How has technology influenced the way we date? (Part 2)

Words By Kosta Lucas
Date Published June 7, 2022
Available on All Major Podcast Platforms

How does the person who admits to hating the concept of marriage proposals see the future of online dating? In this episode, we speak to Lucille McCart, APAC Communications Director of Bumble, who candidly speaks with us about how and why online dating has grown and evolved on apps such as Bumble since the first COVID lockdowns began. She steps us through her take on how technology and dating apps are being used and adapted in places such as India and Indonesia, and incorporated into the existing marriage and relationship traditions, as well as why despite its ease of access and success, it continues to be stigmatized.

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Your Host
Kosta Lucas

Head of Community Practice, DrawHistory

Guests
Lucille McCart

APAC Communications Director, Bumble

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Transcript: Introduction

 

KOSTA: Hey, everyone, Kosta here. I just wanted to jump in to give you guys a heads up. This episode features some references to sexual assault, about three quarters into the conversation. Rest assured, we don’t go into any detail, but if for any reason whatsoever, you find this content to be difficult, or if it’s traumatic, you might want to avoid that part of the episode. Have we started recording?

KOSTA: Hello everyone. And welcome to Undesign. I’m your host Kosta Lucas. And thank you so much for joining me on this mammoth task to untangle the world’s wicked problems and redesign new futures. I know firsthand that we all have so much we can bring to these big challenges. So listen in and see where you fit in as we continue to try, and undesign the topic of online dating. In our first episode with Dr. Lauren Rosewarne, we looked at the complex and very human factors that influence our attitudes towards dating apps and how we can overcome them. We looked at this in the context of how techno phobic culture influences how we stigmatize online dating.

In this episode, the second of a two part conversation, we get to explore this issue from the perspective, one of the world’s biggest dating apps. Chatting to us in this episode is our special guest Lucille McCart. 

Lucille is the APAC communications director of Bumble, which now operates two online dating apps, including Bumble and Baidu. Since February, 2021, both apps operate in 150 countries with 2.8 million paying users. As of March, 2021. Lucille gives us an insightful walkthrough of this topic from the point of view of one of the biggest companies in the game. First, she walks us through what dating culture is like post pandemic and then we talk about the negative perceptions towards dating technologies and how Bumble plays its role in destigmatizing, modern dating culture. 

If you haven’t listened to the first part of this conversation with Dr. Lauren Rosewarne, I would highly recommend that you do that first. That way you can see for yourself how the two major perspectives from research and from a company in practice, both split apart and come together on the very same question.

 “I hate proposals! I love weddings, I love parties.  But I hate the social narrative that comes around proposals and engagements and weddings. I just think it’s so gendered.”

Transcript: Conversation

 

KOSTA: Hi Lucille, thanks for joining us. How are you doing?

LUCILLE: I’m god. Thank you.

KOSTA: My first question just to get started really is 2020’s been reported as the biggest year for dating apps across the board, particularly since the pandemic was made official and there were global lockdowns everywhere. So as someone that’s been part of the Bumble family for a long time, how has the last two years looked from your point of view in relation to dating and relationship making, using technology like Bumble?

LUCILLE: It’s really funny because for the first two or so years that I was working with Bumble, everything was about creating an environment where people could meet physically, eventually. Obviously, in a safe manner, but a date was sort of the end goal of every Bumble conversation, Bumble match. Everything was geared towards creating an online environment, which would allow people to meet in real life. That’s what everything was focused on. That’s why dating apps are geolocated, because people are wanting to meet someone within their local radius that they could potentially go on a date with. And then almost overnight the idea of meeting someone in real life almost became impossible across the world. As we all sort of went into that first global lockdown, especially, and it completely changed the game really in terms of what people were using dating apps for and, how, from a communications and marketing perspective, how we were talking to our audience.

And at Bumble, we were really fortunate that we had actually introduced video calling capabilities into the app about six months before the pandemic started. And we had introduced it as a safety feature because, obviously, enabling someone to video call through the app is a pretty great way of being able to verify their identity if you do have those kind of concerns. And also it just is kind of a good thing to be able to do to check if that person is someone that you want to go on a date with it’s a much lower commitment, like first progression on from just texting with someone.

So we already had those capabilities to voice and video call through the app. Almost immediately the conversation shifted towards virtual dating. And I think in Australia we saw something like a 73% increase in the number of video calls that were being run through the app between March, 2020 and May, 2020.

KOSTA: Wow. Just in two months?

LUCILLE: Just in those two months, those first two months where everyone was in lockdown, no one could go anywhere and people were really scared at that time. I think we’ve all forgotten. I personally have put it out of my mind, but when I think back, that was when we think about in Australia being shortage of tests. So no one was really getting tested at that time because we didn’t have enough tests. Health advice was, “Only going get tested if you were really sick.” So no one really knew if they potentially had the virus, if they had passed it on, what was going on. This was the toilet paper crisis-

KOSTA: Oh my God, yeah.

