‘It felt like a job application’: the people weeding out first dates with questionnaires
Some app users are sending out surveys to screen potential suitors. But can a pop quiz ever lead to love?
One night this January, as Robert Stewart scrolled through old Hinge matches, he decided to revive a conversation he had begun months ago with a woman on the dating app. After picking up where they left off and exchanging a few pleasantries, Stewart asked if the woman wanted to get on a phone call. He hoped it would lead to an in-person date.
“We could do that,” the woman answered, but with one caveat. “You mind filling out a questionnaire for me first?”
Stewart, who lives in Dallas, clicked on a Google Form the woman sent, titled “Dating Compatibility Q&A”. The woman wanted to “skip the small talk” and go right for the jugular. If Stewart wanted to go on a date with her – if he even wanted to get on the phone beforehand – he had to answer a series of 26 questions.
First question: “Are you married?” Stewart (who, for the record, is not) thought that was fair enough. But then he clicked to the next page, and saw more. Was he in therapy? What was his love language? How does he position toilet paper on the hanger in the bathroom? Does he want kids? If so, what would he do if, hypothetically, a future child came out as gay? Oh, also, here are four sentences. Could he please identify the one that contains a homophone?
Stewart promptly closed the tab. “It was so absurd to me,” Stewart, who is 32, said. “I messaged her back saying, ‘I’m not answering that.’ This is excessive.” He tweeted about the encounter, joking that dating in 2023 had come to this, though many women replied that they did not blame his match for asking.
“Why spend money and waste good outfits and time if y’all ain’t compatible?” read one response.
Later, Stewart went back to the Hinge match, and asked her why she required what felt like “a job application” to date her.
“The premise was, if a guy is interested in her, why would he not want to answer those q’s,” Stewart said. “If he doesn’t want to take the time, then he’s not interested.”
Stewart disagreed. “I thought it sounded a little elitist,” he said. “She’s asking me to invest all this time to decide whether or not I’m a worthy candidate. But what do I get out of it? If we’re getting to know each other, it should be mutual.”
So, it didn’t work out. But Stewart is far from the first man who has been asked to undergo some screening before moving a conversation from dating apps to real life. An increasing number of people are using forms or scripted questions on dates to weed out romantic time-wasters.
Tinder’s end-of-year review found that in 2022, “stances on social issues could make or break a match”. About 75% of singles required their partners to be “respectful of or invested in social issues”. Want to score a date? You better be willing to cough up your past voting history or the last time you went to a protest.
Philippa Wilson, a 29-year-old from Kingston, Jamaica, went viral in 2021 after she tweeted a Google Form that asked potential dates 11 questions, essentially asking the men to “sell themselves”.
Wilson ended up with about 700 responses from men all over the world. After weeding through some joke replies, she estimated about 300 were real contenders. “I got my girlfriends together, we cracked our knuckles and got to work going through all of them,” she told the Guardian. She narrowed the crowd down to 30 men. She ended up going on dates with about four of them.
Kennedy, a 26-year-old Taylor Swift fan from Vancouver, also made her own Google Form to combat pandemic-era loneliness. “I figured if I was going to risk getting sick, at least it should be with someone who was worth getting to know,” she said. (Kennedy asked that her last name not be used.)
As a Swiftie, she wanted to know what potential dates thought about the sometimes divisive singer. “If someone responded, ‘No, I’m not really into her music,’ that’s fine because I knew I could convince them otherwise if we dated,” Kennedy said. “But if they answered something like, ‘No, she sucks,’ or, ‘All she does is write about her hundreds of boyfriends,’ I would immediately delete them because it’s OK if her music isn’t your thing but if you have a weird hatred towards her, it makes me think that you hate women.”
At first, Kennedy appreciated people’s responses. “Everyone’s personalities shined through with their answers, and the dates I went on worked out well,” she said. But when someone posted the form on Reddit, she was suddenly barraged with trolls harassing her and criticizing her appearance. So a word of warning: “I’d tell women who want to do this to be careful of incels.”
But can a pop quiz ever actually lead to love? Though it may not be the most romantic way to get a date, more women are taking a page from the HR playbook and screening matches before spending any time on them. Consider it a quicker version of the New York Times’ 36 Questions that Lead to Love. The study behind the questions, by the psychologist Arthur Aron, explored how asking strangers a series of personal questions can accelerate intimacy.
And by personal, Aron and his team meant personal. Their inquiries were a bit more intense than the ones posed by Stewart’s match.
Example: “Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing?” But both ideas are similar: let’s weed out the duds, quickly.
Jeff Guenther is a TikTok influencer who goes by Therapy Jeff, as well as a Portland-based licensed professional therapist. Most of Guenther’s videos encourage his audience of over 2 million to scrutinize both themselves and the people in their lives. His suggestions for “12 really good second date questions” include “how long does the honeymoon phase usually last for you?” and “what’s the most endearing thing about you?”
After taking some time off from dating himself, Guenther is back on the scene. He’s noticed his own influence: during a first few dates, some of his matches have asked him questions from his videos. And, surprise: he hates it.
“The vast majority of my videos are about questions you should ask yourself, or a first date, or a second date, or a long-term partner, and I feel like I’ve created a monster,” Guenther said. “I’m like, oh my fucking God, what have I done?” Guenther said. “When you make something into HR, that’s so unsexy.”
But he still understands the urge to know absolutely everything about someone. “Dating takes so much energy and going on a date with somebody takes up an hour or two of your life when you could be doing something more stimulating,” Guenther said. “Some people’s love language is asking questions. I have 2.3 million followers on TikTok because people eat this shit up. Ninety per cent of my followers are women, so I think these sort of questions resonate with them more than men.”
None of Guenther’s questions are meant to be asked in rapid succession, knockout-round style. He encourages people to pepper them in over a natural conversation, and he thinks it’s best to leave all interrogations for real-life interactions – not Google Forms.
“On first dates, you feel out the vibes, see what it feels like to be in someone’s presence, check out the banter and chemistry,” he said. “Then you can sprinkle in a handful of questions for the first few dates.”
As a couples counselor, Guenther sees the harm that comes when people fall in love too quickly without asking each other the make-or-break questions. “People will find out things they don’t like about their partners too late, because they’re so attached and in love with that person,” he said. “They’ll be together for years, and then find out someone is wishy-washy on having kids when they really want them. It’s important to get all the important stuff out up front, but maybe in a less overwhelming way than a Google Form.”
Kennedy, the Taylor Swift fan, fell in love with one of the more serious candidates that responded. “I found my soulmate, who answered most of my questions correctly,” she said. “It’s good to have a few things in common, but having a couple of differences gives the relationship a little spice.”
Wilson did not end up finding a partner through her 11 questions, and is still single. She’s given up on the Google Form for now. The men she met via her questionnaire were all nice and respectful, but she never felt a real spark.
“At the end of the day, the guys were everything you would check off on paper: funny, talented, motivated, driven, and good with kids,” Wilson said. “But just because a guy’s good on paper doesn’t mean he’s good for me.”