At an event celebrating the launch of the new Facebook Dating app, actor Sarah Hyland and her fiancé Wells Adams, of Bachelorette and Bachelor in Paradise fame, were happy to talk about finding love online. The newly engaged couple didn’t meet on a dating app, but they did first connect on Instagram and Twitter, making them the slightly unconventional millennial model for using the internet to find love. Though almost 40% of heterosexual couples meet online today, the concept is still slightly taboo—in my experience, while everyone I know is open about the fact that they use dating apps regularly, it still feels like there’s currency in how you met your significant other. (An in-person meet-cute story seems more valuable than a match online.) When I talk to friends who tell me they’ve met their partners through apps, there’s almost always a twinge of irony. It’s as if finding The One online will ceaselessly be paired with a self-deprecating cackle of, “Can you believe it?!”
“Listen,” Adams says to me while discussing the state of dating today at the launch event. “Everyone that goes on the Bachelor, Bachelorette, Bachelor in Paradise, for all intents and purposes have been dating the wrong people their entire lives.”
“Were you one of those people?” I ask.
“Yes,” Adams says. “I think everyone has this perceived ‘type,’ but it hasn’t worked for them and they continue to fail. These shows, especially the one that I’m on, show that if you open your heart to other people who wouldn’t be your ‘type,’ you can have long-lasting, beautiful relationships.” Adams then references Evan Bass and Carly Waddell, who met on season three of Bachelor in Paradise and are now married and pregnant with their second child. “Carly was like, ‘I would never date this guy,’ and now she’s pregnant again. I think it shows that you can find love anywhere.”
“I think what it says about society is that people want more options,” Hyland interjects. “We don’t want to be told what to do, we want to be able to make our own decisions for ourselves and be able to have the option of doing so.”
Facebook Dating is just another one of those options. After two years of product design and planning, the app officially launched yesterday, existing inside of Facebook’s mobile app rather than as a separate app, though the registration process requires users to opt-in and create a separate dating profile. At that point, it functions similarly to other dating apps: Users answer questions about themselves, upload photos, and can link directly to their Instagram account. The algorithm suggests people based on a user’s preset preferences along with interests and events they’ve attended or plan to attend, as indicated on Facebook. There is no matching—you just like or comment on someone’s profile to let them know you’re interested. And not to worry: The algorithm prevents any of your Facebook friends from showing up in your Dating feed.
“What Facebook Dating essentially means is that there’s a singles’ room inside of every Facebook group,” Nathan Sharp, the product manager behind Facebook Dating, told the crowd at yesterday’s launch event. “It also means that if you’re going to Governor’s Ball in 2020, you can start to match with people before you even go to that event. Events are particularly interesting in the dating context because past events represent missed connections, and future events represent ready-made dates.”
While Facebook Dating contains many of the best features of other dating apps, it has a few distinct qualities: The Secret Crush function lets users select up to nine Facebook or Instagram profiles they follow. If the crush puts you on their list too, it’s a match. And if you don’t match, it’s as if nothing happened at all—no one will ever know you entered their name, and everyone is safe. Whereas dating apps largely aim to connect us with strangers, Secret Crush makes being vulnerable with people you already know all the more easy.
Then, by the end of the year, Facebook will roll out the ability to share Instagram and Facebook Stories to Dating, allowing dating profiles to live and breathe in a manner less like a dating app and more like any other social media profile. Their goal is to make the dating app profile less static and curated, though really what it’s doing is meshing purposes of both mediums: Facebook Dating enables you to slide into someone’s DMs, but with the reassurance that it’s exactly what they’d want you to do.
Integrating Facebook and Instagram into dating apps isn’t that new. Hinge originally launched in 2013 on the premise that you would only be introduced to people with whom you have mutual friends on Facebook, though it’s since shifted away from that model. Tinder and Bumble originally required users to connect their Facebook accounts as a means of verification, and other apps also allow users to embed Instagram accounts within their profiles. In many ways, it’s surprising that Facebook didn’t officially enter the online dating market sooner as it laid the foundation for the ways millennials communicate on the Internet: how we flirt, how we express interest, how we show approval. In that respect, it’s possible that the launch of Facebook Dating will make a previously unspoken truth less taboo: We are finally admitting that one of the major uses of social media is to look at people we’re attracted to.
Through dating apps, we theoretically have the opportunity to try things outside of our traditional watering holes, both physical and metaphorical, if we want to take it. But at the same time, apps make it easier than ever to filter for your ‘type,’ if not officially (through the likes of The League and Raya, which accept members based on career and education level), then by the prominent placement of key personal history facts at the top of someone’s profile. You can make a quick judgment about someone, swipe left, and move on.
The hope, it seems, is that Facebook Dating will mitigate that. “That’s what I think is so great about the Facebook app,” Hyland says. “It could be someone you would never think to look twice at but they’re interested in all of the same things as you, and you’re kind of forced to take a second look at a person in a way you wouldn’t have before.”
I’d imagine that dating is and always has been an area in which people feel they have the least control. In order for it to be healthy and rewarding, it needs to be reciprocal. Love is inherently a two-way street and not a one-man job. But will something like Facebook Dating, which aims to breathe real life (or a curated social media-ready version of your real life, at least) into your dating app profile, make finding human connection online more or less human? Only time will tell.