LUCILLE: … during these times.

KOSTA: And I was just thinking hand sanitizer was like, they were struggling to keep up with production.

LUCILLE: [inaudible 00:06:01] shortage, all that kind of stuff. This was the first go of lockdown that at the same time, we were also a bit innocent in the sense that we didn’t think that this would… no one at that point last year thought we would still be potentially in lockdown this time, this year. So it was a very strange time in the world. But the immediate trend that we noticed is that when you take away people’s ability to meet up in person, it does not take away their desire to meet new people, to connect, to socialize, to engage, all of those things. So we saw that 73% increase in video calls, but we also saw 23% increase, I believe it was 23%, in the volume of messages being sent through the app. And the average length of the video call was 28 minutes.

LUCILLE: And if you are thinking about, this is someone that you may have only had a couple of conversations with, 28 minutes is quite a long time [inaudible 00:06:59] on the phone. When I think about when I call my parents, [inaudible 00:07:03], those calls really go for 28 minutes [inaudible 00:07:06] my parents I’ve known my whole life. So-

KOSTA: Of course.

LUCILLE: … I think it was just really interesting to see that shift towards virtual dating and communicating in that completely different way. And then we had all those stories of, as people came out of lockdown, they were meeting up with people for the first time who they’d been speaking to every day for months and getting in relationships that way or getting in relationships before they’d actually even met in person. So I think that is really just evident of the idea that we are social creatures and we also have a really strong desire to meet new people and to be expanding our social circles.

And I also think the pandemic experience has been very, very different for single people. When you think about singles bubbles and bubble buddies and all those kind of things, if you’ve been single through this pandemic, you’ve had a very different experience to someone who’s married with kids.

KOSTA: Coupled, yeah.

LUCILLE: Neither I would necessarily say none is better or worse than the other-

KOSTA: Of course.

LUCILLE: … because some married people I know would argue that being trapped in the house with your partner is worse than being there by yourself. But that it’s just different experiences that people have had. Then by around October last year, the most interesting trend to me was that we ran a survey that said at least 20% of the people on Bumble in Australia at that time were recently single having broken up with people in the peak of the pandemic. And a lot of the reasons cited were inability to see each other. And also, just this idea that the lockdown and the pandemic really pushed relationships in one direction or another, if there was cracks, they became massive holes. And if things were strong, then you saw, I personally saw a lot of engagements of my friends, a lot of people having babies over the last year and a half.

KOSTA: COVID babies.

LUCILLE: So [inaudible 00:09:06] feel like it really pushed people in one direction or another. So around October last year we were seeing a big chunk of people on the app potentially first time dating app users who had broken up with people in the pandemic. And a lot of the research was also saying that for women, this was kind of like an eat, pray, love moment where people were saying, “I’ve had this extra time to myself and it gave me the opportunity to actually think about what I wanted, reassess, think about what quality that I’m looking for in a partner and potentially be more okay with the idea of being single, because I’ve had this sort of ability to reassess my life.” I’m sure men had similar experiences which [inaudible 00:09:51].

Sure, sure. We don’t have a movie point of reference, I don’t think.

LUCILLE: [inaudible 00:09:55] Julia Roberts or whoever it was in that movie to inspire you like that.

KOSTA: That’s right.

LUCILLE: And then one of the more interesting trends that we’ve seen this year, particularly in Sydney, is a real skew towards people looking for serious relationships and wanting to… Everyone’s talking about this hot back summer coming up where everyone’s going to get wild and that very well may happen. But I also think you can want two things at the same time. You can want to get wild on a Saturday night and have fun and hook up, whatever it is, but also be thinking about getting into a long term relationship. And I think that’s what more and more people, especially in places like Sydney and Melbourne that have been impacted by lockdowns the most, that’s what they’re thinking about. And we saw between may and June of this year, which is really when we were leading into this second or third big outbreak.

45% jump in people asking their matches or potential matches about COVID symptoms. If they’d had the vaccine, talking about health and safety a lot more, because I think, again, we were in this really strange position where we were facing going into a second lockdown. People didn’t really know how long it was going to last for and in the same way as the first major lockdown of last year, was really scary. This was really scary because not a lot of people were vaccinated. Didn’t really know what was happening. It all felt very scary.

So all of a sudden, people who had felt very relaxed about dating over summer when things were going well in Australia now it was really top of mind for people to be saying, “Have you had any COVID symptoms before I consider meeting up with you?” So it’s [inaudible 00:11:40] a really interesting trend, but I would say you mentioned you’re in Perth, and I think something that is really interesting is that Bumble and dating, but also lockdowns and all of these things have been very city level lockdowns and city level experiences. However, I also feel like it has had a big impact on the national psyche.

KOSTA: Sure. Okay.

