Finding love on a dating app is basically online shopping, where you can filter people by attributes as if they were products: age, height, weight, education, religion, politics, ethnicity. The only difference is that PayPal’s buyers protection doesn’t cover Tinder – you can’t get refunds for time and money wasted on a bad date.
It is an obvious and ugly truth that certain types of people are more desirable than others on the dating market. I’ve delved into sociological research to identify which people are at an advantage and disadvantage on dating apps. What is considered hot or not is shaped by social conditioning and disturbingly, racism. This is not to say that those at the top of the desirability hierarchy are luckier in love, nor is it to say that those who rank lower have no chances at love or are undeserving of love. I’m going to examine the social forces that influence desire and challenge conventional definitions of what is considered attractive.
Please note this research has mostly been derived from studies of heterosexuals in the West, but I have included a few facts on the queer community. This is also not a reflection on what I consider attractive. I think most of these findings are detestable.
TOP OF THE DESIRABILITY HIERARCHY
No shit! Physical appearance has the biggest influence on whether someone swipes left or right on a profile. On OKCupid, hot people receive more messages overall. A survey of nearly 28,000 heterosexual Americans aged 18-75 indicated that for 92% of men and 84% of women, physical attractiveness was a desirable/essential trait in a long-term partner. But of course, there’s a difference in what we want and can’t have, and attractiveness is subjective. There would be more single people if everyone was holding out for Jake Gyllenhaal like I am.
According to the book Date-economics, there are more educated women than men in Western countries. If you are an educated man, the odds are stacked in your favour since online daters are more likely to contact someone with the same education level. A study by Ghent University revealed straight men with a Masters received nearly twice as many likes compared to men with a Bachelor degree on Tinder. Does this mean straight men with PhDs are the rock stars of educated men? Do women throw panties at them?
Data from OkCupid and Facebook’s now defunct dating app, Are You Interested, shows that white men are preferred by women of all races except for black women. This is a result of colonialism, internalised racism, systemic racism and the media. From the hero to the romantic interest, Hollywood has traditionally cast white men in leading roles and reduced people of colour to negative stereotypes. Media plays a significant part in influencing opinions on immigrants and people of colour.
If you have a preference for white men, think you “can’t help who you’re attracted to” and don’t think racism plays a part in shaping desire, please read this advice column in the Los Angeles Times.
The above mentioned Facebook and OkCupid studies indicated that Asian women are more popular than women of other ethnicities. As an Asian women, this makes me sick. Though I receive a lot of likes on the dating apps (well, I did before I turned 36), they are mostly from men who are into Asians, expecting me to be a hypersexualised and submissive stereotype. Whether I’m 22 or 32, the type of men who like me has been consistent: bogans who went to Thailand for a sex holiday once or pasty conservatives who taught English in Japan.
Right wing men are particularly fond of Asians because they think we have not yet been “corrupted” by feminism. To them, Asian women are biologically wired to please men. We’ll provide blow jobs on command and never talk back, even when they say shit like “Storming Congress was a great idea.” We’re like a blow up doll with a pulse.
OkCupid data shows that women in their early 20s are the most popular and men of any age tend to message younger women. Men search for disproportionately younger women the older they get. Okay, thanks Captain Obvious.
Tall (white) men
A lot of straight men over 6ft only have this line on their profile:
“I’m (height) because apparently that matters.”
Scientific research confirms that straight women are more attracted to taller men. As such, it is common for men to lie about their height in their profiles.The preference for taller men evolved from caveman days when women sought bigger men to protect their family and hunt for food. Despite progress in gender equality over the last few decades, culture has upheld the norm that a man should be taller than his female partner. It’s reflective of a patriarchal belief that men should be more dominant than women. If you consider yourself a feminist but insist on dating taller men, question where this preference has evolved from. Heightism in the gay male dating world is just as prevalent. The preference for taller men only serves to reinforce toxic masculinity.
Though tall men are at an advantage on dating apps, it may only be the case for white men. Research shows that tall black men are perceived as threatening. My Asian friend Wayne is over 6ft and used to be a model, yet does not receive anywhere near as many likes as his much shorter and less conventionally attractive white friend Martin.
