By Mark Richards

It is Valentine’s Day – and this year more of us than ever will be finding love through an online dating app. Why have apps like Tinder proved so popular? And if you do meet someone through an app, will it last?

Swipe Right, Romeo

In the old days, it was simple. I asked Angela Miller if she wanted to go out with me: she said she was washing her hair.

A week later I asked her if she wanted to go to the disco at the Scout Hut. She said she was washing her hair.

I simply could not understand how a girl needed to wash her hair every day: especially when I saw her snogging Zit-Face Foster…

In the even older days, I would have been on much firmer ground. I would have sought Mr Miller’s permission to court his daughter. If he approved of me, my prospects and my ‘people’ then the fragrant Miss Miller and I would have been ‘walking out’ – with a chaperone trailing a discreet 30 yards behind us…

But now we live in the age of Tinder. Angela Miller is washing her hair? So what? Swipe left. On to the next one.

It is going to be a technological Valentine’s Day this year.

Technology takes over

Tinder was launched in 2012 and by 2014 it was registering one billion ‘swipes’ per day. It now claims to have arranged 20 billion matches as ‘swipe right’ enters the urban dictionary. ‘Awesome burger.’ ‘Yup, glad we swiped right on this place.’

In 2015 American bank Merrill Lynch valued the company at $1.35bn based on 50m users at $27 a user, as Tinder ‘monetized’ the platform – as so many apps do – through premium in-app purchases. By August 2017 that value had risen to $3bn (£2.16bn) as Match Group – the global leader in dating – converted some of its share options.

As Match says on its group home page, today 1 in 3 relationships originates on a dating app. Tinder now has 57m regular monthly users and has spawned a host of imitators including Badoo (with 15m users) and smaller apps happn, Plenty of Fish and Grindr with 12m, 7m and 6m respectively. Worldwide spend on dating apps was £234m in 2016, but nearly doubled to £448m in 2017 according to figures from app research firm, App Annie.

Why has online dating proved so popular? As Sean Rad – one of the founders of Tinder – says, “We’ve eliminated the fear of rejection.” Too damn right. It used to take me four days to pluck up the courage to ask Angela out, and another three to get over her crushing rejection. She’s still washing her hair? No problem. Still, two thousand to swipe through…

Online Dating: Is technology taking over Valentine's Day? | CLNews

The irresistible rise of online dating

Back in the dark ages of 2013, the Daily Telegraph published an article revealing that 1 in 5 of relationships started online. But the dating site e-Harmony is now predicting that by 2031 half of all relationships will have started there, with 38% of couples meeting via online dating sites and another 12% meeting through other types of website. And by 2040 that figure will have risen to 70%, with the biggest growth in online dating expected to be in the 55 to 64 age group.

Is an online relationship more likely to last?

According to all the evidence, yes. But how can this be when apparently 81% of people lie when they are completing their online dating profile? (As you can probably guess, I am 35, 6’ 2” tall, have a 32” waist, work out regularly in the gym, am spectacularly wealthy and am frequently mistaken for a young George Clooney.)

The first online dating app was launched more than 20 years ago, and since then finding someone online has become an accepted part of life. Cash-rich but time poor – and seeing their own parents drifting apart or divorcing – young professionals now approach finding a partner with the same pragmatism involved in booking a holiday or finding a new bank account.

Research conducted by the University of Chicago showed that relationships that started online – either through a dating app or a platform like Facebook – had a greater chance of success than those that began by more traditional means. The researchers interviewed 20,000 people who had married between 2005 and 2012: just over a third had met their spouse online and their marriages were 25% more likely to last. And couples who had met face-to-face also reported slightly less satisfaction with their marriages than their online counterparts.

Why is that?

Online Dating: Is technology taking over Valentine's Day? | CLNews

One reason must be sheer weight of numbers: it is going to take a lot of introductions from friends and family to match the number of potential partners you can look at in one session on your laptop. And being online gives you the instant chance to find someone who shares your values, beliefs and favourite sci-fi films. With all the factors taken into account, the Chicago University researchers put the chances of finding a lasting relationship online at “10 to 15 percentage points” higher than meeting someone the way your parents did.

Traditionally, dating agencies required clients to fill in long detailed questionnaires, but as machine learning and artificial intelligence continue to accelerate online dating may become even more ‘accurate.’ Researchers are now suggesting that even a small amount of text – maybe 300 to 400 words from your Twitter posts – will be enough to determine compatibility. That is a view endorsed by the founders of LoveFlutter, an app that has teamed with a natural language processing firm to start matching people.

Research by James Pennebaker, a social psychology professor at the University of Austin, found that couples who used language in a similar way were most likely to stay together – although the cynic in me wonders if that isn’t simply saying you are more likely to stay with someone who is your intellectual equal.

In the interests of research…

So much for all the theory. Should I try one of the dating apps – purely in the interests of research you understand? I am constantly surprised by what I discover researching these articles, and I stumbled across Twin Dog, an app that allows you to choose your future life partner based on their dog preferences. Surely I must be irresistible? I have a 12-year-old Springer Spaniel that has just rolled in a dead fish…