LUCILLE: I don’t think [inaudible 00:12:05] in Adelaide or Perth, you’ve been completely free of any sort of stress or anxiety or anguish about what’s happening because there is still that impending feeling of, it could come here any day. We don’t know what’s going to happen. Also our international borders are closed. There are things happening on a national level that mean life is still not normal.

So what I find really interesting is that we still do see less so than Sydney and Melbourne. We do still see people across the country in places like Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, indicating that they want to date virtually on their Bumble profiles. And there is still a bit of that happening. Not in the same, you’re talking about 10 to 15% of people depending on the city, but there is still that trend happening. It’s not just isolated to the cities that have had long lockdowns, which I think, just says a lot about the fact that what’s happening in Melbourne and Sydney does still have a cause and effect in other cities as well.

KOSTA: Of course, actually, Lucille, that’s really interesting this idea of, how do I say it? You mentioned, I guess, people’s stated preferences or stated priorities changing over the course of this two, let’s call it two years, right? Since while we’re getting close to two years where official pandemic was announced, there was the fear that came along with the uncertainty, then the fear that comes along with not knowing when it’ll lift, the fear of not knowing if our vaccines will catch up with these new strands and yada yada. There’s this real, I’m noticing this kind of, like you described, sort of the spike in interest in technology, in activity and dating technology in the first two months, and then this kind of move towards, by October, of people wanting to find something more serious, right?

And as you were talking, I was wondering whether you have thoughts on if the pandemic has an intensifying effect on people’s very normal social needs to connect, for example. So, do you think there’s any… do you see a kind of a through line between the length of time we’ve been in lockdown and the type of things people are seeking in dating, whether it’s online or using online technology?

LUCILLE: For sure, for sure. I think that some of the survey results we got back last year were also saying, people were saying things like, “I want to find a partner because I don’t want to do lockdown by myself again.” And things like that. So I think there’s a couple of things happening at the same time. You’ve got people ending relationships because they know that they’re not right for them, that person wasn’t right, for whatever reason. And you’ve got people who are already single, both of those groups of people, more focused on the qualities they want in a partner, things like your values and your beliefs, and your personality traits being more important than potentially what we were focused on before with more of the physical stuff and more of level stuff.

 

So you’ve got all of those changes happening while at the same time you’ve got people being like, if we’re going to be in this about six months in to last year, I think people realize this wasn’t going to be over very soon. So ever since then, I think you’ve also got people being like, especially if you live by yourself, “I don’t want to be single during this time, if this is going to go on forever.” But then you’ve also got people like, I know a very close friend who was engaged and was like, “No way can I do another minute of this?” So I think it definitely, I think it had the same effect of pushing people to make that decision and to think about what they want and the impact of that for some people is getting into relationships and for some people it’s…

KOSTA: That’s so true. And my research background is in extremism, right? And in polarization and I look at things that divide communities, split communities, and also make people form intense communities as a result of something. And hearing you talk about our dating lives and our romantic lives and our just relationship seeking lives, it kind of sounds like a similar effect where it’s like, whatever your kind of your predisposition is, or your kind of where your heart is at that moment, that sort of frustrating event comes into play. It pushes you towards that event, depending on where it is found.

If you’re at that place in your life where, I think people talk about COVID as if it exposed the fault lines in a lot of our relationships, whether that’s with our government, with our communities, with our relationships. And this seems to be some form of that where it’s like, it made you choose. Before the fault line splits, you had to choose which side of that fault line you wanted to stand on, right? So that seems like it kind of happened to some extent there?

LUCILLE: Yeah. And I think if you think about all the things that have happened during COVID, you think about Black Lives Matter, you think all of the things that happened in the U.S. last year, you think about any moment in Australian politics over the last 18 months, it really did sort of open the flood gates of, or lift lift the hood, I guess, on a lot of things. But I also think our attitudes to relationships, dating are very much impacted by our community. And if you are in a community or if you’re in a friendship group of all single people, your attitude about being single is going to be different than if all of your friends are married and you are single. Or if you’re in a community where getting married and having children and fulfilling that very specific role that’s been assigned to you is very important. And that’s going to impact you, whether you are, whether you are wanting to be in that, or whether you are rejecting, it’s going to have a much bigger impact than if you were in a community of all like-minded people.

So I think we’re not conscious of the impact that our community always has on every part of our lives. We think we have a lot of agency when it comes to dating, which we obviously do, but not quite as much as what we think. We’re not always aware of all of the different things in society that are impacting our view on what we want out of a relationship.

KOSTA: That is actually such a good segue into a question I was wanting to ask, which was, we’ve talked about the relationship, the impact of COVID on how people use dating technology and/or actually more, sorry, we talked about it more in the context of people’s relationship needs. And my question is, you’ve got that aspect of it, but what about COVID’s impact from your point of view on people’s attitudes towards dating technology generally and using dating technology? So, it’s fair to say, right, that before even the pandemic, online dating is more or less considered a new normal It’s a dumb thing, or in the Australian context, and I’m sure the U.S.

