It’s no secret that a lot of people hate using dating apps. The journalist and author Nancy Jo Sales, who has written a book, Nothing Personal, about the intensity of her hatred, likes to refer to the conglomeration of apps as “Big Dating” (a reference to Big Pharma, another huge and sometimes predatory industry).
As Sales can attest, heterosexual women tend to be particularly gloomy about Big Dating. If your goal is to find a hook-up then there is no shortage of willing men. Finding a long-term partner on a dating app, though, is another matter entirely. Some of the Big Dating companies have tried to design products that cater to people seeking marriages rather than hook-ups. Hinge, for instance, was originally marketed as an app for long-term relationships, but a single female friend reports that it’s now rife with men looking for “ethical non-monogamy” – also known as polyamory (for the generous-spirited), or shagging around (for the cynical).
Bumble bills itself as a feminist dating app, since it requires women to make the first move in contacting men they match with. But while the app’s creators boast that 20,000 marriages have resulted from people meeting on Bumble, they also boast of 50 million active users and more than three billion messages sent. Given that 85 per cent of its users are apparently looking for marriage or a relationship, this doesn’t seem to be much of an endorsement of its product. This low success rate might partly be a result of the fact that so many women on dating apps don’t actually select the “looking for marriage” option in their public profile, for fear of looking desperate or needy, even if they privately confess that this is what they’re looking for. A male friend based in London tells me that filtering only for “marriage” brings up a surprisingly tiny number of women, almost all of whom are also open about their religious faith.
It’s for this reason that a new entrant to the Big Dating arena aims to put marriage at the centre of its project. Keeper describes its raison d’etre as follows: “Other dating apps are one-size-fits-all. We think that’s silly because men and women are fundamentally different… the male limbic system is highly focused on short-term relationships.”
What does Keeper do to compensate for this? It works rather like a traditional matchmaker, but supercharged with 21st-century technology. The app differs from its rivals in several ways – most obviously, while other Big Dating apps typically offer premium features for about £5 a month, Keeper will charge you $250 per match, but only (and this is the important bit) if you’re a man. Women pay nothing. The designers aren’t shy about the fact that the Keeper user experience is entirely different for men and for women. They justify their decision to, for instance, withhold photographs of potential matches until after the $250 payment is received on the basis that “men are visually primed more easily than women for short-term pursuits”. As business plans go, this is certainly a bold one.
But then the makers of Keeper compare their project to the health food movement, initially the preserve of hippies, but now entirely mainstream. “Casual dating apps only satisfy short-term instant gratification, the empty calories of relationships,” they claim on the website. Keeper sees itself as the kale smoothie to Tinder’s chicken McNuggets. Is there potential here for an entirely new form of online matchmaking, one that is orientated more towards the preferences of straight women looking for marriage? Maybe. And given that the gender-neutral efforts of other Big Dating apps have left so many of their users miserable, it’s certainly worth a go.