In theory, dating apps are simply a way to meet potential love or sex partners. These smartphone-dwelling matchmakers can even facilitate experimentation, helping users code for and discover what they want from another person in any given moment. They provide a way to meet people on a user’s own schedule, which also potentially democratizes the whole dating process. (Honestly, who can afford to go out every night? Carrie Bradshaw was clearly a con artist.) To look at it from a distance, the future of dating is easy and great! And yet…and yet.
If dating apps are supposed to take the headache out of trying to meet someone, it’s not a great sign that so many daters consider them a necessary evil at best and just plain evil at worst. Iliza Shlesinger, in her new Netflix special, Elder Millennial, has a bit about online dating. “I don’t like to tell people how we met,” she says of her fiancé. “It’s not bad, it’s not embarrassing, it’s just not cool: We met on a dating app, like all of you. We met on a dating app and it’s less a product of my creativity and more a product of my generation. I’m a millennial and that’s how we meet each other.” (The special is funny and you should watch it.)
Statistically speaking, there’s plenty of evidence that dating apps work—especially for those among us whose endgame is meeting a long-term partner. There are stats that say marriages among people who met on an app are less likely to end after the first year, and despite a big cultural annoyance about the process, the vast majority of Americans think that, ultimately, apps are a good way to meet people. Even anecdotally, a lot of the people I spoke to for this piece—all of whom self-identified as dating app haters—nevertheless met their long-term partner on an app.
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So given the evidence, and the fact that it’s totally okay to think dating online sucks and still do it anyway, I wanted to know: Which apps come most recommended by people who fuckin’ hate to date? Which tech have daters made peace with, and why? Some of their answers won’t surprise you—even if their reasoning does—while other options are refreshingly new.
Note: Some names have been changed at the source’s request.
For many modern daters, the name “Tinder” should be accompanied by the Darth Vader theme song. The truth is, no app embodies the “necessary evil” aspect of swiping the way Tinder does. And it’s not even Tinder’s fault: As a pioneer of the current dating app format, Tinder’s utter ubiquity means everyone has an opinion about it. And because, as we’ve established, the dating rigamarole kind of sucks in general, that means a lot of people have negative opinions about it. But you have to hand it to Tinder, they really did change the game (for better or worse).
Yet, where Tinder acts as a gateway app for some daters (from which they move onto apps more aligned with their specific desires), for others it remains the best of the bunch.
When Samantha Karjala started using apps to meet more people in her small Northeastern town, she was annoyed at what they implied. “When you say you went on a Tinder date, most people expect you had sex with the person,” she says. “It’s a bummer, because I used it to meet cool people to expand my dating pool, which was helpful with the radius feature on Tinder.” She says that, despite some annoying responses from dudes, she was just out of a relationship and wanted to stick with using the app. “I think I most enjoyed the bios, because it really shows what people think is important enough to say in a few words.” Her bio was a Nicki Minaj lyric that she says, “sparked a lot of conversations”—including one with the guy who would later become her husband.
Julia* lives in Maine and, though she says she’s had the most success meeting people via Bumble, kept Tinder for her work trips. “I’ve held onto Tinder because it’s used more internationally,” she says. “I used to travel abroad alone for work a lot and would just get super bored. I downloaded Tinder for the first time in Buenos Aires because I wanted to practice my Spanish. Even if I don’t go out with anyone, at the very least it’s entertaining to scope out people in foreign cities.”
Available on iOS, Android, and desktop
Feeld is an app for people who know what they want. It describes itself as a place to “meet open-minded couples and singles near you,” making it the premiere app for unicorns and those who want a more openly kink-friendly app experience. While that may sound pretty niche, Veronica*, 35, who lives in Queens, says Feeld became her favorite dating app. At the time of download, she was single and recovering from a bad breakup. She used Tinder and Bumble for regular dating, but hated the experience. “None of the men seemed cute enough, and a lot of them were exactly as gross and Air-Drop-a-dick-pic-slimy as the stereotypes go,” she explains.
Sick of typical dating but still wanting to take the guesswork out of meeting people, she started to feel like she had to settle. But then, “I woke up one day and decided I wanted to have a threesome, and that’s how I came to download Feeld,” she says. She noted that the app immediately felt easier than Tinder or Bumble. “To start with, the fact that I was on there looking for hot and fun people to hook up with, and anyone I matched with was looking for the same, meant that I got to skip the awkward first few dates,” she tells me. “It also meant that I knew what I was in for, so I was never worried about someone suddenly becoming a slimeball. It really helped me feel more confident at a time when I wasn’t confident about dating.”