 

Can you see an attitude shift in any way about… I guess, my question is, it still kind of stigmatized in the way that we kind of think of online dating? At least when it started there was discourse around how online dating… actually you alluded to it earlier about people appearing desperate or people appearing to be putting yourself out there and saying, hey, I want to date someone is a really brave thing to do. And it can be quite a vulnerable position to take. Has the pandemic changed any of that in terms of people’s attitudes towards dating and how has Bumble fit into that equation, I guess, or apps like Bumble?

LUCILLE: I think it’s completely changed it in a lot of ways. I think that in the U.S. and Australia and the UK, we were already on the journey to destigmatizing dating apps quite significantly. But when I think back to when I first started talking to journalists and influences about Bumble four or five years ago, it was like, “I would never tell people I’m single. I would never tell people that I was using a dating app.” Or, “What do you mean women have to talk first?” That was just this kind of really alien concept. When you think about Bumble, it’s important to remember, I think, that Bumble’s beginnings were [inaudible 00:20:12] times up, pre all of the things that have happened in the last two years that have brought feminism and women empowerment to the top of the cultural conversation.

So it was pre all of that. People were like, “Well, why would I want a man to know that I’m interested in him? That’s not how you play the game.” Women are meant to take this backseat role. And men are meant to be the drivers in this situation, which we can get into that in a little bit more depth later. But when you talk about the stigmatization, it was definitely changing by all the things that we’ve done had contributed a lot to that shift away from there being a big stigma around dating apps. But then when we got into the pandemic, all of a sudden dating apps were the only way to meet new people. And the only way to date.

I think if you said to most people, would you rather meet someone on a dating app or do you rather meet them in a bar and have your cute romantic comedy love story you can tell people, everyone [inaudible 00:21:13]. I want the meet cute, but you can have a meet cute on a dating app. It just looks different. What we have been shown through culture and through all of the stimulus that we see. But I think if you did have friends or family that were maybe had not so progressive used towards dating apps, if you told them that you met someone on a dating app during lockdown, it’d be like, “Of course.” That’s the only [inaudible 00:21:39] people. So it was just that different attitudes for it. But a lot of our research has said that people that are using dating apps find them far more important part of their lives than what they did pre lockdown, because our circles have become so much smaller.

KOSTA: So it was a necessity thing. It’s kind of it’s a cultural concession or a cultural kind of allowance or a loosening of some pretty rigid cultural norms in some ways, because of [inaudible 00:22:07] situation.

LUCILLE: If you think about, especially in our more Western societies, if you think of those lingering elements that still thought it was desperate, or it didn’t make sense, or they didn’t want to do it, and for whatever reason or it just became so much more acceptable to those factions, I guess, because it was the only option for a long time in a lot of big cities.

KOSTA: Yep. And I guess, so that’s one aspect of it, right? Where you’ve got kind of the stigma associated with the lack of romance or the perceived lack of romance, maybe even some cultural differences about, what is acceptable rules of engagement in dating? And then you’ve got this other aspect, which I know Bumble’s been very proactive with, which is around safety and fear, and fear for one’s safety and being subjected to all sorts of pretty terrible behavior using dating technology.

Do you know if those fears have a greater weight in people’s apprehension towards dating apps, even though it’s accepted as a new normal, I still get the impression from talking to some of the researchers or reading some of the literature that’s out there that there’s still an apprehension for some people, particularly women, where the risks are pretty terrible, that fear and safety play into apprehension towards dating apps and given Bumble’s taken some pretty big steps to address some of those safety concerns, do you see any shifts in people’s attitudes or inclinations towards dating or using the apps more?

LUCILLE: I think that not to downplay any perceptions of risk, but I think as women, we are trained to fear strangers, and that’s a whole other conversation as to where the biggest risk factor is because ultimately you are actually more likely to be assaulted by someone that you know than by a stranger, but doesn’t mitigate the risk of meeting someone in real life that you haven’t met before, obviously. We take that really seriously, but I do think what does feed into some of the things that you just mentioned is this we’re socially trained to be afraid of strangers, and that’s not a bad thing. It probably is helpful to have a healthy fear of the unknown, but I think that definitely plays into some hesitation.

But I think at Bumble, safety and both safety in the app and what we can do to facilitate safer in real life connections, it’s the most important thing. It’s our number one area. There’s nothing that’s more important than that, because if you don’t take that seriously, that you may as well not be even trying because people do have these concerns. And if you don’t prove that you’re taking them seriously, why should they trust us? We have some of the strongest in-app features when it comes to protecting people that are… And trying to manage what types of people you could potentially come into contact with on the app. It’s not perfect, but it’s something that we invest a lot of energy and time and running into.

And then we also, so some of those examples are things like, we have a really strong anti-spam team that looks into how we moderate what happens on the app. So that might be an example of that might be, we have worked with the Anti-Defamation League, which is a U.S. [inaudible 00:25:32] company.

