Lesbian Dating Apps are Finally Working & Here’s Why: Understand How Lesbian Apps & Lesbian Romance are Evolving
There was a time where a decent Online Dating platform for lesbians was that proverbial needle in a haystack… if said needle just didn’t exist.
Almost any Lesbian Woman who’s tried digging through dating apps for love has their horror stories to tell: stories of unicorn hunts, creepy trolls, or just soul-crushing realizations that the girl we’ve chatted to for weeks turned out to be more bored and curious than for-real interested.
But it’s 2019 now, and as long overdue as it is, that frustrating, uncomfortable, and frankly discouraging time is at its end. Lesbian Dating online is, at long last, an actual and functional reality, and this is why … Enjoy!
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It wasn’t so long ago (circa 2015 through 2017, ish) that you couldn’t sidestep without stumbling upon a heteronormative dating app, but the hunt for one catering to lesbian or queer woman felt more akin to drifting through the endless void of outer space. Tinder, the go-to app for the masses, had around 20 million active monthly users, and Grindr, the dating app for gay men, had rockstar-level success to the tune of over 10 million downloads since launch – but nothing really catered to lesbians. Shrugging and settling on the least intimidating of the dating apps on offer used to be our only option, and it could be more of an emotional rollercoaster than anything else.
A few swipes would often bring up that dreaded notification of “no more women in your area”, or men’s profiles would pop up at random – not to mention the disheartening messages that’d consist of “Hey! My boyfriend and I are adventurous, and we’re looking for a third…” or a creepily-worded query as to whether we’d like to go buck-wild and “just give it a try” with a man. Between couples looking for “unicorns”, men that’d creepily harass any queer woman into considering a full account deletion, and the precious few for-real lesbian women that might reply with two-word texts – our pickings on dating apps were painfully slim; let alone finding a space that seemed to understand lesbian women and catered to them. It was easy to feel like dating apps – or perhaps the world at large, even – had a hard time believing that lesbian women existed, were not straight, and could not be convinced to be.
Another issue that used to make decent lesbian dating apps – or even good dating apps that appropriately catered to lesbian women – rarer than hen’s teeth, was that investors seemed to discount lesbian and queer women as viable consumers, and just didn’t view lesbian apps as worth the resources to handle. Perhaps it was due to poor documentation or communication on the part of entrepreneurs who tried, or just the idea that alternative solutions were enough to address the market (which we know isn’t the case; being able to toggle between searching for either gender isn’t exactly the perfect solution to all lesbian online dating woes) – for whatever reason, 3.4 percent of the American population might not have been seen as enough to sink money into.
But take it a couple years down the road into 2019, and the dark ages of online platforms trying to include lesbians seem to be over with (if not, at the very least, in the tail end of its death throes). Mainstream platforms, and the money behind them, aren’t finally just taking notice of lesbians or acknowledging that we exist as a dating market demographic – they’re beginning to specifically make room for just us. Large online dating companies like Cupid Media have rolled out and polished up entire dedicated sites just for lesbian dating; the ones that used to be mostly heteronormative are listening – and, shock and surprise, specifically catering – to the needs of the lesbian community.
The biggest (and most encouraging) example of this is the latest dating ad campaign and attached interface overhaul from OkCupid, the online dating platform giant that gets around 4.3 million app downloads a month. In years before, it was mostly a heterosexual platform, and its attempts at catering to members of the LGBTQ+ community were shoddy at best. All that’s changed, and in the midst of mainstream apps and dating sites that are finally attempting inclusion, OkCupid has clearly pulled ahead.
