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Women no longer have to make the first move on Bumble. Will it make the app better?

Women no longer have to make the first move on Bumble, the dating app that was launched in 2014 with the goal of putting more power in the hands of women.
Nikos Pekiaridis
Getty Images
Women no longer have to make the first move on Bumble, the dating app that was launched in 2014 with the goal of putting more power in the hands of women.

For women who date men, making the first move on a dating app can be empowering, but having to do it can be a burden.

Now, they don't have to — at least on Bumble, the dating app that built its brand on letting women message first.

Women can now add prompts to their profiles for men to respond to. For same-sex and nonbinary users, either person can set and respond to these prompts, called Opening Moves.

Bumble's change comes at a difficult financial period for the company and at a time when people are breaking up with dating apps — a phenomenon that has been called dating-app fatigue.

"Dating today just feels so overwhelming," said Damona Hoffman, an online dating coach and author of the book, F the Fairytale.

"It feels like it takes so much effort and a lot of times the effort doesn't necessarily result in dates or connections," Hoffman told NPR's Morning Edition.

Through sessions with her clients as well as conversations on her Dates and Mates podcast, Hoffman has noticed that many people on dating apps are not serious about finding romantic partners.

"It's basically another social network. People are using them just to chat," she said, noting that many of her clients feel stuck in an endless messaging thread. "On top of that, ghosting, fake profiles and scammers are at an all time high."

Hoffman also says users have grown frustrated with dating apps in recent years as formerly free features are now behind a paywall.

Bumble's new direction

Opening Moves is a big change for the app that was launched with the goal of standing out from competitors by allowing women to message first.

The change, part of the company's rebrand, also follows a consistent drop in the app's stock prices. Today, individual shares are down more than 80% compared to when the company went public in 2021.

In 2014, Whitney Wolfe Herd launched Bumble following a tumultuous departure from Tinder, which she also helped launch. A string of bad relationships, one of which involving a sexual harassment lawsuit against one of Tinder's co-founders (later settled), moved her to build a platform that put more power in the hands of women.

"But the unintended result of that was that women started to feel burdened by having to think of what to say, having to always keep the conversation going," Hoffman said.

Some women have had mixed reactions to Opening Moves so far.

Amanda Halprin, 30, is a freelance editor in Reston, Va. She says she feels "trapped" in the cycle of dating apps. To her, the cycle looks like matching with someone, going out with them, running out of things to talk about, and eventually matching with someone new. Repeating that process over and over can get frustrating to the point of deleting the app.

"I was really disappointed with the Bumble update because their marketing campaign was so interesting," Halprin said. "It seemed like they were promising something that had never been done before on dating apps, which got me excited because dating apps have gotten so stale recently."

Ariana Nathani, 27, founded a New York City-based media and events company focused on creating in-person connections. She uses dating apps everyday and has used Bumble on and off since the app launched. She said Opening Moves feels "regressive" in theory but useful in practice.

"I do think it is a sharp decline from what [Bumble] built their platform on," Nathani said. "But selfishly, as a user, I do like that it opens up more opportunities for conversation."

Although the speed and volume of initial conversation may increase as a result of Opening Moves, dating coach Hoffman has concerns about the quality of conversations that stem from prompts.

"If it's a generic question that anyone can answer, you're probably going to get more generic responses," Hoffman said. "And it's not going to fix the problem of lack of connection."

When asked about the potential for generic responses, a Bumble spokesperson told NPR in an email that with this update, "women have more choice in how they make the first move" — by either selecting a prompt or writing their own.

Pursuing versus being pursued

There's a lot of power in making the first move, according to Elizabeth Bruch, an Associate Professor at the University of Michigan who has studied online dating for over a decade.

Game theorists have shown that in heterosexual dating — the partner who pursues a crush is likely to end up happier than the partner who is pursued.

"When you make the first move, you get basically unrestricted access to anyone in the dating market," Bruch said, "Whereas if you're in the position to only accept and reject, your choices are conditional on the choices of the other party."

But in practice, it doesn't always lead to a connection. Bruch says that for straight couples — dating roles run deep.

"There's an expectation that men make the first move: they initiate dates, they initiate sex, they propose marriage," Bruch said. "And there's evidence that women are penalized when they get into this role because it's not normative."

Regardless of who's making the first move — dating app users can struggle moving the conversation forward and meeting up with matches. Hoffman's solution to that is something she calls "dating hygiene."

"People being more organized, not engaging in go-nowhere conversations, tightening up their search filters and being more specific about their dating life, rather than being more generic and just seeing whatever comes in the door," she said.

If you're in the trenches of dating apps, here's a practical tip:

"The format I have for my clients is comment plus question," Hoffman said. "You're commenting on something specific in their profile and then you're asking a question to follow up."

It won't guarantee love, but might lead to a deeper conversation — deeper, she thinks, than a conversation that starts from a prompt.

The radio version of this story was edited by Ashley Westerman and the digital version was edited by Obed Manuel.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Claire Murashima
Claire Murashima is a production assistant on Morning Edition and Up First. Before that, she worked on How I Built This, NPR's Team Atlas and Michigan Radio. She graduated from Calvin University.