KOSTA: Very familiar.

LUCILLE: 2017. What we did was develop a very comprehensive list of stop words. So basically that would be racial slurs, it would be misogynistic language, it would cover a whole range of things. And if we see people using that language, our team is responsible for trying to identify those profiles and take them down, ideally before they’ve matched with someone. So trying to actively manage people who are potentially going to be bad actors and remove them before they’ve had a chance to even get reported, ideally. But then we also, at the same time, have a really strong block and report system in the app. We encourage people to use as much as possible that sort of polices that behavior as well. If someone is being abusive or doing something egregious, we will block them, ban them, do all of those things to make sure that they can’t match with other people on the app as well.

And then we have things like the photo verification, we’ve got a feature called private detector, which automatically blurs suspected [inaudible 00:26:44] photos that are sent [inaudible 00:26:46] app. So basically if we suspect that a photo, a [inaudible 00:26:49] photo has been sent, we obviously can’t tell if it’s solicited or unsolicited. So gives the recipient the option to view it, report it, or delete it. So no cutting, no judgment on consensual behavior, but also protecting people from potentially unsolicited behavior so they don’t have to look at that. They can just report it straight to our team who will take appropriate action. But I think as we have this conversation about how our safety policies intersect with our views on gender and all of those sort of things, one thing that and racism and all of the things that we’ve taken a stand on, what is really important to us is education.

So we have one of the best customer experience teams, I think, in the industry. And what they’re trained to do is, obviously, if someone does something really egregious they’ll be banned, but I think there is always that sort of middle ground of someone who has said something offensive. But if we see an opportunity to educate someone and say, here’s why using that word is offensive, or here’s why the language used was offensive. Here’s why you shouldn’t do that. I think we’ll always try and take that opportunity. And we have a lot of resources to share to help explain, because I think we don’t want to just block someone for saying something or doing something and then have them go download a different app and repeat that same behavior.

We’re not actually changing anything that way. It’s about trying to say we introduced a new policy this year, all around body shaming, so specifically classifying body shaming language as harassment, which gives us grounds to bound people for using that kind of language. So the thing about body shaming is it’s really interesting saying we have a similar policy around fetishization and racial fetishization, and what is really interesting about both of these topics is a lot of the time the perpetrator thinks they’re flirting.

KOSTA: Right. Wow.

LUCILLE: It is crazy.

KOSTA: Talk about cultural conditioning there, right, where there’s maybe a bit of a tendency to, I kind of link that in my mind to sort of teasing the person you like kind of, but this is the adult just to slightly the adult graduation of it in a more sinister direction and-

LUCILLE: Truly it really is. And you will have scenarios where a person is reprimanded and can’t understand what they’ve done wrong because they think saying to someone, to use a generic example, “I love big girls.” Well, good for you. But don’t talk to this woman like that, because what you’ve shown is that you are valuing, even though you show it as valuing her, you’ve completely looked past who she’s as a person and gone straight to a physical attribute that she may or may not be able to control, whether it’s height, skin color, hair color ability level, whatever it might be.

LUCILLE: In those kind of scenarios, it’s like, how do we make sure that this behavior doesn’t repeat on our app or anywhere? How do we take the opportunity to educate often men, not always, people about how to behave better. And I think that’s really important part of the strategy as well is keeping the platform safe, but also providing opportunities to educate people about why we have these policies and how they can improve their behavior and potentially get better success themselves that way as well.

KOSTA: That’s so interesting. Because, again, I draw the parallels to sort of conversations on social media around extremist content or violent content or really graphic footage where the question… Because my work comes from more from the prevention side than the intervention side. And it’s like, well, how do you disincentivize people from sharing that stuff, firstly, and then what do you do if it does make it on there? And what are the opportunities to educate as well as you say, which is a really important piece and it doesn’t seem to be a simple answer to that. And then the other thing is just figuring out technology as a way to sort of help mine information and recognize things that then need human assessment to determine context, right?

 

So are those similar sorts of conversations you’re having around, just for example, and I’m only using this as an uncomfortable example to just understand it, right? Just say for example, if someone was happy being spoken to like that in the context of a dating app, I’m sure it’s rare, but some people take on the challenge of giving as good as they get sort of thing. Is there anything that recognizes that sort of context or communication style, or you is the view that you might be discouraging that because you think that is even a step too far or not sort of a type of style you want to cultivate on an app like that?

LUCILLE: That’s a difficult example, but I think in terms of how we respond broadly, we have a very big investment in AI technology to try and pick up all of this stuff, but it’s also reviewed by a team of thousands of moderators. So there’s a human element to that as well. So if that’s… consensual behavior is consensual behavior. That’s not really our place to cast judgment on that. And I think when you get into that territory where you are policing consensual behavior, then you probably have taken it a bit too far. So I don’t love the idea of that, but there in terms of how the technology works, there’s a huge automated element to it and a huge tech element to it. But it’s all supported by human moderators, who you review all of these instances and-

KOSTA: Makes total sense, because AI would never replace, well, maybe, but I don’t think it could replace human judgment at least in its current form.

