Earlier this summer, I was transcribing interviews in a coffee shop when an attractive woman walked in and caught my attention. It was hot that day, and she ordered an iced tea and sat down with a book at an adjacent table. An hour passed, and I’d barely transcribed a word because I’d been too busy wondering whether the attraction was mutual or if she was even single. Eventually, I walked over to her and asked for her name, fumbled my way through a compliment, and gave her my number.
In the age of Tinder, this kind of boldness seems over-the-top and, frankly, unnecessary. Why risk the terror of an awkward IRL conversation when you can survey an unlimited catalogue of potential partners from the safety of your phone? But I haven’t been able to rely on dating apps to meet new people ever since I deactivated my Facebook account years ago. That’s because Tinder, Bumble, Coffee Meets Bagel, and more require their users to have a Facebook login for access.
I’m part of the 21 percent of American adults who use the internet but not Facebook, according to the Pew Research Center. That number also includes Bryce Monaco, a sophomore at the University of Nevada, Reno, who deactivated his Facebook account more than five years ago and has no interest in returning to the service.
“I don't think my love life has been too great, but I think a lot of that is my fault,” said Monaco. He has trouble meeting people because of his shyness, and he thinks Tinder could fix that by allowing him to get to know someone simply through texting. At one point, he considered making a throwaway Facebook account just so he could try dating apps, but he thinks an account with little activity and few friends might look suspicious to potential partners.
These apps do have good reasons for requiring their users to have a Facebook account. Facebook’s real name policy allows dating apps to verify identities and pull profile information that otherwise would have to be entered manually (age, email address, education, employment history, etc.). “If you are trying to onboard lots of people quickly, then perhaps requiring Facebook is a good idea,” David Evans, the editor of Online Dating Insider, told me. He explained that the Facebook requirement gives the apps access to a user’s social network to help them find matches based on mutual friends and common interests.
“I don't think my love life has been too great, but I think a lot of that is my fault.”
A few months ago I emailed Tinder’s customer support to ask if there was a workaround. A representative from the company told me it wasn’t possible and that their Facebook requirement is intended to “create the simplest experience for everyone” by providing a single-button sign-up. Meanwhile, Dawoon Kang, a co-founder of Coffee Meets Bagel, told me that their dating app hasn’t added an alternative sign-up process because there are “more urgent issues” to address.
One of the reasons dating apps have become the defacto method for meeting new people is because they remove uncertainty. Unlike my experience in the coffee shop, on Tinder you don’t need to fret over whether someone finds you attractive before approaching them. Swipe right long enough and the double-opt-in feature will eventually pair you with someone who’s interested in you on some level. That alone is enticing enough to make some Facebook expats boomerang back.
Jo Stapley, 29, reactivated her Facebook account earlier this year for one reason only: She wanted to try Bumble. Stapley, a children’s bookseller in London, told me it felt “unfair” that Facebook was required to sign up.
She understands that Bumble pulls information from Facebook, but “it wouldn’t have been a hassle to fill it in myself, and uploading photos is easy,” she said. She’s decided the trade-off is worth it in order to increase her chances of finding a long-term relationship. “It’s harder to meet people offline, as most people just tend to be after one-night stands,” she said.
Anyone who doesn’t have a Facebook account but wants to use dating apps can follow Stapley’s lead. But it’s a frustrating barrier that can be doubly off-putting to people who have consciously decided to avoid the social network.
Shaunna East, 26, doesn't have a lot of time for dating. She’s a single mother and believes Tinder offers her the best chance to meet someone on her own schedule. She uses Snapchat and Twitter, but she deactivated her Facebook account two years ago and doesn’t want to go back. “Once you’re on it, it’s too easy to add people and get revolved around that world,” she said.
The Facebook requirement meant that Tinder, which is what most of her friends use, was out. Instead, she tried Match.com, which lets users sign in with an email address. (Tinder and Match.com are both owned by the same company, IAC.) But she told me she hasn’t found a date through the site and feels like she’s missing out on Tinder, the most popular app by far, according to SurveyMonkey.
That may change, however, as younger users who are less active on Facebook start using dating apps. That could be why Bumble, the only major dating app with a younger userbase than Tinder, will be “non-Facebook user login friendly” by the end of the year, according to a representative from the company. And if Tinder and others follow suit, the only thing you’ll still literally “need” Facebook for is remembering your friends’ upcoming birthdays.
I ended up hearing back from the woman from the coffee shop when she texted me later that day. We went out a few times, and I was surprised to discover that she didn’t have a Facebook account either. I’d love to say that our mutual disdain for Zuckerberg’s omnipresent empire helped us to find true love, but eventually things fizzled. Now I’m back to noticing strangers and wondering whether the feeling is mutual.
If only there were an app for that.