Oliver Belleza was recently at a friend’s apartment talking about relationships when he noticed a new feature on one of his dating apps: His Hinge profile now included an option to record a voice response to some of its quirky introductory questions.
Yes, frogs, Belleza said. When he was 4, he was walking home and got “jumped by a bunch of frogs” in the Philippines. He remembers seeing the frogs crawl out of the ground and surrounding him, “just like that one meme of Chris Pratt in ‘Jurassic Park.’ ” A screaming and crying Belleza was guided back home by his aunt while the frogs followed, and the trauma lingers.
Belleza kept the recording up on his Hinge profile and then posted it on TikTok, where it quickly racked up more than 28,000 likes. The 24-year-old mechanical engineer was flooded with responses from people who shared his aversion to frogs or wanted to defend the amphibians’ honor.
Incorporating the power of the voice is not new to dating apps — users can call or video chat potential matches through the Bumble app, and Muzmatch has incorporated in-app video calls and voice notes. But Hinge’s voice recordings are different. Usually, Hinge users must fill out three text prompts to create a profile but since October, they can now answer with a 30-second voice recording instead of written responses. So instead of just writing “frogs” as his irrational fear, Belleza’s recording gave potential matches much more: a semi-traumatic childhood memory, a peek into his dynamic with a close friend and, of course, a clip of how he sounds.
For years, dating apps have thrived with users supplying a combination of their most-flattering photos and list of their favorite books and foods (or, in some cases, such as LGBTQ-focused platform Lex, just classified ads filled with longing). But when the coronavirus pandemic made face-to-face contact with potential beaus more difficult, digital dating platforms said they saw their popularity surge.
But assessing chemistry can be one of the most difficult parts of dating. Images and words can only go so far, says Michelle Parsons, Hinge’s chief product officer, so the company began looking for ways to offer customers a deeper understanding of potential mates and landed on voice messages.
“I think voice is an extremely powerful part of who you are,” Parsons says. “Video comes with a couple of constraints: Do I have my room clean? Do I have someone to record me? There are all these barriers in people’s minds when they’re thinking about video. But voice pairs with our prompts, and our prompts are meant to get the conversation started.”
Hinge has also introduced new prompts especially for voice recordings, including “my best celebrity impression” and “hidden talent.”
For Jocelyn Chow and Brenda Nguyen, the new function was an opportunity to showcase who they are when words or pictures could not. Chow wanted to inject her edgier sense of humor into her profile, jokingly calling potential matches “a little bitch” in her voice recording, a move that sounds harsher on paper than it does in audio. Nguyen, in contrast, decided to sit back and let the subliminal chords of Marvin Gaye’s “Get It On” guide potential matches through her profile, creating “an experience” for those scrolling.
“These additions are opportunities to showcase what type of person you want to surround yourself with, and where your boundaries are, as well,” Nguyen says. “Whether someone is ‘too much’ or not is a senseless question. It’s more, ‘Does this person’s energy level and boundaries match with mine, too?’ ”
Some of the voice messages have gone viral on TikTok by showcasing daters’ most ridiculous, creative and earnest approaches, but they also revealed traditional anxieties: the pressure to be funny, be unique, to stand out online. After adding her Hinge profile to her TikTok account, Nguyen received sometimes snarky comments, including “Is this what other women are competing with right now?” and “My profile could never be like this.”
Not everyone wants to add their voice to their dating profile. For some, hearing another person’s voice can feel oddly invasive and presumptive. Others say it can be an instant turnoff (think of someone named “Josh” unironically explaining how to pronounce their name). But many are just relieved that a voice on the other end meant they weren’t talking to a bot or “catfished” (getting lured by a fake profile).
Anna Pompilio, a 26-year-old brand strategist and trend forecaster, hasn’t recorded any voice messages of her own but says she appreciates how they have “dimensionalized” people on the app for her.
“[Voice] doesn’t necessarily make a profile for me. The other content within it is still driving it,” Pompilio said. “But voice [does add] another layer of vulnerability to the whole experience.”
The voice prompts have made online dating more entertaining, says Jackie Anyanwu, a publicist. “I actually saw one where somebody actually put a Rickroll in a voice memo,” Anyanwu says, referring to the prank where Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” video starts playing. “At the very least, it’s interesting to see as a social experiment.”
If you find yourself turned off after hearing someone’s voice, that’s just a natural, biological response, says Logan Ury, director of relationship science at Hinge. “People can either experience that love at first listen or that ‘ick factor,’ ” Ury says. “And we’re just bringing that information to them faster.”
Still, voice recordings can yield surprising results. Pompilio recently matched with someone she has seen on dating apps for years — “You know, you have your ‘regulars’ ” — after noticing he had added a voice prompt on his Hinge profile.
“I actually did think, ‘I wonder what this guy’s voice sounds like,’ ” Pompilio says. “So I was like, ‘Okay, okay, that’s a positive. We’ll see what happens.’ So TBD!”