LUCILLE: And I think what makes Bumble and most dating apps different to one of other social networks is when you are dating, you are exceptionally vulnerable. You’re putting yourself out there, you are making yourself vulnerable in ways that most people aren’t doing when they’re creating an Instagram post. And you’re also thinking when you’re making your profile, you’re doing it with knowledge that anyone can see it. But majority of the activity that you undertake on an app is personal. It’s one-on-one conversations versus putting up on Instagram post that anyone can see. So we have an extra layer of responsibility in projecting people who are putting themselves out there and being vulnerable. It’s just-

KOSTA: That’s a really interesting.

LUCILLE: … has to have that human element to it as well.

KOSTA: You’re right. Actually, that’s something I probably haven’t appreciated till now. Just kind of the exceptional vulnerability that comes with saying, “Hey, I’m looking to connect with someone else.” Whether that’s casually or more long term, that’s a really bold, brave thing to put yourself out there for considering society’s attitudes towards that stuff.

LUCILLE: There’s that dance that you have to do on a dating app of, I’m here to date people. You are here to date people too. Do we know if we want to date each other? I don’t know. We have to kind of dance around that for a little bit until we get to know each other a bit better because you don’t have that confirmation of attraction that you have if you meet someone in person. If you’re talking to someone at a bar, you’ve got a better indication of, just by body language and things like that, of whether or not they’re attracted to you or whether or not what’s happening is reciprocated. So you’ve got to do a bit more of a dance work, a bit harder on a dating app, which actually, I think can create stronger foundations for relationships because you have to communicate more with your words.

KOSTA: Communication’s key, isn’t it? I guess, in person you have more to work with, generally, with all those things you say, but communication, it’s mainly writing. Now you’ve expanded to video and voice and things like that too. Arguably, if you don’t communicate in a way that represents who you think you are or if someone understands to be a certain way, just because of the way you type or the type of things you write down, that’s quite an X factor in how connections are formed, I guess, right? How we even write or communicate with limited body language or limited sort of not having all of our full faculties to sort of advertise ourselves with or to just show all of ourselves with. I think that would be a huge challenge.

LUCILLE: And I think that is why you see, not always but a lot of the time, couples that have met online getting serious faster, because they got to the juicy parts a lot quicker, especially people who have matched and met in lockdown where there’s one of the trends we saw that we identified was slow dating, where people are courting now in a different way than what they were doing two years ago. They’re messaging for longer, they’re video calling, they’re doing all of these things before they meet up in person, which also means by nature of that they’re waiting longer to get physical and be intimate and do all of those things so that the courting process is a lot longer and everything just slow down.

So what is happening in that period where you might normally be overtaken by the physical staff, having conversations and you are getting into the understanding of who you are as people a lot faster because that physical element has been removed and that doesn’t necessarily always mean that that’s going to result in a relationship. It might just mean that you are not dating someone a lot faster than you’re weeding people out in a different way as well, because before where you might have gone on a date with someone and then say has had a few conversations gone another date the next week, all that’s been cut out. So walking a lot more and you’re rolling people out just as quickly as you are getting serious with the right people. So I think that’s really interesting-

KOSTA: Great.

LUCILLE: … part as well.

KOSTA: Just to zoom out a bit, Lauren, because I know that you also have visibility on how dating apps kind of work elsewhere and we’ve kind of been confined to the Australian context at the moment, which is really, obviously, it makes sense, but I’m curious to see what have you noticed about how the uptake of dating apps Bumble in other places that you work?

LUCILLE: So my role at the moment I’m doing a lot of work in Southeast Asia, which has been really interesting because what we see there is a lot of similarities in terms of impact of the pandemic. A lot of people looking for relationships or people doing virtual dating, all of those sort of similar trends that are very much global. Then we also see completely different cultural considerations, what we see in Australia. So for example, in places like Singapore and the Philippines, people are adding the religion badge to their profile a lot more frequently and they’re filtering by religion a lot more frequently because that’s something that is much more part of their public life and their private life than what is in Australia.

I think there is a lot of religious people in Australia, but it’s maybe not a big part of who you show to people early days, it’s maybe not as big a consideration when you’re dating, but that’s very different in a lot of the parts of Asia that we are expanding into at the moment, which I think is just really interesting thing to think about. And then also, when you think about family, for example, I don’t know a lot of people in their 20s in Australia whose family is actively involved in their dating life. However, that’s a different sort of consideration in a lot of Asian countries where you’ve got not just multi-generational living a lot more frequently, but also it’s a bigger focus on marriage and all of those different things. And your family is a lot more involved in all parts of your life. The family dynamic is very different.

