Using dating apps has now become a common part of our dating lives. Most people have used or are still using Tinder, Bumble, Feeld, and the many other ones. And yet, many remain single without wanting to be. We complain about the apps’ features, the way they work, and the people we end up meeting on them. We’re accustomed to matching with the way people look instead of matching with their personality, and maybe that’s the primary reason we can’t seem to find ‘the one’.
That’s exactly what the new dating app Birdy wants to change. Birdy is a personality matching app that understands you first, and then finds your perfect match. How does it do so? By asking new users to fill out an in-depth personality test. This idea might sound quite old-school to some, reminding us of what matchmakers used to do before dating apps became the norm. But Birdy’s concept is, as its website states, based on a 92-year-old theory that is trusted by 89 per cent of the Fortune 100, so why not give it a try?
Look back on your previous relationships—the way you and your partner were behaving with each other, what went wrong in the relationship and whether you had plenty of misunderstandings. Most people end a relationship because of these reasons. Relationships can be filled with misunderstandings, hurt feelings and suppressed emotions, which is why, at some point, we decide to go our own way. My aim is not to categorise all relationships by simply saying that they never work out or that they only end badly because of misunderstandings, but it is clear that most people’s previous relationships ended because of personality differences.
Birdy’s main concept relies on the simple fact that in order to have a healthy and lasting relationship, we first need to get to know ourselves. And how can we achieve that? By taking the app’s personality test, apparently. The theory behind the test is based on Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung’s own personality classification. 92 years ago, after analysing data about people’s different personalities, Jung came up with 16 different types of personality and their communication preferences.
Referring to the Jungian typology theory, Birdy’s website explains that it “categorizes people’s preferences based on how they interact with the world and how they gather and process information to make decisions.” Most people are familiar with the most common application of that theory, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), but Birdy “goes the extra mile and puts a romantic spin on it.”
The whole concept might sound too complicated to truly work, but the end goal is actually quite simple: to help you fall in love, as cheesy as it sounds. Filling out the test takes more time than your usual Buzzfeed quiz, but the 39 questions do the job. In-depth questions push people filling it out to put themselves back into the mindset they had when they were younger, before they started forming a ‘social self’.
Screen Shot spoke to Juliette Swann, the founder of Birdy, about where the idea came from and what’s next for the app. After spending 5 years in a relationship with someone who she felt never understood her, Swann had a horse accident and broke her spine. It gave her perspective and made her realise “that I was wasting my time with the wrong person and that I needed to start focusing on my own life and what I desired.” That’s why, when Swann founded Birdy, she wanted the app to “go back to the basics, to the things that our parents may not have taught us: first love yourself because people love you for who you are.” That’s where the personality test helps you find out who you are.
The test informs you on which type of bird you are—what personality type you are—in a detailed analysis. On top of that, it also gives you an elaborate profile of your perfect match. What results did I get? ISFJ, aka the weaver bird, aka the introvert that aims to please everyone. Is this description accurate? To a certain extent, yes. The test also revealed my perfect match’s personality, ESFP, aka the budgie. Same here, the personality description of the budgie sounded like every person I dated. Then again, just like with astrology, people always find something to relate to, but the fact that this test is based on Jung’s psychology gives it just a tiny bit more weight than astrology and tarot reading, at least in my mind.
Swann is aware of that, and she is already talking about ways to improve the accuracy of Birdy’s test, “Personality tests are subjective and it’s hard to set every user in the right mood to answer the questions the right way. We will put in place a system of verification. Every time the user makes a verification process, he increases his ‘type certainty percentage’.” The app will also soon feature more filters to ‘classify’ its users.
Birdy might find your perfect match or it might not, but what seems obvious is that it has a strong potential to change the way dating apps push us to look at relationships, as well as changing the dating experience in general. We’re almost in 2020—it is time we date people for their personality, not only for their looks. So if you feel like you’re in the mood for a new approach to dating and want to test the alpha version of Birdy that will be available on 5 January, you can register on the waiting list and will receive your code to access it. Good luck.
Let’s face it. Dating in the ‘apps’ era can be downright demoralising. With virtually infinite choice of prospective lovers comes an equal volume of heartbreak, ghosting, self-doubt, and rejection.
While the trials and tribulations of online dating aren’t exclusive to the queer community, the symptoms of depression, loneliness, and anxiety associated with the apps seem to be particularly potent among gay men using Grindr, Scruff, and similar hook-up apps. Transmedia artist Nicholas Pfosi set out to explore this phenomenon through a media project called Looking, in which interviews and photographs of gay men are presented on a web app mimicking Grindr.
