As the well-worn adage goes, you can't judge a book by its cover. Yet when it comes to online dating, making a split-second decision about whether to swipe right or left often has to do with a quick judgment based on appearance.
That superficiality is killing a lot of singles, says Adam Cohen Aslatei, former managing director of gay dating app Chappy and founder of a new dating app called S'More. Or, he says, at least it's keeping a lot of them from finding love.
"Everyone thinks they know what they want but then everyone is still single," Cohen Aslatei said.
S'More, which is free on iOS, blurs out profile photos, forcing daters to focus first on the interests listed. If something resonates -- like education, current mood, a voice clip, even a zodiac sign -- you can wink at that attribute on another person's profile. The more you interact, the less blurry the photo becomes.
Eventually, you'll be able to send a message. The person on the other side can't open the message until they've gone to your profile and winked around too. What's more, S'More only serves up five profiles each day.
This change in the typical online dating process, Cohen Aslatei hopes, will lead to more meaningful interactions among daters.
Although physical attraction is often the strongest indicator of whether love seekers want to go on a date, there might be something to the idea that front-loading personality details could affect attraction, said Paul Eastwick, professor in the department of psychology at University California Davis.
"Because you learn these other things about somebody -- the literature they read, the movies they watch -- these things you find appealing all just cohere into this likable thing for you," Eastwick said. Those kinds of details can affect how attractive you find a person.
Online dating currently occupies an odd balance in modern life. It's becoming increasingly popular -- data from the Pew Research Center out last week found that 30% of adults in the US have tried online dating, which is double from four years ago. Yet complaints run rampant about everything from the difficulty of getting a match to the prevalence of ghosting.
Survey Monkey polled 4,000 adults and found that 56% of respondents had a somewhat or very negative view of online dating, and those feelings were fairly consistent across both age and gender.
Yet there are signs it does work. A 2019 Stanford University study found that 39% of heterosexual couples who met in 2017 met online, and that number jumped to 65% for same-sex couples.
Cohen Aslatei realizes it's impossible to push aside physical attraction, and S'More does take your preferences into account. So, if you wink at a listed characteristic like brown eyes, the algorithm takes note.
"We're not saying physical attraction doesn't matter, but it ends up being used as the main filtering mechanism, which is filtering out really good matches for people," he said.
Another way S'More is diverging from many dating apps is requiring all members to be verified by taking a selfie that matches with two other photos they've uploaded, Cohen Aslatei said. An algorithm also keeps an eye out for potentially abusive or inappropriate behavior within chats and asks daters if the person they're talking to is being kind and polite. People who rate nicer see more profiles of similarly rated daters. Too many red flags, though, and you might end up off the app.
So far, S'More has launched in Boston, New York, and Washington D.C. The company has plans for Chicago and Los Angeles in the next few weeks. Cohen Aslatei said the waitlist has topped 15,000.
"It's a discovery process," he said, "which is really what a relationship is."