We can’t side-step the awkward conversation anymore. We’ve evolved into a fast-paced, social media-driven world that has created a very real problem with dating and an overall lack of long-lasting fulfilling human connection, especially for Black women. To address this complex challenge, some dating apps have gone niche. Niche dating apps allow users with specific preferences to narrow down their choices from the start to help find that special someone. This trend sounds great, right? Except these niche apps are not designed with the Black woman in mind. Sorry, BLK! A mission to promote #Blacklove is not quite the same as a mission to elevate #BlackWomen and cater a service to their needs.
While Black women are the most educated demographic in the US, they receive the least amount of likes and messages on dating apps and are often racially profiled, even fetishized, when someone does actually message them. We don’t get it. We know Black women are dope and deserve better.
A lot of this problem stems from the fact that the language that dating apps are currently built on is antiquated, inefficient, and designed by (mostly white) men with no consideration for Black women’s specific needs, desires, and demographic. It also comes with a host of unintended side effects that we recognize are not so great for your mental health and actually work against our basic human instincts. If we are going to change the online dating game for Black women and address the trauma that comes with putting ourselves out there virtually, we’ve got to change the process fundamentally. We’ve got to build a product from the ground up that considers the needs of Black women every step of the way.
Current Dating Climate
Dating as a Black woman is hard, online dating as a Black woman is harder, but online dating as a Black woman in a pandemic takes the cake! In talking to Black women, listening to their dating frustrations, and creating a solution to their problems, we heard several themes over and over again. “Dating apps are inefficient.” “I’m tired of being catfished.” “I’m not compatible with most of my matches on a basic level.” “My time is valuable, I need to be able to prioritize who I meet.”
We get it. Even in the midst of a pandemic, Black women are busier than ever professionally and personally. We’re adapting to the fact that real-life interaction has temporarily (perhaps permanently) given way to virtual relationships, and now more than ever we need our virtual interactions to be meaningful. While we’ve taken a nuanced and holistic approach to building a dating app that works for Black women, from vetting every member to ensure our community is filled with the highest-quality singles to designing a proprietary matching algorithm that creates truly compatible matches, we knew we had to first address the elephant in the room when it comes to how singles engage on dating apps. How many of you have someone in your dating app inbox that you’ve been texting for a lot longer than you probably should with nothing more than a semi-promised idea of someday meeting up in person? It’s okay to raise your hand. While we all know texting is superficial, confusing, and doesn’t allow for vulnerability, it is still the predominant way new relationships are formed on dating apps.
One of the ways dating apps have tried to improve the quality of virtual connection is by adding video. As a dating app with video as a core component, we agree that interacting with someone in a dynamic format is way better than just relying on photos and texting to gauge chemistry and compatibility. The problem is, however, that most dating apps have thoughtlessly added video as an option, without considering the best way to integrate video to increase healthy engagement between matches. We’ve found that when video is just added as a feature or an option it often goes unused. Singles opt instead to continue relying on texting. It’s convenient and familiar. It’s important that you ditch the texting safety blanket because texting provides the illusion of getting to know someone or “dating,” while in reality you’re exerting the least amount of effort. In order to form meaningful connections, however, you have to make an emotional and mental investment, In creating CarpeDM, a dating app intentionally designed to create lasting connections for Black women, we knew video was key. We also knew it was just as important how we integrated video as it was that we integrated video.
Video Introductions and Emotional Evolution
Before the digital dating era, you had to meet a romantic interest in real life. Today, a video introduction is the closest simulation of an in-person connection. While technically still digital, it mimics and offers all of the biological responses that come with meeting a person in real life for the first time. In a pandemic, it gives matches a chance to date meaningfully, while social distancing, to see if there’s a real connection that warrants meeting in person.
For apps like Bumble and Hinge that have added a video feature, but whose users still typically text first, this biomimicry is severely undermined and watered down because video communication is not their first interaction. Instead, video is forced to compete with a host of other communication methods. However, to be effective, video cannot happen after the fact. It needs to be the first meaningful communication between matches. That’s why we’ve taken a video-first approach; meaning in lieu of texting, our members must have a video date within 72 hours of matching. In other dating apps, by the time you’ve agreed to a video chat, the exchange of texts and photos leading up has created a (false but) fully realized person in your head who is likely blurred by subconscious expectations and assumptions. We’re sure this has happened to you before; you finally meet someone face-to-face you’ve been messaging for weeks, and your quick-witted text banter dissecting the latest episode of #Insecure turns into dry, forced conversation. You’re immediately left wondering why you don’t actually like the person as much as you thought you would. There’s psychology at play.
In his 1872 work The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, Charles Darwin outlines how our modern emotional responses can be linked to primitive survival just as much as our physical traits. In layman’s terms, when you meet someone new, whether we run or stay (like or pass) is determined in seconds by biochemical responses — somewhere in between “gut reaction” and subconscious attraction. This primal fight-or-flight instinct doesn’t exist in the realm of texting and, while online dating is not as serious as basic human survival (although some would disagree), the feeling you take away from your first video chat will answer the age-old question: should I stay or should I go?
In addition to the other dating pitfalls that video chatting helps solve (buh-bye catfish), video chatting as a means of introduction is working with your deep evolutionary desire to know you’re comfortable and compatible with the other person. That they mean you no harm and that you can be 100% your authentic self with them. Ladies, we all know safety is eve-ry-thing when it comes to online dating. So, let’s stop working against our evolution, psychology, and biology when online dating and say hello face-to-face with a video chat first. Your body, heart, and mind will take care of the rest.