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"We're Off the Apps," Young Singles Look for Connection Off of Their Phones

THOMAS COPELAND, HOST: There’s data and then there’s dating. And then there’s data on the dating. Specifically, data that shows the number of people using mobile dating apps is down by almost 14% this year. So what are they doing instead? We sent Isabelle Teare to find out the ways young, single New Yorkers are connecting – off of their phones.

ISABELLE TEARE, BYLINE: Earlier this year, the dating app Tinder launched its first ever global brand campaign. You’ve probably seen the ads – there are posters all over the subways. And then there are the commercials.

In one, a couple is sitting facing each other in a green leather booth. They’re in this super hip bar with striped wallpaper and dim lighting.

COMMERCIAL AUDIO: Some Tinder dates turn into one night stands.

TEARE: Then the girl leans in to kiss the guy, and the scene suddenly changes. It’s the same couple, but now they’re in a furniture store. Shopping.

COMMERCIAL AUDIO: But some turn into two night stands.

TEARE: Tinder is calling its campaign “It Starts With A Swipe.” They’re poking fun at their reputation as being the dating app for casual sex. It’s clever. And Tinder needs to be clever right now if it wants to stay relevant. The number of people downloading the app has declined for the last three years in a row.

But this downward trend isn’t unique to Tinder. In general, dating apps are getting… dumped. Data shows that American usage of dating apps has declined by almost 14% since last year. And it looks like women are leading this charge. A report from SensorTower shows that the top dating apps in the US – like Tinder, Bumble and Hinge – all saw a year-over-year decrease in the number of female user downloads. Which analysts say is bad news for the apps long term.

But it’s good news for 26-year-old Victoria Van Ness.

VICTORIA VAN NESS: Hi, my name is Victoria Van Ness. I am the founder of Ambyr, a members only social club for eligible singles in New York City.

TEARE: Van Ness founded Ambyr as a way to get young people back to connecting with each other in person. If you go to the Ambyr website, the first thing you’ll see on the home page, aside from a photo of two couples making out, are the words “We’re off the apps.” In capital letters.

VAN NESS: I hear so many of my girlfriends especially who say that they want to meet someone in person and they just can't, they don't know how. You know? It’s just too much.

TEARE: You have to apply to be an Ambyr member. And if you’re accepted, then you’ll be invited to their different events. In many ways, Van Ness simply reinvented the wheel – speed dating and mixers. But she made it cool again. Something exclusive. Where a singles mixer is known as a “Slow Burn” party. And one of those meditation sound bowls is used to signal the end of your speed date. Which, by the way, is happening in some sexy cocktail lounge.

Only when it comes to what Van Ness is looking for, it isn’t something her business provides. She’s still hoping for something to happen totally… organically.

VAN NESS: I'm kind of waiting for the time that, like, I'm in the whole foods and the guy drops in orange. And I'm like, Oh, here's your orange. And then it's just the best cutest meet cute ever. But the thing is I haven’t really been dropping the oranges, you know what I mean?

TEARE: She means she’s not really allowing for that kind of moment to happen. Van Ness is focused on growing her business. So she hasn’t exactly been lingering in the fruit section of her Williamsburg Whole Foods.

Coincidentally, Paulina Rosario is also hoping a type of fruit will spark her next relationship. Only Rosario’s fruit will be a pear. She bought the viral pear ring – a bright turquoise ring made out of rubber. It’s like the opposite of a wedding ring. Meant to signal to the whole world that you’re single and would like to be approached, asked out.

PAULINA ROSARIO: I was born and raised in Mexico City. So for me, I came from a different background, and I really enjoy this interaction with more organic, which I think that's what is this ring is going to give me.

TEARE: There’s just one problem.


Have you seen anyone using the pear ring in person yet?

ROSARIO: I haven’t. Not yet.


Rosario is in her mid-thirties. And she found out about the pear ring on a Facebook group called “Are We Dating The Same Guy?” Where women post photos of men they’ve met through dating apps to make sure they aren’t about to go on a date with another woman’s boyfriend or partner. Or a crazy serial killer. She’s pretty over the apps.

So, even though she hasn’t met anyone yet, Paulina Rosario is sticking with the pear ring.

ROSARIO: I would love for a guy to come and say hi, good morning. I will be able to see that, you know, his face. What he's, how he's talking to me, the tone of his voice. All those kinds of things are giving you more information, you know, so you can grab more information about if you want to go out with a person.

TEARE: Gathering information about dates wasn’t the problem for Vivian O’Brien. Her problem was that the guys she was meeting on apps had no interests.

VIVIAN O’BRIEN: There was just kind of a deluge of people, none of whom really knew what they were looking for And it had just kind of felt like their phones had become their hobby.

TEARE: This freaked O’Brien out. So she dumped the dating apps. And adopted a meeting in real life strategy. She started dating hobbies, instead of people.

O’BRIEN: Trapeze class, blacksmithing class, pottery class – love pottery. Wine tastings, rock climbing was really fun. Gardening, cycling, not a big runner. That one was quickly checked off.

TEARE: Like speed dating through activities?

O’BRIEN: Yeah, 100%. Way more fun.


And… it worked. She met her now-boyfriend through a group that does weekend camping excursions outside of the city.

O’BRIEN: We were in the same car driving to this trip. And I was sitting in the backseat and he was driving. We kept kind of what I thought was, you know, nice, sexy eye contact, making sexy eye contact through the rear rearview mirror.

TEARE: Later that night she helped him cook dinner for the whole camping group. They’ve been together ever since. Which is encouraging news for someone like Garrett Kuhlman. Kuhlman is 32, single and a member of Ambyr, the singles social club from earlier. He’s also quit dating apps.

GARRETT KUHLMAN: The amount of energy you're spending in your phone and time on your phone is not the the effort is not worth what's coming from it.

TEARE: Like Vivian O’Brien, he saves his energy – and his eye contact – for other spaces.

KUHLMAN: I will say running on the West Side Highway, if you really want to make some scandalous eye contact, that's the place you want to be.

TEARE: Eager to witness this scandalous eye contact strategy in action, I made plans to meet Kuhlman on the West Side Highway. But, he stood me up.

I guess some things about dating never change.

Isabelle Teare, Columbia Radio News.


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