Our own Callie Watts went looking for love on a bunch of new dating apps, and her adventures prove that truth is stranger than (erotic) fiction
I’m a very social person. Usually, if I want to meet a stranger, I go to a bar alone, order a whiskey, and wait for someone to come talk to me. If I like his vibe, we’ll chat and see where it goes. And if I don’t, I’ll just rudely stare at my phone until he goes away.
This old-school method still works pretty well. But I was curious about all the dating apps that had recently taken over my friends’ social lives. Some described the latest generation of apps as “woman friendly,” and I really wanted to know if the guys who used those types of apps would be of a higher quality than random bar dudes. So I used my phone to meet men for four whole months. During that time, the guys I encountered alternately made me want to sew my vagina shut, burn my retinas out, and break my phone. It was a total rollercoaster to say the least, but knowing the whole saga would end up in BUST helped me to persevere.
I began my adventure by doing some Google searches for dating apps whose descriptions involved the terms “Feminist” or “woman friendly,” thinking that these platforms would be the best places to start. I then spent the rest of the day loading my phone up with The Grade (where you rate people), Grouper (group dating—you and two friends meet a potential mate and their two friends), Happn (people you’ve crossed paths with), Coffee Meets Bagel (one match per day), How About We (dating based on activity suggestions), and Hinge (for meeting friends of friends).
When I first signed up for all these apps, I didn’t realize that most of them automatically pull info and photos from Facebook. My Facebook page is a repository of images from my side-gig as a Brooklyn-based performance artist. As a result, all of my dating profile pics were insane snaps that featured me in weird costumes, smeared with fake blood, or hunched atop human pyramids. In one particularly odd selection, I’m passed out topless on a sleeping bag with my hands covering my breasts. Beside me are a pack of smokes, a jar of protective black salt, and an item I’ve described in the caption as “a haunted tumbleweed.”
Getting up to speed with all the apps did not come easily at all. I swiped the wrong way on The Grade for sooooo long. And I forgot to change my location to local, so I ended up chatting for a long time with someone in the Midwest who I will never see. On another app, I didn’t change the age range, so it defaulted to 18 to 85! How are those even dating app ages? One night I had a great convo with someone about fourth-wave feminism, but he was one of the dudes from when I was swiping the wrong way on The Grade, so I wasn’t attracted to him. I liked the look of a few guys who liked me back. But on all these apps, I found myself mostly scrolling through a sea of ripped dudes shined up like wet seals with terrible bangs. Not my type.
After two weeks of swiping through profiles looking for someone to go out with, I finally set something up on Grouper. The app touts itself as female-friendly because instead of meeting up with a stranger alone, users and two of their friends are matched up with another group of three friends, based on questionnaires and Facebook pages. Unfortunately, when I tried to set up one group date for the following week, I accidentally booked five. Grouper’s policy is that if a user bails, there’s a penalty of $100 bucks per cancelled date. Panicked, I hit up every lady I knew to see if anyone could be my emergency wingwoman, and I wrote to every Grouper customer service email I could find. I finally dropped the “I’m writing an article” bomb so they cancelled all the unintended dates and waived the fees. But the thought of paying $400 bucks to not go on four blind dates seriously almost made me chunder.
Before my one remaining Grouper date rolled around, I had my first face-to-face app encounter thanks to Happn, a program where every time you cross paths with another member in real life, their profile shows up on your timeline. The guy I chose kept popping up on my feed because we live in the same neighborhood, and he looked cute, so after some messaging, we met up at a bicycle race after party. In person, my date looked much older and more leathery than in his picture, but he had a casual rugged charm and a great smile, so I gave him a chance. I immediately asked him what kind of maniac would date someone with profile pictures like mine. He replied that I looked like a lot of fun. Fair enough. He brought mad weed, a vaporizer that he’d made himself (very impressive), and a handle of whiskey, so I caught some feels. But he kept pushing me to go back to his house and said he wanted to tie me up. No sir, not on the first date—that’s how you end up locked in someone’s basement for the rest of your life.