Called “DTF”, the ad campaign may raise eyebrows until you realize that, no, the “F” does not stand for that particular word. Rethinking that phrase with a tagline of “Dating deserves better”, it replaces the F word with less crass, deeper ones like “Down to Forget Our Baggage” or “Down to Feel Fabulous”, reinforcing the platform’s belief in creating real, genuine and self-affirming connections instead of the binary, dehumanizing experience dating culture has become. Many of the eye-catching ads make a strong, positive statement, but none does so more than the artwork for “Down to Fall Head Over Heels” – a stunning representation of one woman literally sweeping another off her feet as they gaze lovingly into each other’s eyes. In OkCupid CMO Melissa Hobley’s words to AdFreak about that particular image, “DTFall Head Over Heels is beautiful… it doesn’t actually matter if our users are straight or fall under one of the 13 sexual orientation options. Our ecosystem cares that we have a great experience for so many communities.”
That OkCupid has an image of lesbian women to represent a non-gendered, non-exclusive statement like DTFall Head Over Heels says much (namely, that lesbian women are not meant to be ignored or segregated from any mainstream platform, but an important part of its online dating community), but what says even more are the platform’s extremely queer-friendly updates. Some of these are largely expanded gender and sexual orientation options, and a filter option called “Don’t let straight people see me” that pretty much lets any queer and queer-seeking person keep their profiles incognito from those they don’t want attention from (meaning, no more random male profiles and unicorn hunters getting shoved in our faces). OkCupid has a frankly massive lesbian following for a mainstream dating platform, and with its trusted name unapologetically leading the charge into inclusion and acceptance for lesbian women and the LGBTQ+ community, mainstream seems to finally be going pink.
As heartening as it is to see mainstream dating platforms finally make room for queer people to find love in a secure and welcoming environment, though – there’s definitely still differences between apps that are just for lesbian women, and mainstream apps that remain open to straight folk and men, no matter how queer-friendly their options and filters are.
So, are Dating Apps for lesbians – and only lesbians – faring any better than before?
It’s not that dating apps for lesbians weren’t out there at all – it’s just that the ones that existed were rife with many stumbling-block issues. Many female-only dating apps or sites were made based on a male-driven agenda, meaning they sexualized lesbians and were made for men or couples to meet lesbians. Many also weren’t tailored for creating real relationships, or security was frankly in the tank: there weren’t enough stringent control or verification measures, and it was far too simple for men to sign up pretending to be women (not to mention how creeps would flock to the lesbian apps with more pornographic-sounding names). As for the lesbian apps that gave creating a good platform for gay women their best shot – well, they’d often be too tiny to gather a large enough following (which therefore meant painfully few matches for its users) and fade into obscurity. The biggest over-arching problem Lesbian Dating Apps of a few years back had, though, was that they were created by developers who were overwhelmingly straight and male – in other words, created by people who had little to do with lesbian romance, and were mostly unfamiliar with how lesbian or queer culture operated.
It was easy to tell which apps were made from a male-based view: when it was solely based on a visual structure. A study published under the Archive of Sexual Behavior notes that men generally respond to visual sexual stimuli more than women do, whereas women discriminate less than men. Dating apps that centered fully on the swiping, Tinderesque match method with no other focus of attraction were just that: visual stimulation, a largely male approach to attraction. It just wasn’t conducive or tailored for the way queer women date. Most of us might like a pretty face as much as the next lady, but we need a more than just a parade of women to pick from. Lesbian women do enjoy sex (casual or otherwise) as much as the next straight woman, but we need some form of connection even if all we’d like to do in the end is just hook up – something that the apps hailed as lesbian-oriented seemed not to remotely understand. A quick glance at the ads or interfaces of those apps that were made for lesbian or bisexual women would paint what seemed almost a parody of lesbian relationships: old women walking together in the park, or near-pornographic representations of women – a man’s idea of what a lesbian relationship might look like. There were no (or precious little) apps that were centered around how queer women spoke or related to each other.
