Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge have turned into a ‘wasteland’ for Gen Z and millennials – and now many are breaking up with dating apps for good


Gen Zers and millennials are making IRL dating cool again. — Getty Images/The New York Times

Bumble executives didn’t know how much its turnaround ad campaign would sting Gen Z and millennials.

The dating app faced major backlash last month after running billboard ads targeted toward women with anti-celibacy messages including “you know full well a vow of celibacy is not the answer”.

The plan majorly backfired, with women taking to TikTok, Instagram, and X (formerly Twitter) to talk about just how offensive Bumble’s new ad campaign was to them. They argue Bumble turned a blind eye to the fact that women continue to lose reproductive rights, others have experienced trauma that prevent them from enjoying and pursuing casual intercourse, and the theme of the ads feeds into the idea of a patriarchal society in which women are just objects for men to mess with.

The ad campaign was meant to be a major part of Bumble’s turnaround plan after 70% of women surveyed by the app said they experienced dating app burnout. The app also made a major change that now takes the onus off of women to make the first move, and announced AI dating concierges to help weed out matches.

Even before Bumble’s debacle, many Gen Z and millennials have long blasted the dating app experience on TikTok and other social media. The generational shift is real – 79% of college students and other Gen Zers are forgoing regular dating app usage and instead opting for in-person interactions, according to an Axios and Generation Lab study from October 2023.

Despite a 16% year-over-year revenue increase in 2023, Bumble also announced plans to lay off 30% of its workforce ahead of its brand relaunch that was intended to have a "stronger appeal to younger users," CEO Lidiane Jones said during the February earnings call. Hinge released a study telling Gen Zers to embrace the “cringe” of online dating.

While Bumble’s latest fumble serves as a prime example of why many Gen Zers and millennials are logging out of dating apps for good, there are a variety of reasons why these younger generations are giving up on them altogether. Fortune spoke with several Gen Zers and millennials to find out the main reasons why they’re deleting the apps.

1. They’re a ‘wasteland’

The first word that comes to mind when thinking about dating apps for 24-year-old communications professional Max Gomez is “wasteland”.

“I think the user pool on a lot of these apps has declined,” says Gomez, who lives in New York City’s Brooklyn neighbourhood. “Gen Z is just simply not using these [apps] as much anymore.”

Gomez also says the apps have become increasingly reminiscent of other social media platforms like Instagram where users are more concerned about curating the right photos and written responses than about representing themselves in an authentic way.

“The goal of the app I feel like is to be authentic and be goofy with strangers,” says Gomez, who recently took a six-month hiatus from using the apps. He’s tried apps geared toward heterosexual and homosexual relationships, “and all of them are way worse than I remember.”

2. Overly sexualised themes

Other users have been turned off by dating apps because they’ve become yet another place for women to be solicited for elicit pictures and messages.

Louise Mason, a 42-year-old freelance marketing specialist from Doncaster, UK, quit Bumble and Tinder cold turkey because she had been receiving overly sexualised messages and has been “accidentally celibate” for years after deciding against having one-night stands in the pursuit of a meaningful relationship.

“I wasn’t like taking a vow of celibacy, it was actually just (realising) I deserve more than this,” says Mason, who has been single since 2007, has never been married, and has no kids. “Straight away, they want you to send them pictures. And it was getting to the point where none of the guys actually wanted to meet up in real life. It’s like (there’s) this online bubble for them.”

Mason says she also got to a point where she realised she thought these men were on the wrong app.

“If you want pics, go on OnlyFans and pay for that,” she says.

3. Paying for apps

Another chief complaint from younger generations using dating apps is that the platforms encourage users to purchase memberships for a better shot at finding the perfect match. And the irony of these paid plans is that many apps offer months-long or year-long memberships when ideally users would like to meet someone suitable as soon as possible and delete the apps for good.

If I’d paid for a month of online dating, “I would like to think that I’ve met somebody that I could at least be dating monogamously,” Mason says. “Okay, I might not end up marrying the guy and I might come back to the app to find the next one, but I don’t want to pay for three months.”

Gomez also explained the notion of “Rose Jail”, a theory that Gen Zers and millennials have discussed on TikTok that has to do with Hinge’s paid membership tiers and other paid components of the app. Hinge users can pay for “roses” in order to unlock their most compatible matches – but users who don’t want to pay or can’t afford to pay to use the app are essentially out of luck on meeting who they may actually be most compatible with.

“People are supposing that the way Hinge is trying to get you to spend money is they’re keeping all these people in ‘Rose Jail’ because you have to buy a rose to send to them,” Gomez says. “I feel like they don’t show up in your feed otherwise, and so they’re keeping away from you these compatible matches that you won’t be able to get unless you pay for that.”

4. Return to meeting IRL

While there are active deterrents for younger generations to steer clear of dating apps, some are simply ditching them out of a desire to just meet someone in real life.

“I don’t want to just be chatting people online,” Mason says. “I don’t want a penpal.”

But at the same time, it’s become increasingly difficult for Gen Zers and millennials who lost several of their formative adult socialising years to Covid to make organic connections in real life. Without a dating app telling them someone is single, has their same sexual preferences, and is interested in them, it can feel daunting for people to approach others in settings where they could potentially meet someone.

“It’s a generational thing to an extent. I think people are more wary of strangers,” Gomez says. “My college experience was interrupted by Covid, and I missed out on like two years of organic social interaction that might have primed me for more of that later in life.”

But Gomez and his friend are pushing themselves to create more in-real-life meetups. They hosted a “Champagne and Shackles” party where they matched up all of the partygoers. They posted fliers around their neighbourhood and invited a bunch of strangers for some matchmaking “in real time”.

“I don’t think anyone walked away (as) a couple from that, but people were very down for it,” Gomez says. “They were either sick of the apps or (said it’s) just a novel way to meet someone that’s not available to them every day.”

Bumble’s big mistake

“What disgusted me the most about this Bumble campaign is that it reeks of ‘you know you want it’. It’s grossly condescending and patronising – as if they know better than ourselves what’s best for us and our bodies,” one TikTok user, @frombothsidesofthecouch, whose bio says she is a therapist, said in a video.

“In a climate where our bodily autonomy is being stripped away from us more and more each day, it just doesn’t make sense why we would take the risk of harming our mental and physical health if we don’t need to.”

In a statement released on social media, Bumble acknowledged it had “made a mistake.”

“Our ads referencing celibacy were an attempt to lean into a community frustrated by modern dating, and instead of bringing joy and humor, we unintentionally did the opposite,” according to the statement.

Bumble declined to provide Fortune with any further statement on the matter, but the company also said it would remove the ads from their global marketing campaign as well as make a donation (the amount was not disclosed) to the National Domestic Violence Hotline “among other organisations as part of our ongoing efforts to support the work being done around the world to support women, marginalised communities, and those impacted by abuse.”

Katya Varbanova, CEO of brand marketing firm Viral Marketing Stars tells Fortune that Bumble’s campaign very well could’ve been launched to try to cause controversy and more attention to the brand – but that ultimately backfired. In fact, it’s relatively common for more popular and progressive brands to push out campaigns that “make some noise” and create discussion, but the problem with Bumble is they didn’t “realise that they’ve crossed the line a little too far,” Varbanova says.

Bumble didn’t realise “that what they were doing wasn’t just poor taste, but also it’s harmful to certain communities and a little bit insensitive as well,” she says. – Fortune.com/The New York Times

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