It took me a while to get any real traction on the other apps. IRL I’m not picky when it comes to looks (one of my best friends once said I basically donate my vagina to charity). But online, I was looking for my ideal hottie. It’s like, when someone gives you free clothes, you roll with it, but when you’re shopping, you get choosy. After a while, however, I started judging guys based on whether or not I would want to be their friend. And with that criteria, I started making a lot more connections.
It took some schedule juggling, but I finally managed to set up that date on Grouper—the app where you and two friends go out with a potential match and his two friends. My wingladies were my Republican, martini-sippin’ pal Emily, and my tattooed, liberal bestie Lori, who was visiting from her farm upstate. Our dates were three straight-laced professionals—a doctor and two lawyers. Neither myself nor the head of the other group had picked the other as a potential match—the app just slapped us together because whomever else we’d picked wasn’t available that night. We’d both gone to college in Virginia, so I’m guessing that’s how we were matched. The six of us met up at a wine bar in midtown, drank a little, and ate some appetizers. The conversation revolved mostly around how each trio of friends knew each other, but the smell of the three guys’ collective hair gel was a nauseating distraction. I suggested we change venues to my friend’s bar on the Lower East Side, and all of us except Emily made the trip. But the scene was too wild for these dudes—they’d never heard Black Sabbath before in their lives—so they just stayed for one drink and then left. Basically, my squad had very little in common with these guys, even though I tried to bring some variety to the table. None of the gents was old enough for Emily, and they weren’t weird or cool enough for Lori or me.
I gave the Coffee Meets Bagel app a try for a couple of months, but checking it was like taking a daily vitamin. Instead of letting me browse through guys, the app sent me one highly curated match based on my profile per day. You can earn “beans”—a point system that allows you to see more people per day—by buying them or inviting your friends to join. But none of the fellas they sent me struck my fancy, so eventually I stopped using CMB all together.
I was also beginning to tire of The Grade. On that app, users receive “grades” for things like message response rate, and other users are encouraged to grade and assign hashtags that describe you. It doesn’t tell you who these evaluators are, but apparently, they think I’m a #girlboss. The app also shows you how many people like or skip your picture, so you know which profile pictures get the best response. Unfortunately, the snaps of the guys I perused included someone posing with Donald Trump and a dude who had so many back muscles it looked like he had another person inside him—again, not my steez.
These unsavory selections kept me off The Grade for a while, but eventually, I did make plans with a guy on there. Before we met, all he’d wanted to talk about was the functionality of the app. I wondered if he might also be writing an article, or if he was perhaps designing an app himself. I figured I’d meet him for a drink to sniff him out, and bingo—he was totally an app developer! Unfortunately, that was the only interesting thing about him. Other than that, he was the human equivalent of the color beige.
The next night, I went on a How About We date. That’s the app that matches people up based on what kinds of dates they’d like to go on, and I’d taken a guy up on his suggestion to meet for a night of board games at a local bar. He seemed like he could be interesting—a classical music composer, he described himself as a polymath and his profile was peppered with jokes, so I figured he would at least bring interesting conversation to the table. We had a couple of shots and then went to his house to blaze. I had to go meet a friend at my house afterward, so my date invited himself over. He claimed to be in an open relationship—which may be true?—and we made out a little in the hallway. But neither my heart nor my vagina was really in it.
I’m usually pretty casual, but I figured I’d shake it up for my next date with a guy from Hinge (the app that hooks you up with friends of friends), so I took a shower and wore a dress! We had six mutual friends and he was smiling or laughing in all of his pictures, which I took as a great sign. He also had a mustache that I didn’t hate. When we met up at a bar, he seemed relaxed and was very easy to talk to. We were having an awesome conversation when a former circus sideshow performer whose band had been playing that night started walking around doing weird carnie tricks for the bar’s patrons. He came over and asked me if I wanted to hammer a nail into his dick hole. (I guess I have one of those faces?) I said sure, so he pulled his dong out, positioned the nail in the hole, and I got to tapping. I then pulled the nail out with my teeth as per his instructions. (But my lips did not touch his dick tip, let that be known). To his credit, my date didn’t even flinch. He even got some awesome pics of the ordeal which he emailed me the next day.
