientific.

Speak to any millennial about dating in the 1990s or before and they will look at you with amazement at the constraints singletons once faced without the help of mobile phones, social media, dating websites and apps. Finding love in the 21st century has arguably never been easier. Except, of course, it is not.

The huge growth of the online dating industry, which is estimated to be worth $2.5bn in the US alone, now means individuals are faced with a bewildering array of options when it comes to choosing their dating aid of choice.

Two of the most prolific platforms in the UK — Tinder and Bumble — have millions of users globally, which means users need to sift through scores of profiles in order to find “the one”, or at least someone they can tolerate the idea of spending an hour with at the pub.

This abundance of choice has become a headache for many single people and has ultimately spawned a new breed of dating app: elite platforms unashamedly catering to professionals, the wealthy, the highly educated and celebrities.

The most controversial of these dating services is Luxy, which touts itself as a “millionaires’ matchmaker” but described itself when it launched in 2014 as “Tinder, minus the poor people”.

The tagline has been described by several professionals interviewed for this piece as “horrendous” or “horrific”. One of its competitors, speaking privately, questioned whether it is an app that anyone would “want to be on”.

But Raffael Krause, marketing manager of Luxy, says the company’s business model has worked “from the beginning”. Luxy declined to provide figures on its profits or revenues, but Krause says it has been profitable since its first year of operation and now has more than 2m users.

Those who apply to be accepted on to the app, which is free at the basic level, must first pass a 24-hour process where they are vetted by existing members. Luxy’s staff then filter those applicants again “to check whether or not the user fits”, Krause says. Only 10-15 per cent of those who apply are accepted and the company claims that half of its active members earn more than $500,000.

Its website showcases photos of a handful of select members and their respective salaries: Irina in France who earns more than $350,000; Jason in Los Angeles who earns above $250,000; and Robert in Seattle who earns more than $750,000.

Krause readily admits the app, which is predominantly used by singles aged 30 to 49, is “not for everyone”. But he dismisses concerns about elitism.

“On Luxy you will find of course wealthy individuals, well-educated singles, successful people and high-class persons,” he says. “When it comes to love, money is of course not the most important factor. But many people wish to find an equally successful partner. Luxy is serving these needs by providing the platform.

“There are all kinds of dating apps, for Christians, for Ivy League graduates, even for Trump supporters. Why not a dating app for successful people?”

Other apps aimed at elite users have adopted a less provocative approach.

The Inner Circle, which describes itself as an “exclusive community” where users can meet “other inspiring singles”, was also launched in 2012 in the Netherlands.

David Vermeulen, its co-founder, says the idea for the platform came to him six years ago when he was single after spending a depressing evening trawling through dating websites. The sites were uninspiring, he had little in common with the dating profiles he came across and many of the women lived far away. So he decided to launch something different.

The Inner Circle is a cross between a dating app and an events company. It organises social gatherings for its members, such as polo tournaments, gallery openings or cabaret nights. It also has an app where users can organise dates and view the restaurant or holiday recommendations put forward by other members.

Vermeulen describes it as a “platform for professionals who are serious about dating”.

“People get fed up with endless swiping and think they can spend their time better and they don’t mind paying. We offer high-quality dating and it is something people are willing to pay for,” he says.

The platform is free to join, although users who want to access its full range of services, including the ability to send “winks” to other members, must pay an average monthly subscription fee of £30.

6/11/2018 Picture by Charlie Bibby/Financial Times Elite dating apps for Alan Knox.
© Charlie Bibby/Financial Times

Members are vetted according to a range of criteria, including profession, age and the quality of the pictures they submit. “People need to put some effort into the profile — a selfie in front of the mirror is not the right picture,” he says.

He also declines to share the company’s profit or revenue figures, but says it is profitable, employs around 20 staff and has 1.3m approved members globally. The members, who tend to be aged 25-45 (the average age is 31), have included professional footballers, Game of Thrones actors, BBC executives, famous cocktail shakers and “a lot of finance people”, according to Vermeulen. Although he acknowledges that students, Uber drivers, cleaners and McDonald’s workers are unlikely to be accepted on to the platform, he bristles at the suggestion it could be considered elitist — particularly as the earnings of applicants are not a consideration.

“We believe it offers a diverse platform,” he says. “I don’t consider the Inner Circle elitist. What we do is link people who are serious about dating. I encourage a diverse community, different kinds of people. Maybe ‘exclusive’ would describe it better. In Amsterdam it is not considered elitist — it is just another dating app that people use.”

More dating platforms aimed at the elite have since entered the fray.

The League, launched in the US in 2015, caters to professionals who are screened based on what industry they work in, their university education and how many LinkedIn connections they have.

The app, which has since been launched in the UK, states at the top of its website: “Are you told your standards are too high? Keep them that way. We’re not saying Tinder doesn’t have its uses but why not spend your time a little more . . . intelligently?”

It promises that its algorithm ensures members will never come across LinkedIn contacts, Facebook friends or colleagues while browsing for potential matches — a level of privacy likely to appeal to business professionals looking to keep their work and personal life separate. It adds that “fake” profiles are blocked so members “never have to wonder if that Harvard hottie is too good to be true”.

A London-based financier, who met his girlfriend on The League a year ago, concedes he had qualms about using it initially. “I hate elitism and it’s a douchey concept in some ways,” he says.

But he adds: “The reality is I need to save time and I’ve had bad experiences with Tinder — hours of swiping and little reward in terms of meeting someone you vibe with. I don’t have time to go out or socialise midweek and most friends’ friends are not single.

“I would not have met my girlfriend without it — we have no mutual friends. Essentially I found love.”

Toffee dating app

Toffee, a dating app exclusively aimed at the privately educated, launched in the UK this year. Its 7,500 founding members received a free six-month subscription at launch and additional members pay a £5 monthly subscription fee.

Lydia Davis, co-founder of the app, says this payment model has been useful for two reasons: “Even though it’s a minimal charge, it’s created a barrier for entry with people that aren’t going to take this seriously. We have to reject a large number of applications on verification and we know the number would be much higher if we didn’t have the charge. It also means as a business we’re monetised from the beginning.”

She says the app has “really taken off” since it launched in April and that her team has been inundated with requests from singletons in the US, Australia and South Africa about launching it overseas. Expansion plans are already under way in India and Nigeria, where a significant proportion of the population is privately educated. Davis estimates Toffee will register more than $10m in revenues in 2019 if the app is as successful overseas as it has been initially in the UK. Like her competitors, Davis brushes off concerns about the app being elitist. “There has been a significant amount of research to show that romantic attraction [and] successful relationships are strongly driven by a similarity in characteristics or background,” she says.

“With this being such an important reason for the foundations of a good relationship we knew it would be a successful niche dating market. It’s nothing to do with status or elitism, it’s to do with having some common ground that might help some people find a connection just like any other niche dating app.”

A London-based ex-banker, who is considering signing up to Toffee on the recommendation of a friend, admits that the concept is “crass”. But he adds: “It only really sets you up with people who you might have something in common with. Although it is of course possible to have some class-straddling romance, the likelihood of finding a compatible mate who didn’t go to a posh school or university is surely small.”

Not all privately educated professionals are sold on such concepts, however.

A UK-based advertising executive, who is privately educated and met her boyfriend on Tinder several years ago, says: “I definitely think [these kinds of apps] are elitist bullshit and I would not look for a partner based on whether they went to a good university or have a lot of money.”

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