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New dating app Willow trades profiles pics for personality questions
By asking users to swipe through questions rather than photos, Willow wants its users to “branch out” from judging people based on their looks. Get it? Branch out?
Are you a deep-thinking, extremely cerebral person? Are you tired of swiping through randos on Tinder posing shirtless with exotic mammals? Are you looking for a dating app that’s just as deep-thinking as you are? Do you love answering the kind of inane, esoteric questions you get asked at job interviews?
Well then, you have to try Willow, a dating app that’s asking users to put “brains over beauty,” and is marketing itself as the thinking man’s Tinder.
Unlike apps like Tinder or Hinge, which ask you to swipe through photos of users to select people you’re interested in, Willow, which has the tagline “Branch out” (get it? Because willows are trees, and trees have branches) matches people based on their responses to user-generated questions, such as “What was your most embarrassing childhood memory?” or “What’s the first thing you’d do if you won the lottery?”.
These are the questions I asked when I logged onto Willow, all of which are actual pop culture questions I’ve asked potential mates to determine whether or not they were bone-worthy. (I’m being facetious, but only, like, kind of.)
(For the record, the correct answers to the above questions are: “Beatles,” “Annoying,” and “Anyone but Elmo.” I will also accept Muppets characters, because I am nothing if not magnanimous.)
From there, you have to wait for someone to answer your questions to start a conversation, or you can swipe through a series of other user-generated questions. If you’re able to spark a reply from your answer, Willow will unlock the user’s profile, showing you their photos and other information. It’s basically like Quora mixed with Tinder, except instead of other users determining whether or not they would sleep with you based on your photo, their decision is based on your answer to questions like “What’s your favorite Seinfeld episode?”
Answering questions about yourself on Willow sounds like it could be addicting, but could it actually spark romantic relationships? Michael Bruch, the 23-year-old founder of Willow, is optimistic that it will. He thinks that’s what missing from dating apps on the market is “an actual conversational aspect. I wanted to create an app that got people talking,” he recently told Elle.
By matching users based on their shared interests, rather than asking users to swipe right or left based on a potential match’s physical appearance, Willow is somewhat similar to Loveflutter, a dating app we reported on earlier this year that also marketed itself as a less shallow, less “superficial” version of Tinder.
But while apps like WIllow and Loveflutter certainly place less emphasis on looks than the slew of swipe-based, hot-or-not Tinder knockoffs that have glutted the digital dating market, can they really be said to be “less shallow” than those apps? Isn’t it just as superficial to assess someone’s value as a potential romantic partner based on their answers to questions about Sesame Street characters and Seinfeld episodes, as it is to judge someone based on their height, weight, or cup size?
Of course, to a certain extent, everyone is guilty of doing both. Just as physical attraction plays a crucial role in determining whether or not you’d like to go out with someone, so does a potential match’s favorite bands, or favorite movies, or favorite Sesame Street characters. However silly or superficial these preferences might be, they do have some weight in the dating decision-making process.
(My boyfriend, for instance, just informed me that his favorite ice cream flavor is strawberry; had I known this before we started dating, I’m honestly not sure whether I would’ve wanted to take things to the next level. You guys, whose favorite flavor is strawberry?!!? Literally nobody’s, right? Right.)
In a perfect world, none of us would take these factors into account; we’d just take people as they are, and judge them accordingly. But we don’t live in a perfect world, and we judge people based on whether or not they like strawberry ice cream or think Kristen Wiig is funny all the time. That doesn’t mean, however, that we shouldn’t keep fighting against the impulse to do so, just as we should always fight the impulse to judge a potential romantic partner based on whether they’re bald or fat or have big boobs.
When it comes to choosing someone you want to have a few beers with, most people have a pretty shallow set of criteria; otherwise, dating apps like Tinder wouldn’t be as successful as they are. But choosing someone you want to spend the rest of your life with is a different story, and swipe-based apps like Tinder certainly don’t facilitate those kinds of meaningful connections. Nor do apps like Willow, which claim to be an antidote to the current catalog. They’re not, really; they’re just as superficial, albeit in a totally different way. And if you really think you’re somehow less shallow a person for preferring an app like Willow to an app like Tinder, let’s make this really simple: You aren’t.
EJ Dickson is a writer and editor who primarily covers sex, dating, and relationships, with a special focus on the intersection of intimacy and technology. She served as the Daily Dot’s IRL editor from January 2014 to July 2015. Her work has since appeared in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Mic, Bustle, Romper, and Men’s Health.