Silicon Valley singles are swiping left on the algorithms of love

One thing distinguishes the Silicon Valley dating pool: The men-to-women ratio for employed, young singles in the San Jose metro area is higher here than any other major area. There were 150 men for every 100 women, compared to about 125 to 100 nationwide, of never-married young people between 25 and 34 in San Jose, U.S. Census data from 2016 show.

That ratio permeates the economy here, all the way to the valley’s biggest employers, which have struggled for years to bring more women into their ranks. Men make up about 70 per cent of the workforces of Apple, Facebook, and Google parent Alphabet, company filings show. The companies also are so big that different departments, with differing gender balances, barely mix.

When Jonathan Soma, a data-visualization professor at Columbia University’s grad school, used census numbers to map Silicon Valley’s singles, he was astounded: There were entire ZIP codes around Palo Alto with 40 per cent more single men than women. (He counselled viewers to follow the depressing results with “several cartons of ice cream” and a Netflix binge.)

Women here say they feel outnumbered, overworked and underwhelmed by the tech industry’s egos and eccentricities: A koan of the local dating scene is, “The odds are good, but the goods are odd.”

Men, in return, say they feel outmatched or overlooked. A 39-year-old San Francisco tech entrepreneur who’s given up on dating apps said, “I have a higher confidence in making another million dollars than I do in finding a spouse.”

The valley’s solitude helps throw a spotlight onto the changing shape of American love. Men and women are getting married later, and less, but their ways to meet each other keep growing — and they’re still coupling up. The number of adults living together out of wedlock has climbed about 30 per cent over the past decade, census data show.

Millions across the U.S. have made the apps a key element of their love lives, according to Pew Research Center surveys, which found that a quarter of Americans between 18 and 34 had used an online dating service by 2015. But it’s unclear how successful those apps are for lifelong romance: Among couples who had been together for five years or less, 88 per cent said they had met their partner offline — no dating app required.

In the San Francisco and San Jose areas, home to dating apps such as Coffee Meets Bagel, Zoosk and The League, the marriage rate for adults ages 18 to 49 fell about six per cent between 2005 and 2016, Census data show. Just one in four here are married by age 30.

But the area’s gender imbalance has dampened even the act of finding a match. When Facebook in 2014 crunched its own data for a ranking of major cities where users went from “single” to “in a relationship,” it found that San Francisco had the lowest rate of new couples, with San Jose not far behind.

These were problems the dating apps offered an ability to fix, with technologies ranging from brute-force mass attraction to personalized profile matching. OkCupid users refine their interests by answering up to 3,000 questions, including “Should a country always need the UN’s approval before declaring war?”

Many of the most popular have the feel of a slot machine, including Tinder (swipe right on someone you like, and you chat if there’s a match); Bumble (swiping, but only women can initiate) and Coffee Meets Bagel (swiping, but with only a handful of matches a day).

In this city of digital natives and first adopters, the apps were successful at attracting users: Many singles here say they cling to the apps, even though they doubt they’ll help, because they’re effectively a requirement for the dating scene — and because they think everyone else is addicted to them, too.

“It’s almost like Stockholm syndrome,” one male software engineer said. “No one likes the situation, but everyone accepts these are the rules of the game.”

Bumble, whose 400,000 users in Silicon Valley have matched up 20 million times since 2014, says users here have a “lower-than-average right-swipe proportion” than other large metro areas. In other words, they typically like what they see a bit less.

“You should Bumble with the intent to connect, not people-watch,” said Alexandra Williamson, Bumble’s head of brand. “Once you start taking an Instagram approach to the swiping experience, fatigue is only a matter of time.”

One 22-year-old graduate student at Stanford University says she used Bumble to go on more than 10 first dates in the past few months — including, she said, to virtually every bar and restaurant seen in the backdrop of the HBO tech satire Silicon Valley. The dates were so disappointing that she decided to leave her love life to a matchmaker instead. “I just don’t have that much time to be on disappointing apps,” she said.

Silicon Valley’s sweeping expanse of drab office parks was never known as a lovers’ paradise. But random, serendipitous meetings at a bar or party seem increasingly rare, several singles complained, and virtually every introduction, first sight and flirtation plays out first on screen.

“When you go talk to a stranger and they say no, they’ve rejected you. You know they’ve rejected you,” said Mc Kenna Walsh, a 29-year-old start-up consultant. “On Tinder, if someone doesn’t swipe on you, you don’t get a notification. You don’t remember. You don’t even really know.”

The apps’ dominant hold on the dating scene has fuelled its own cottage industry of valley types hoping to optimize their chances. GetSetDate, a San Francisco-based “dating consultancy” that sells app-ready self-portrait shoots starting at $ 500, assures buyers: “You are not a collection of facts. We are not an algorithm.”

Some local singles turn to valley matchmakers such as Amy Andersen. Andersen, the founder of Linx Dating, says many clients tried the apps first but ditched them because they felt like “searching for the impossible.”

Tech-industry professionals, Andersen said, are often some of the least comfortable pouring their personal desires into a dating app. Some are also staggeringly hyper-selective: When some singles come in to tell Andersen about their type, “their list is so exaggerated: They’re looking for this six-foot-tall Adonis who also happens to be a billionaire. And I tell them: What you are looking for does not exist. It’s a unicorn,” Andersen said. “It’s like an invincible mentality: I’ve achieved all these things in my life and career. Why can’t I have this, too?”

Her services are pricey: Getting in the door costs $ 2,500; “basic premium” matchmaking memberships start at $ 35,000; and VIP packages, featuring wardrobe consultations, date planning and “romantic concierge” services, can extend into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. To those who balk at the price, she offers an alternative: “Swipe, swipe, swipe away.”


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