 

So everything about a lot of those parts of dating is very different in other parts of the world, which I find really interesting. And then it’s like India, for example, when you talk about our mission, feminism, women’s empowerment and safety we introduce some features in India. In India, women on Bumble can choose to just display their initials, initial of their first name. And that’s only available in India. It’s a-

KOSTA: Okay.

LUCILLE: … feature that we specifically introduced there because of safety concerns that Indian women had. And then once they’ve matched with someone, once they feel comfortable, they can update their profile so it shows their first name. So there has been some adaptations that we’ve made in some of these countries because the type of safety consideration is different in every place.

KOSTA: Right. So it’s almost like safety and cultural context. Well, safety measures informed by cultural context will look different from place to place. But the idea is that progress looks like change. Things are slightly better than they were before this measure was in place. Is that kind of the approach?

LUCILLE: I think it’s interesting to think about the rise of dating apps is very much linked to things like internet penetration, but also changing social value so as a lot of… There are countries like Indonesia, India, are changing fast in terms of the common social values. As women become more empowered in their dating lives, dating apps become a more acceptable way of meeting people. So-

KOSTA: Interesting.

LUCILLE: … all those things are kind of as one rises, so do the others, which I think is fascinating. But safety is a really interesting consideration because when you think about a country like Singapore, for example, which is known to be a very safe place. Women in Singapore are concerned about catfishing and financial scams and a lot of things that are typical for newer internet users and newer dating app users. It’s one of the things that we were seeing a lot of that financial scams and things like that happening in Australia sort of four or five years ago when dating apps were first becoming big. So it’s just interesting to see what people are considering as their concerns in different cultures in different countries.

KOSTA: Why, I guess, look, because I feel like there’s so much that we could explore here. And I’m conscious of your time. So as we sort of tail out of our conversation, I’m kind of just thinking more like, what challenges lay ahead for Bumble and what’s the biggest sort of obstacle, or just kind of, what’s the biggest challenge you have in front of you, I guess, that I can’t put it anymore simply than that, from as an organization, as a dating app company?

LUCILLE: I think there are two things. I think one is the safety conversations that we were talking about earlier and how we can earn the trust of our community. Some of the ways that we’ve been improving on that recently is we introduce the safety and wellbeing center within the app. So that gives people easy access to resources across the whole range of things that impact your safety and wellbeing of using a dating app.

So that’s everything from how to stay safe when you’re meeting up with some, our advice on where and when, and how you should consider meeting up with someone in real life. But also, things like how to deal with ghosting or how to deal with protection, because there’s that whole other part of using a dating app that doesn’t get discussed as much, but also can have a really big impact on people’s mental health. Because rejection isn’t natural part of dating, it’s going to happen, but when you’re dating on an app, you’re dating at scale. So you are going to experience that rejection more and more frequently. So resources on how to deal with that. We also recently introduced a global partnership with a company called Bloom that offers free trauma therapy to sexual assault survivors.

KOSTA: Wow, okay.

LUCILLE: And reports a sexual assault to our customer service team. They can give them free codes to access, I think, it’s up to six sessions with a Bloom therapist to help them deal with the trauma of that experience. And that will be expanded over the next year or so into more languages. And it will be expanded to include any victim of sexual assault, no matter where you met your assailant, not just it was on a dating app. And I think that’s the solution at one end for a behavior that’s already occurred, but also continuing to invest in all of the features that we have in app. And all of the other things that we do that is trying to prevent.

So it’s like trying to… prevention and intervention happening at the same time. So I think safety is really important showing and earning the trust of our community and also educating them that these features exist and that they can use them and that they should use them. And a lot of our systems are reliant on reporting. So making our community of users feel confident that if they report someone, we’ll take action because we need them to report incidents so that we can manage them. Safety is one really important consideration, but then I think the other thing comes to our mission as it relates to gender.

KOSTA: Yep. Okay.

LUCILLE: And I think what it means to talk about women making the first move is so different depending on the woman that you’re talking to, where she’s in the world, what experiences she’s had. So I think adapting that mission so that it makes sense for women in Indonesia and women in Bondi. And I think it’s in our ability to do that. But I think what is, I think, a really big challenge for us is that a lot of, I think, women and men still have very traditional views when it comes to dating.

I think dating is one of the last areas for feminism to really penetrate. I would challenge you to find a woman who thinks that gender roles should exist in her workplace. We’ve been very good at changing our attitudes about women at work, women in sport, all these things where we’re progressing really fast. Women in sport, we’re not maybe progressing that fast, but at least there’s teams now.

KOSTA: There’s slow progress, but progress, right? We have to cherish the small wins, but acknowledge there’s a long way to go. Absolutely.

LUCILLE: Women in politics, we’re dragging our feet, but we’re getting there with a lot of these things. And we have very firm views amongst men and women that, that is good and that is what should be happening and that is progress. But dating is this really funny part of our lives where we’ve just been so conditioned on what it should look like, what our roles are as men and women. And we want to change all of that. And it’s not something you can do overnight because, you said something about romance earlier and I actually have a lot of issues with the concept of romance, because I think every single example that you can provide of a romantic experience is gendered.

