Swipe right if you are serious

More people on dating apps are looking for serious relationships as opposed to just having a fling

Nearly seven years of swiping on dating apps like Tinder, Bumble and OkCupid led 26-year-old Nigel Sim to the woman he calls "the one".

A match on Tinder in February this year was the authentic connection he had been seeking since 2014.

"I think people around my age have used dating apps for a long time," he says.

"And maybe they're realising it's time to get serious."

In a year racked by losses, isolation and safe distancing, the online dating sphere has seen more singles get serious about forging connections online.

Since the pandemic struck last year, activity on online dating platforms has surged both locally and globally.

Tinder recorded an average 11 per cent more swipes and 42 per cent more matches last year.

In particular, during the circuit breaker period last year, homegrown dating app Paktor saw users stay on the app 10 times longer, compared with before.

MAKING UP FOR LOST TIME

But are online daters just bored, with more time on their hands and swiping for the heck of it?

In May this year, dating app OkCupid found that eight out of 10 (or 84 per cent) of its users are now looking for a steady partner.

And 27 per cent of users had changed their dating preferences from mere flings to serious relationships over the past year.

Ms Lee Jing Lin, co-founder of local dating agency Kopi Date, says she has noticed that among its thousands of members in their early 20s to late 30s, more are now more intentional about dating and making deeper connections.

Kopi Date has seen a 32 per cent month-on-month increase in sign-ups since July last year - a statistic she attributes in part to the reduced stigma of online dating platforms, especially after the lonesome circuit breaker period.

Mr Tommy Lim, 28, who is self-employed and has been a Kopi Date member since May, is one such candidate who hopes to find a relationship online that is for keeps.

He hopes to tie the knot in his early 30s.

He reflects: "It's a time of loss and relationships have definitely taken a hit. But I feel that online dating could really be the way to go for forging romantic connections in the future."

Many singles, like him, still hold fast to personal timelines for marriage and starting a family.

They see the pandemic as "the wasted years", in terms of not being able to get out there and socialise, and are hence using technology to make up for lost time.

Engineer John Michael Estrella Vega, 26, says he sees going online as the "only way" of getting into a serious relationship right now, though he has tempered his expectations of the outcome.

"There will always be a mixture of intentions of people using online dating apps but there definitely feels like there are more people trying to find serious relationships now," he says.

"With fewer chances of social interactions amid the pandemic, people can't use their typical methods of meeting others and are using online apps as a way of getting some sort of normal back."

Ms Jodie Foo, a 23-year-old university student, who met her boyfriend on Coffee Meets Bagel last September, notes more of her peers are hopping online to get back on track, seize the day and find their better halves.

She extols the benefits of the method: "Online platforms allow people to meet others without the pressure of keeping a conversation going.

"If it doesn't work out, it's possible to move on without any feelings attached in the early stages, which makes the process of meeting someone new super efficient."

All say there is a reduced stigma to admitting that one swiped for a mate and found him or her online these days.

Ms Poh Shu Hui, a 29-year-old teacher who met her fiance in 2014 on Tinder, recalls that people were "wary and sceptical" about clicking for a partner back then.

But she says she knew that her "match" was meant to be after one month of texting back and forth.

"He makes me feel safe, is humorous and takes good care of me," she says.

"And seven years later, we are engaged."

Ms Irene Soh, 27, who works in procurement, shares the same sentiment.

She "matched" with engineer Ng Hwee Sheng, 31, on Coffee Meets Bagel in 2017 within days of downloading the app.

The couple got married last year and now have a seven-month-old daughter.

She says: "Things have really come a long way. I do see some of my friends who were once resistant to the idea now using online platforms to meet new people and broaden their connections."

MISMATCHED INTENTIONS

Of course, the path to true love, off and online, is not always smooth.

One downside, says Mr John Shepherd Lim, chief well-being officer of Singapore Counselling Centre, is that online daters often fall prey to "ghosting" behaviours - a sudden withdrawal and silence from the other party when they lose interest, for example - which causes much hurt to those on the receiving end.

It is also often tricky to decipher the other party's true intentions in using dating apps, whether it is just for making friends, casual fun or settling down.

To those hoping to find true love virtually, he offers some advice: "With individuals looking to meet their partners online, boundaries and expectations need to be constantly communicated so that both parties can be respectful of each other's time and emotional resources."

Accounts of online matches with mismatched intentions are a dime a dozen, according to dating app users.

Ms Shafiqa Amira, who met her current boyfriend on Bumble in 2019, recalls a disastrous online dating experience.

The 25-year-old marketing manager says: "I started a conversation with a guy who set his dating preference to 'relationships' on Bumble, only for him to tell me he was actually looking for flings."

"He said it was easier to match girls online like that and started telling me about how he was recently cheated on. I ended up giving him a free therapy session and wasting my time."

In another unexpected turn of events, Mr Desmond (not his real name), a 29-year-old civil servant, remembers going out with someone he met on Coffee Meets Bagel twice before realising he had stepped into an insurance sales pitch.

He has been with his current girlfriend, whom he met on Coffee Meets Bagel, for two years now. First, he made sure to check she was not an insurance agent.

BOUNDARIES AND SEX

Also, because online apps have long been used for casual hook-ups, many daters are also unsure of how to broach the topic of boundaries and sex, despite being keen to discuss it.

This often creates the potential for miscommunication from the get-go.

A recent study by Durex and Coffee Meets Bagel, involving 1,123 Singaporean daters, found that men and women have vastly differing expectations when it comes to dating and sex.

About 40 per cent said they are too uncomfortable to bring up the topic of sex, though more than half (54 per cent) found it important to talk about.

The study also found that women were more keen on discussing boundaries, while men wanted to know how to start talking about sex.

Ms Dawoon Kang, co-founder and chief dating officer of CMB, says: "It's so easy to assume you and your date want the same thing when it comes to sex and intimacy but this often leads to confusion and hurt.

"If you can learn to talk openly about sex with your date, you can talk through just about anything.

Correction note: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of the app Coffee Meets Bagel in one of the paragraphs. We are sorry for the error. 

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 18, 2021, with the headline 'Swipe right if you are serious'. Subscribe