Many apps of that era were also little more than pink-tuned copies of the heteronormative or gay male online dating experience that were built on that frame of reference, and it showed. For one, traditional gender roles or heavily limited gender options might work just fine for the rest of the straight, cisgender world, but it’s painfully inadequate for everyone else who doesn’t fit neatly along those lines. The way lesbian and queer women view gender and its structures is entirely different from how straight people do, and there simply weren’t enough options within an app for the women of the LGBTQ+ community to showcase who they were and what they’d like. Straight folk don’t have to wonder about just how straight their potential paramour is, how to handle a relationship with someone who isn’t out, or be used as guinea pigs for someone’s forays into their sexuality. Secondly, even gay male culture had an easier time in comparison, thanks to deeply-ingrained expectations of male sexuality – like the (rather silly) idea that men are naturally more promiscuous than women are, or just that they’re ‘allowed’ to be open about their sexuality if they so desired. Grindr had roaring success since it was socially acceptable for men to seek out casual hookups, but with society’s heavy policing of female sexuality, many queer women would shy away from lesbian apps either due to nervousness, or fear of slut-shaming. Because gay male culture operates so differently, creating an app for lesbians wasn’t as simple as just taking an app like Grindr and shading it pink – but that’s what many lesbian-focused dating apps did.
Enter the heroines of this tale: women. Namely, lesbian women who were sick of and done with dating apps that called themselves lesbian-oriented but were profoundly not; lesbian women who decided that instead of waiting for a good lesbian dating app to show up, they’d just make the darned thing themselves. It’s a good thing they did, because those fumbling, well-intentioned but poorly executed lesbian dating apps are a thing of the past.
The current most successful lesbian apps, HER, Scissr and Zoe, didn’t make the old mistake of rebranding a heteronormative or gay male app – because they were created by lesbian women, for lesbian women. The founders of Scissr and HER are lesbian women themselves that have faced the very same troubles we have (and Zoe has lesbian women on their development team), and created their apps as an answer to an all-too-personal problem. There was no app on the market that satisfied what they needed as lesbian women, so, they made the app they wanted.
The best of the best Lesbian Dating Apps all take user security and community safety measures with a seriousness that was heretofore unseen: almost all of them require Facebook, Instagram or personal social media account linking, sometimes with added measures like photo verification, keeping men, trolls and undesirables quickly and firmly locked out.
HER was intentionally designed by Robyn Exton, its founder, to not be just another Grindr – in her experience, lesbian women would much rather run into each other in real life than to squirrel away behind a screen swiping, and we’d rather meet through friends than just “going with it” with someone we barely know. It’s something lesbian apps before had no solution to, and Exton’s answer was creating HER to be a social network (think Facebook but for queer women only) with dating options, instead of just a swipe-based dating app. HER hosts and suggests queer events within the app interface for its users to attend, making it much easier for women to make the first move; so far, the app’s event-based approach has seen drastic success, taking off in 21 cities in the US.
Scissr, also created and founded by a lesbian woman, was hailed as a classier Grindr. With the understanding that lesbian women are just as in touch with their desires as straight men are purported to be, Scissr caters to all lesbian experiences by offering a pressure-and-shame-free space with ‘looking for’ options that range from friendships, to hookups, to relationships – all wrapped up in a beautiful and elegant interface that makes using the app feel nothing like a back-alley, grimy, casual affair. It addresses the issue of low user populations as well: although it uses geo-location, it doesn’t impose geo-fencing on any of its matches, allowing women to search as far for love (or lust) as they’d like.
Zoe perfectly addresses lesbian women’s desire for connection – the need to know someone, not just a handful of selfies and one line of bio text – by using personality questionnaires peppered throughout the app, between swipes. Covering get-to-know-you categories like lifestyle or fun, answered questions are used to create a compatibility percentage that shows up on match profiles, letting users have something to connect on and chat about.
A few other apps, like LGBTQutie and Thurst. (created by a lesbian woman of color), go further by catering to women all across the LGBTQ+ spectrum: their apps are made to include not only cisgender women, but anyone from the LGBTQ+ community. Lesbians are welcome, no matter their labels or their gender identities, and the apps come with all the gender and sexual identity customization options a queer woman could hope for.
