Kristina Osborne had recently ended a long-term relationship when she accidentally swiped right for a guy she thought she had seen at her gym. She wasn’t looking for a relationship or a casual date. She thought Tinder could be a good way to meet people outside her social circle, since she shared friends with her former partner. 

The accidental swipe guy, who eight years later would become her partner and a parent of two kids, apparently swiped right too and they matched. Osborne didn’t think much of it but soon the guy who was not the one from the gym texted. After a nice conversation, he asked her out.

“We met for what we both thought was going to be this one-hour date beer situation,” said Osborne, a writer and a recipe developer based in Canada. “We ended up having dinner and it became this joke in our relationship about how we felt our meeting was very magical. We still refer to our connection as magic because we just never experienced that type of connection before.”

People in the United States and beyond are increasingly looking for connections like this on dating apps.

Online dating is one of the most popular ways people look for a partner, according to Pew Research Center. A 2023 study found one in ten people have used dating apps and one in ten, who are married, living with a partner or are in a committed relationship, met their current partner through a dating site or app. Pew Center found 44% of users said a major reason for using a dating app was to meet a long-term partner.

“The bottom line is that long term relationships are being forged on all of these dating apps. Even if someone thinks they were looking for something casual, suddenly they’ll surprise themselves and they’ll end up in a committed relationship,” Julie Spira, author of “The Perils of Cyber-Dating” and founder of an online dating-advice website Cyber Dating Expert.

Dating apps are taking notice. Popular dating apps are starting to emphasize that the apps can be the place for long-term deeper connections. The trend has sparked a boom in more niche dating apps, focusing on common interests or love for pets, while for the mainstream dating apps this has meant new ad campaigns.

The dating apps’ mission to make long-lasting matches comes as young Americans have been giving the apps cold shoulders.

The desire to find like-minded people as partners, to connect over shared interests and to move beyond superficial swiping, sparked a boom in niche dating apps in the past couple years. If tired of swiping on Tinder, Bumble or Hinge, people can now scroll through TikTok-like videos on a dating app called Snack. Snack users can post videos of themselves dancing, joking, doing everyday activities, which helps get to know them better than a few profile pictures on mainstream apps. There are apps for gamers, dog lovers and for people who search for other halves with similar Myers-Briggs personality types. There’s even an app called Schmooze, where you swipe memes, ideally matching with someone who shares your sense of humor.

Mainstream dating apps are also taking notice. Take Tinder’s “It starts with a Swipe” campaign. Earlier this year the dating app giant launched a global inclusive campaign emphasizing that Tinder can be a place where you meet your true love, no matter shape, size, gender, sex or ethnicity. The campaign included posters and videos featuring taglines like “someone to go to heaven with,” “a toothbrush at their place” or “comfortable silences.” In one of the posters, a couple is tackling a monster made out of plastic with the caption “someone to save the planet with,” emphasizing the climate-aware younger generation.

Source: Tinder

“‘It Starts With A Swipe’ challenges typical Tinder stereotypes, and leans into the many possibilities that come from a ‘Swipe’ – including long-term relationships. Tinder is about so much more than hook-ups – it can lead you to new friends, self discovery, or even a marriage and starting a family,” Stephanie Danzi, SVP, Head of Global Marketing at Tinder said in an email. “Chances are, you know someone who met their partner on the app – I’m constantly meeting people who are so grateful to Tinder because they found their long-term person on the app.”

Danzi said Tinder wanted people to see themselves reflected in the work, which meant the conventional milestones like marriage and moving in together for some people, while for others it was getting a cat together or even having a safe space to explore their identity.

Just earlier this month the widely popular dating app Hinge announced it is launching a $1 million social impact fund to tackle the “loneliness epidemic” affecting Gen Z users. The initiative, called One More Hour, will fund social groups and organizations  in Atlanta, Los Angeles, and New York City, who will want to organize in-person meetings to foster community within American youngsters.

But mainstream apps are still facing challenges. Expanding competition and keeping the paid subscribers are a couple of key challenges the popular dating apps face, especially if they’re forging relationships, hence driving people away from the platform.

“There’s a huge menu of ways to purchase additional services to either boost yourself or hide yourself on these dating apps and that’s where the revenue source comes from recurring revenue and buying additional features,” said Julie Spira. “That’s why they’re constantly looking for ways to. Enhance the daters experience, but you do need to pay to play.”

Dating apps use a so-called freemium model, which means the apps are free but to get access to better experience, like boosting profiles for better exposure, users have to either pay for subscription or make one-time purchases. Currently, about 32% of the U.S. singles use online dating, of those, over a quarter pay, according to the Morgan Stanley report.

But people do get increasingly frustrated with paid features and price increases. Match saw a decline in paying users at the end of 2021 and has been continually seeing decrease in 2023.

The shares of the major publicly traded apps Match Group, owner of popular apps like Tinder and Hinge, and Bumble have been sliding this year and have lost over 80% of their value from peaking in 2021. 

Investors became concerned that the flames of the industry have faded as it has become more saturated. But not all of Wall Street is brokenhearted. “The market too often focuses on just user trends but misses the importance of monetization, which is likely the most important driver of revenue growth going forward,” said Lauren Schenk, Morgan Stanley’s equity analyst in the bank’s report earlier this year.