A month later, I got together with a guy off Happn (the app that uses GPS to show you singles you cross paths with). We met up at a bar around the corner from his house and had hot toddies. He looked like Harry Potter, right down to the glasses, and was real sweet and shy. We did a lot of eye gazing, and he said lots of romantic things. He also said I was out of his league, which gave me pause. It’s a weird compliment that makes you instantly question someone’s self worth, and that isn’t really appealing. But our conversation was rad and he was very witty when we weren’t making out. He said he wanted to cuddle and I was totally DTC. But when we got back to my house, my drunk ass immediately got naked, so I guess I was DTF instead.
I had to reschedule a date with another guy from Hinge (the friends-of-friends app) because I was all flu-ed up. But once I got better, I invited him to a screening of a 1967 Soviet horror movie called Viy, and he replied with, “That sounds awesome!” Two emoticon thumbs up. I’d brought a change of clothes to work but I didn’t bother to put them on. Instead, I just wore my “World’s Best Grandpa” hoodie and the jeans I’d spilled onion soup on earlier that day. We went to a dive bar after the film and he told me my eyes were really deep, like the ocean. I told him I would kiss him if I wasn’t sick, and he went in for a sick smooch anyway. A couple of days later, he came over to my place and we played with toy keyboards in my room. He found a green gown in my pile of clothes and asked me to put it on, then said I looked like one of the girls at the prom that made Carrie kill everyone. I knew what he meant—one of the cool girls. It was the weirdest, cutest compliment. He had a thick Chilean accent and a lisp, so basically, he could’ve told me I looked like a bucket of pig’s blood and I would have thought it was dreamy. He slipped out in the morning blowing me kisses. Later, my roommate and my friend who lives upstairs informed me that we’d woken them up at 4 a.m. with our giggling.
Around this time, I downloaded a few more possibly lady-friendly apps just to make sure I’d covered all my bases. Most were so new no one was on them yet, with the exception of LULU, an app like Happn that shows you people nearby. By the time I got home from work after downloading it, I had to turn LULU’s alerts off because there were so many. I messaged with someone the next day and he sent a link to his “private pics.” I clicked the link and bam! Dicks popped out at me like a can of fake worms. And like one does when one opens a can of dick worms at work, I screamed out loud at my desk. I am all about dicks in my inbox, but I prefer a heads up first. He asked to see my private pics, and I didn’t think I had any, but apparently I did. The app had found the pic of me asleep with my hands over my boobs and made it my “private photo.” What could be worse than being ambushed by bush? Well, this dumb app also shows your GPS location down to the block, including the last time you crossed paths with other users. Oh, hell to the no. I don’t need some thirsty dudes knowing what time I am always on a specific block. I deleted the app and then realized I needed to delete my profile, too, because I was scared it would still track me.
That was the end of the line for my article research. When all was said and done, I had absolutely no luck on Coffee Meets Bagel and my dates on The Grade, Grouper, and How About We didn’t make me want to keep using those apps. I may actually keep Hinge and Happn on my phone for funsies, but I still think the best method for me is sippin’ solo on a whiskey. Ultimately, a woman-friendly dating app is an awesome idea, but a good experience can only be determined by the people using it.
I’ve hung out with the How About We Play Board Games guy and the Wants To Tie Me Up guy from Happn several times since our first dates, but they are both in the friend zone. Actually, Tie Me Up guy said I was his only friend who’s a girl, and I told him he would probably have more if he didn’t ask to tie them up during their first conversation. The Dick Nail Date guy from Hinge and I were casually texting, but he’s off the sauce so he’s not going out much. I also had plans to hang with the Harry Potter Lookalike from Happn, but that was before the lil’ Chilean QT with the lisp from Hinge asked me out a few more times. Just recently, he asked me to change my relationship status on Facebook from “Single” to “In a Relationship,” and I realized I was cool with that, too. So I guess there is something to be said for the app life after all.
By Callie Watts
Illustrated by Rosena Fung
This article originally appeared in the June/July 2016 print edition of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today!
More from BUST
How To Online Date Like A Champ
Swipe This! This Research Finds The Best Dating App For Long-Term Lovin'
Companion: The App That All Women Need To Download Right Away