Queer women are championing the cause of queer women, and now enough of them are standing up with passion, confidence and strength to create the solutions to their dating woes – so many solutions, in fact, that a queer woman can finally feel spoilt for choice when trying to pick a dating app for lesbians. With the mainstream dating world starting to cater to lesbian women, and lesbian women very efficiently picking up the slack that heteronormative society trips up on, there’s just one final frontier in making lesbian dating apps viable…
Hands up, everyone who’s been through this purgatorial download-and-delete cycle before: an app advertising itself as made just for lesbians would come out – then we’d get all excited, and grab it immediately. And then it’d crash. Or profiles wouldn’t show up. Or something, somewhere, would go wrong with the interface. Then all our excitement would evaporate like mist at dawn as with sinking hearts, we’d find out it was more full of bugs than a city sewer system. Discouraged, with fading hopes for our romantic futures, and maybe one or two more half-hearted tries, we’d eventually uninstall it – until the next app made just for lesbians showed up… which would also be so full of problems, it was quite literally unusable.
If all that sounds familiar, it might be marginally heartening (since misery loves company, as they say) to know that app developers often suffer with you. Resolving bugs in an app’s software, or even any online platform’s, is not an incompetency issue, but rather a problem with working up the proper funding to do so. Getting an investor to be interested in a dating app is extremely difficult for most developers with how saturated the market is, and the teams working on improving their apps end up in a bit of a dilemma: they need funding to make a good app that’ll keep them popular with users, but they also need to show investors they can get enough users in order to get funded.
No matter how passionate, dedicated or hardworking an app’s developer team is, if an app’s pool of users is small, investors wouldn’t see much of a use in funding it, leading to less of an ability to troubleshoot. With unresolved bugs and few people to pick dates from, members would have a hard time getting matches, hate the app, and an otherwise sorely-needed app could die without seeing the light of day.
But this tough-sounding issue isn’t unsolvable. In fact, almost every queer or lesbian-focused dating app has crashed headlong into this problem – and many of them have come through it. The now wildly popular HER was once known as Daatch, which launched to mostly one-star reviews that bemoaned the amount of bugs and interface issues it contained. Thurst., a relatively new offering, struggled at its launch to gain users, but now receives much more positive reviews and is slowly but surely gaining steam (especially among transgender lesbians and queer women of color). So, what’s the magic bullet?
An app’s popularity is indirectly proportional to how many bugs get resolved. The more word-of-mouth there is, the more users an app will end up having (which is great for us, too, because that means more cute women we can talk to); the more users an app has, the easier it is for its developers to get the financial support they need to iron out bugs in their software. Currently popular apps like HER and Scissr have definitely “made it” – so, for a bug-free dating experience, all one has to do is to hop on the most popular lesbian dating bandwagon there is, and enjoy the ride.
But if there’s any other queer app you really want to get behind that just happens to be slightly less popular and slightly more buggy – there’s no reason to give up hope. Sometimes, all developers need to resolve issues is a little time, and a little faith from their communities – it’s certainly been the case for HER, Thurst., and many others If the app’s developers seem to be doing their part to make sure lesbian women get the dating space they’ve needed for so long, then all we’ve got to do as users, is to do ours: throw a little love at it. Donating to a lesbian app’s Kickstarter, or even just spreading the word about a new app we’re excited for, goes a long way in making sure an app survives past its buggy infancy to problem-free app adulthood.
Everything considered, it’s a brave new world for lesbian romance. No longer do we have to bank on the fallback plan of running into someone at our corner grocery store, somehow (awkwardly) working into conversation that you’re queer, and hoping they are too – we get a slice of the dating app pie, too, and it looks like a slice that’ll keep getting bigger and better.
A celebration for pink progress is definitely in order, and for those of us still looking for love, it might be the perfect time to grab our phones, grab a new, shiny Lesbian Dating App or two (or all of them) – and may the new worst thing to happen on dating apps for us, be only having far too many matches to swipe back on!
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