Millennial online dating: It’s cheap to Netflix and chill

Why spend thousands on a matchmaker when there are so many free apps?
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Dating is a numbers game, but the numbers look very different depending on your age. City workers in their 40s might spend tens of thousands of pounds on high-end matchmakers in a quest to find that one perfect person, but millennials download a free app and start swiping.

There is a huge gulf in the way different generations approach the problem of finding a partner. Those who fork out £18,000 to have a “professional matchmaker” select 12 suitable candidates are paying for a sophisticated selection tool — a human — who has access to a group of people who can assuredly be placed in the same income bracket as them. At the other end of the scale is the millennial approach: spend the least amount of money and effort possible.

Tinder, the popular dating app that allows users to sift through hundreds of candidates on their iPhone with the swipe of a thumb, costs nothing to download. Sign up, and you are presented with all of human life in almost entirely unfiltered form. The only condition you can set — and it’s one you can change with the flick of a slider — is geography. Is your potential date in the same country, city or district? I have friends who set this slider so that they can go on a date without having to use public transport — they only date people who live at the same Tube stop as them so that they don’t have to spend money on travelling.

The tools millennials use are much cheaper. But what about when you factor in the cost of dates? In theory, high-end matchmakers will mean you only go on a handful of dates — but in all likelihood they will be costly. The expense of Tinder dates, meanwhile, is varied. One of its virtues is that dates can be averted at the earliest possible sign that your love object is below par. For the uninitiated, once you and your Tinder potential have approved each other’s pictures, you get to chat. This is where the majority of Tinder crimes — and by that I mean the revelation of lacklustre manners — are committed.

Enter the online dating phenomenon of ”ghosting” — the act of suddenly ceasing all communication. Did your interlocutor make some clanging remark? Just delete them. No more finishing your drink in awkward silence, praying for time to accelerate so you can escape the narcissistic nutter you accidentally went on a date with.

Millennials can also carefully control the cost of their dates. As a friend points out, you can choose to date an east London hipster at a bring-your-own-booze Vietnamese restaurant in Dalston or you can choose to date a banker in Mayfair. You can have one cup of tea (£1) or you can go to a gig (£20). And with dates so available, there’s no need to slug it out if it’s not going well. If you take the matchmaker route and only have 12 dates with supposedly very eligible people, you probably feel like you have to have a proper dinner. But if there are another 10m people waiting on your smartphone, then it feels fine to abandon the date after a solitary pint.

In fact, from an economic point of view millennials have so thoroughly cracked the dating game that they’ve decided to make the game even more complicated. According to data from Tinder’s sister site OKCupid, polyamory — the practice of having multiple partners — is on the rise among millennials. In January, OKCupid released data that showed an uptick in the number of users looking for non-monogamous relationships. According to its numbers, almost 1 in 4 of its users are “seriously interested” in group sex, while 42 per cent would consider dating someone already in a polyamorous relationship, an 8 per cent rise since 2010. The number of people who say they are only interested in monogamous relationships has dropped more than 10 per cent over the same period.

OKCupid also has interesting data on users’ lexicons. Among the top ranked are “fleek” (meaning “on trend”) and “dad bod” (used to describe the physique of a man who strikes a balance between keeping a beer gut and working out). They also note that sending an emoji to another user usually elicits some kind of response, whereas just saying hello is ignored 84 per cent of the time.

The data also suggested that millennial parsimony is changing the kind of dates they go on. An analysis of users’ messages to each other found that the phrase “Netflix and chill” — translated as “I don’t have any money to go out so let’s watch TV and see what happens” — rose in usage by a whopping 5,357 per cent in 2015 compared with 2014.

When it comes to dating, millennials are cost efficient because they have to be, but the infinite variety of online matches still results in unenjoyable and expensive dates. The next generation of dating sites are looking to improve the filter mechanisms of online app-based dating. There’s Happn, which uses GPS to match daters with nearby daters — so you can date someone who loves the same pub as you, and is there right now (although it is not clear why you need an app to locate someone who is standing in the same room). Hinge only presents you with candidates who are Facebook friends with your friends — again, there’s a relatively high chance of you meeting these people in real life. Then there’s Sweatt, which invites users to meet in gyms.

But is it working? Millennials are getting married later than ever. Perhaps this is because finding someone better is only a click or a swipe away.

Aime Williams is a reporter on FT Money. aime.williams@ft.com; Twitter: @Aime_Williams

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