Like many queer men, Pfosi found himself encountering a recurring theme of men describing going on hook up binges, usually with strangers, that leave them feeling unsatisfied, depressed, and frustrated. And after conducting some research into the matter, Pfosi decided to try and put these themes and observations into words and give them some sort of expression.
What began as an experiment in Boston with several interviews had quickly morphed into an outpouring of dozens and dozens of men recounting their, mostly negative, experiences with Grindr and the sense of distress it leaves them with.
“I’ve just been talking organically with these individuals,” Pfosi told Screen Shot, “and I’m thinking to myself ‘people need to hear this and understand what you’re saying; people need to see themselves in your story’.”
The Looking app, which was created in collaboration with web-developer Mike Fitzpatrick, features the familiar Grindr grid, only instead of a potential hook-up, each picture leads the viewer to the individual’s account of their experience with the app. The interviews, presented in a Grindr chat format, provide raw testimonies of men grappling with challenges such as depression, loneliness, body image issues, and HIV, all within the context of hook up apps.
“There’s a lot of dysphoria and distress around gay people’s relationship to romance and sex because we’re kind of indoctrinated or socialised with a certain modality about being sexual or being romantic in the world,” said Pfosi. “And I think one of the best ways to subvert norms is through narratives and stories; people really start to think differently when they hear an account, or they hear a story of someone feeling the same way, struggling with the same things.”
Pfosi points out that the very design of the Grindr app plays a crucial role in creating the problems associated with it. On Tinder, for instance, people have to match with one another and indicate that there is mutual interest (at least on some level) for a conversation to start. “With Grindr there’s no process like that,” said Pfosi, “it’s all about geographical proximity… you can message anybody, regardless of who they are or if they’d be interested in you just because they’re near you. The design of the app informs the function that it has. So that’s why it’s important for me to imitate that experience.”
“There’s a whole psychological component to it,” Pfosi added. “There’s kind of a dopamine rush when you get a lot of messages or people tap you or when you change your picture and suddenly new people message you. And even without looking for sex you’re like ‘oh yeah, this feels kinda good’. And I’ve done this too, opening the app just to see what’s going on.”
Pfosi, however, is cautious in his critique of the app itself, arguing that it’s merely a symptom of a larger problem. “If it weren’t [Grindr] it would just be something else,” said Pfosi, “because, at the end of the day, it’s a manifestation of how gay male dating culture has grown, and what it has grown into. It’s about sexual gratification.”
What, then, could be at the base of this toxic dating culture?
In his widely acclaimed book The Velvet Rage, Dr Alan Downs ascribes the ongoing psychological struggles of queer men (particularly, but not exclusively, when it comes to dating) to deep-rooted shame we carry from growing up queer in a straight world. In many cases, Downs claims, this shame goes untreated and unacknowledged, and so we grow into adulthood with an internalised sense of unworthiness that makes us both primed to expect rejection and highly discriminatory of other people who we sense share the same symptoms. This explains why when we come into contact with one another we often treat each other viciously, and why predominantly gay spaces—be it neighbourhoods, clubs, bars, or dating apps—are prone to become breeding grounds for further hurt, isolation, and trauma. We often don’t function as a real community, but rather as a cluster of deeply traumatised individuals who mirror each other’s internalised shame.
According to Michael Hobbs, a Seattle-based writer who greatly influenced Pfosi’s work, this is nothing short of an epidemic. A research by the Community-Based Research Centre (CBRC) indicates that as queer men we’re between 2 and 10 times more likely to commit suicide than our straight counterparts, and are twice as likely to suffer from major depression. We are also prone to higher rates of diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, allergies, asthma, and more. Researchers correlate these phenomena with what they call ‘minority stress’ syndrome as well as trauma experienced in gay relationships and environments after coming out.
In order to truly tackle this toxic plague of depression, anxiety, and loneliness among queer men (and arguably in the queer community in general), we must engage in the challenging but necessary work of self-exploration and healing, while, simultaneously, building a real community. Not necessarily one that is fabulous and chic and blunt, but rather a network of communities that foster genuine human connection and support.
Pfosi’s goal is to have people upload their own stories to his Looking web-app, a function that is still in the works. “What I would really love for this app is for it to, through this submittable profile capability, become a way to interface with this work commenting on the LGBT dating experience, specifically the gay male dating experience, in a deeper, more conversant way,” said Pfosi. “There’s this feminist term,” he added, “called consciousness raising—bringing together ideas and experiences between a politically or socially marginalised group, and what facilitates that is narrative and empathy, and I want this project to be one of those tools that facilitate this kind of conversation.”
Ultimately, a sense of belonging must transcend the screen and be formed through real life connections and support networks. It is initiatives such as Pfosi’s, however, that set us in the right direction and have great potential to inspire empathy, decrease alienation, and spark some much needed conversations.