She even met her current long-term partner on Feeld. “I think it makes our relationship healthier that we started out fully aware of one another’s kinks and interests,” Veronica says. “We didn’t have to hide those facets of ourselves, and that made it easier—at least for me—to feel good about just getting to know him and figure out that we had a genuine connection.”
Available on iOS and Android devices
Hinge may seem like it plays second-fiddle to the likes of Tinder, but it has a pretty elite user base (99 percent of its daters went to college, for example). Hinge’s CEO compared his app to Facebook, versus Tinder’s Myspace—sometimes for interface reasons (Hinge is aimed at the college-educated set) and sometimes for class reasons (much has been written on the ways dating app algorithms may favor white people).
Hinge bills itself “the relationship app,” implying Tinder and its ilk belong to the “hookup app” genre. It also only pairs you with people with whom you have Facebook connections, potentially giving your matches a bit more accountability than the utter randos you’re likely to meet on Tinder (especially if you live in a big city).
Jenna Slater, 27, lives in San Diego and found the entire notion of meeting people online daunting. “Dating apps have always been hard for me because even though I find myself hilarious, that sturggles to come across via text,” she says. “I also work insane hours and simple don’t have the time to swipe hoping the person swipes me back.” Tinder was decidedly not for her, and she began to think dating apps in general might be a bust, until she found Hinge.
“Hinge really helped me work through my distaste for dating apps because the profile requires people to answer questions that actually give you a sense of their personalities,” says Slater. “I was so tired of Tinder and Bumble profiles where people listed their height and claimed they liked going on adventures.”
On Hinge users are asked questions like, “What are you looking for?” and “Who is your ideal celebrity dinner date?” “It allows you to get a better sense of their phone outside of their abs,” says Slater. “I also haven’t had to swipe with Hinge because when people go through my profile, all they have to do is like my answers or my photos and they’ll get put in a queue that I can look through, knowing they’ve already expressed interest. It really streamlined the whole process in terms of quality and efficiency.”
Available on iOS and Android devices
COFFEE MEETS BAGEL
Sure, it has a goofy name and uses the phrase “Meet Your Everything Bagel” as its tagline, but there’s more to Coffee Meets Bagel than the optics. Like other apps, CMB connects you to people with who you share Facebook mutuals. But unlike other sites, it only lets you see people who have matched with you, and it only gives you a five likes to give out per day among those matches. While it might seem restrictive at first, that might be why it works.
Beca, 30, lives in Atlanta and says she “tried and failed at Tinder forever.” For her, the choosiness with which Coffee Meets Bagel forces you to approach dating is actually the draw. “The limited amount of daily swipes made me more thoughtful and deliberate with the app,” she says. “I much prefer it to apps like Tinder—where you can swipe matches while your friend is in the bar bathroom—when it comes to looking for long-term partners. You have to be much more intentional.” She met her now-boyfriend on Coffee Meets Bagel.
It just goes to show you, don’t let a silly name fool you.
Available on iOS and Android devices
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Bumble was founded by Whitney Wolfe, a woman with the goal of making dating (and now, even networking and friendship) more female-friendly. How that manifests on the app, for those uninitiated, is an interface in which women have to message their male matches first, and men have 24 hours to respond or else the match is erased. (For women messaging other women and women-identified folks, either party can respond first.) While you can see why this puts the power into women’s hands, it’s also the biggest complaint I heard about Bumble while researching this piece (and the reason a few dating-haters I spoke to defected to Tinder). But lots of respect to any app that’s actually trying to make women feel safer online, and Bumble has made that its priority.
That might be one reason why Bumble has its devotees, too. “I downloaded Tinder and Bumble when I got out of a pretty catastrophic relationship because I was certain I had extinguished all game and would never meet someone organically,” says Cristina, 26, a graphic designer from Boston. “At first Tinder was the more addictive option because of the number of candidates, but I eventually shifted to Bumble because the conversations were better, and the numbers way more manageable.”
She’s not without her complaints about the dating app format in general, though. “On principle, I don’t really like that I’m being reduced to a Pokémon card with a few photos and stats and swiping based on that,” she says. “But I got extraordinarily lucky and met my now-boyfriend, who downloaded Bumble for nearly the same reason I did! We agree that it we both felt icky making snap judgments based on dumb things while first using the app, but I guess there was enough thoughtful info that was in each of our profiles that led us to swipe and meet.”
Available on iOS and Android devices
The thing is, there won’t ever be some one-size-fits-all dating app that everyone loves and totally works: The point of these apps in the first place is to connect people, and people are sloppy. But out of all the tech that’s pushed on us at all times, it’s nice to know there are some apps out there that even the bitterest-about-dating among us can find some good in.
This article originally appeared on Marie Claire.