KOSTA: But that’s such a subjective experience. When you think about what you enjoy and what makes your heart sing, that’s so specific to the individual. It’s hard to generalize and create a standard we all have to adhere to, but you’re right. At least cultural constructions of romance are so gender, aren’t they?

 

LUCILLE: Exactly. Right. So I think we’re up against a huge challenge in terms of changing people’s views on, we’ve been making the first move on Bumble. Isn’t just about sending the first message. It’s not the gimmick. It’s not about, what’s your pickup line? It’s about how can we encourage women to have that level of agency at every stage of that a relationship. It’s not just about how you start the relationship, it’s about who asks the person out on the first date, who pays for the first date, who goes in for their first kiss, who asks to move in together, who opens up a conversation about having babies, who proposes?

We want to change all of that and say, “All of that is gendered. And all of it is rubbish because you wouldn’t accept that in any other part of your life.” And it actually doesn’t serve men either. A lot of men also have these views where it’s like, I must do all of these things, but why can’t a man be asked out on a date, why can’t a man be romance, why can’t a man take you out to dinner and give him flowers and done that whole thing?

And if a man wants to stay at home and raise a family, why can’t he? There are all of these things where when you say women must do this and men must do this, you’re putting both genders in boxes that they can’t break out from and it doesn’t serve either of them. And then you’re also, you’ve got all of this social structure around that impacts your ability to relate to each other as well, because you’re coming at everything from a very gendered point of view. And that’s not 

even to acknowledge non-binary people and how they-

KOSTA: Literally just about to say that. Exactly.

LUCILLE: Yeah. And I think as long as we have these really rigid gender roles for men and women, you are making it so much harder for non-binary or LGBTQA communities to fit into how this all works as well. So I think that’s a big challenge for us in terms of, we’ve come a long way, but there is so much further to go when it comes to this gender conversation. I think a lot of people think that it’s kind of almost done or we just need to fix the gender pay gap by 10% and then it’s done. And it’s like, no, there’s so much more to do.

KOSTA: It’s a bit deeper than that, isn’t it?

LUCILLE: Yeah.

KOSTA: I guess, Lucille, just to close out then I know there’s a lot of things that need to change and could change. If you had to pick one, just as a starting point that you might think might domino to make cultural sort of room for these new attitudes. Is there anything you would like to see happen or anything you think needs to happen first?

LUCILLE: I hate, and I know a lot of my friends are going to feel dirty about any of this. I hate proposals. I hate, every time I see it, I think there is a couple who two weeks ago were two equal members of this relationship. And now all of a sudden, the man has asked the woman to be his wife. And now all of a sudden she’s a bride and she’s planning a wedding and she said, yes, all that kind of hashtag. I hate every part of it. Don’t get me wrong. I love jewelry. I’d love to wear ring one day.

KOSTA: I love it. I’m all for the bold takes. That’s awesome.

LUCILLE: I love weddings. I love parties, love all of that part, but I hate all of the social narrative that comes around proposals and engagements and weddings. I just think it’s so gendered. I think the wedding industry is so gendered and so designed to make women spend money on stupid stuff. So I’m going to go big and say, I hate proposals.

KOSTA: That’s awesome. I love that. That is such a cool take to end on. Lucille, thank you so much for your time and for such a really, just a really thought provoking conversation. And it’s nice to see it from… This is a question because it speaks to such a fundamental human experience to want to connect in whether it’s just for fun, whether it’s for something more serious, that’s something that is… What’s one of the few things I think that are universal, that we at least all have those desires, whatever they look like. So really appreciate your time talking to us about it from your point of view. Just is there, for anyone that’s interested in what you do or whether it’s Bumble or yourself, where can people find you if they’re interested?

LUCILLE: They can find me on LinkedIn or Instagram. Lucille McCart is my name and my handle.

KOSTA: That’s fantastic. Well, have a wonderful rest of day and, look, let’s stay posted and I’d love to hear more about what you’re doing and look forward to seeing what comes next.

LUCILLE: Thanks so much, Kosta.

KOSTA: Cheers, Lucille. My pleasure.

KOSTA: You have been listening to Undesign, a series of conversations about the big issues that matter to all of us. Undesign is made possible by the wonderful team at DrawHistory. And if you want to learn more about each guest or each topic, we have curated a suite of resources and reflections for you on our Undesign page at www.drawhistory.com. Thank you to the talented Jimmie Linville for editing and mixing our audio. Special thank you to our guests for joining us and showing us how important we all are in redesigning our world’s futures. And last but not least, a huge thank you to you, our dear listeners, for joining us on this journey of discovery and home, the future needs you. Make sure you stay on the journey with us by subscribing to Undesign on Apple, Spotify, and wherever else podcasts are available.

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