BOTTOM OF THE DESIREABIILTY HIERARCHY
Due to the historical emasculation of Asian male immigrants in the United States, social constructs of masculinity in Western culture and unflattering portrayals of Asian men in media, data from dating apps shows that Asian men are sadly less popular than men of other ethnicities. Racism towards Asian men is especially harsh on gay dating apps, where it is common for men to write “no Asians” in their profiles.
To quote a Yale University paper on Asian American men in romantic dating markets, “gendered racial hierarchies of desirability are as socially constructed as other racial hierarchies.” If you think racism is abhorrent yet have a blanket rule against dating Asian men, question your biases. Asian men must have some desirable qualities to have reached the stage where we are the largest race on the planet.
On the stereotype that Asian men have small dicks, comedian Ronny Chieng asked who went around measuring every single dick to come to that conclusion.
Here are some Asian hotties. Go watch a Wong Kar Wai film for fucks sake so you can thirst over Tony Leung like the rest of us.
Racism against black people is as rife on the dating apps as it is in real life. According to the book The Dating Divide, black people receive the least number of swipes from white people on dating apps. OkCupid data indicated that black women were at the bottom of the list of ethnicities preferred by men. Black women are more likely to receive sexualised or abusive messages on dating apps, congruent with the fact that black women are the most abused group online overall. Centuries long cultural biases and structural racism have shaped the perception that black people are unsuitable for relationships: women are stereotyped as sexually aggressive “Jezebels” and black men are stereotyped as hypersexualised and dangerous.
The ethnicity filter is unfortunately still a feature on the majority of dating apps, including Hinge and OkCupid. Grindr removed its ethnicity filter in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020. This article makes a good argument for banning dating app users who clearly discriminate by race. Most in society would agree that racial segregation in any form is unacceptable, yet dating app users act like the civil rights movement never existed.
The dating apps are not a pleasant place for fat people of any sexuality. Straight women are fat shamed and fetishised, fat lesbians are ignored and one-third of gay men have experienced anti-fat bias. I’m not sure what’s worse – gay men who explicitly write “No fats” on their profiles or straight men who try to codify it by expressing a preference for fit women.
Intersecting sizeism with racism is even worse, whether you are fat and a straight black woman, lesbian black woman or gay Asian man. The latter two groups are invisible in the media. There are more films about romantic relationships between men and inanimate objects than films in which a fat person, let alone fat queer person of colour, has been portrayed as a love interest. Though the fashion industry has made a bit of progress with diverse body representation, skinny is still the dominant beauty ideal in media.
People who don’t want kids
Dating in your mid-to-late 30s is a murky time as people are more likely to have made up their minds as to whether they want kids. Go on any dating app and you will find that most people in this age bracket wants kids. If you don’t want kids, you will be less appealing to those who are ready to get serious about having them. Many of my friends’ relationships have ended over this issue. In my 20s and early 30s the question of kids never came up, but now my dates are like an audition to be the mum of their future kids. For the record, I’ve never wanted kids.
ARE MORE DESIRABLE PEOPLE LUCKIER IN LOVE?
Once upon a time I was a young woman. I was as Asian back then as I am now. I had no shortage of likes and earnest messages from men of all ages, despite not being a model. But when has quantity ever meant quality (well, with the exception of a large serving of crunchy hot chips)? I’ve never been in a serious relationship, but perhaps I could have if I had no standards and hated being single.
So no, having more desirable traits doesn’t necessarily mean you are luckier in love. My perpetually single interviewees ticked at least one of the top categories on the desirability hierarchy, but other factors influenced why they were always single. Personality and values aside (they are all wonderful people), these factors included pickiness, fear, prioritising other goals over romantic relationships and/or simply being happier single.
You can have all the desirable traits you want but if people tend to avoid you at parties (if you get invited to any at all), you’re probably going to be worse off in love than someone with an immensely likeable personality but ranks lower on the desirability hierarchy of the dating apps. If only the apps had an accurate way to filter excellent human beings.