I feel about dating apps the way most people feel about butt plugs. I’m open to using them, I have friends and family members who swear by them, and I even dabble in them from time to time.
Just as there a lots of butt plugs on the market, the pool of dating apps is not shallow—every month it seems a new dating app is launched claiming to be “the next Tinder.” As a sex and relationship writer, I’ve tried most of them under the guise of dating intel. Some stick (Bumble, Her, and Hinge are my current favorites). And some don’t.
Usually when an app doesn’t mesh with my dating needs, I’ll simply press delete and forget about it. But there’s one app, The League—known as the Harvard of dating apps—that I feel anything but neutral about.
The League wants you to know that it’s A-okay to be picky about who you date. “Are you told your standards are too high?” the app asks. “Keep them that way. We’re not saying Tinder doesn’t have its uses (hello Vegas!) but why not spend your time a little more… intelligently?” (“Date intelligently” is the app’s tagline).
While I can’t help but be amused by The League’s shade at Tinder, its slogan is entirely representative of the app’s general vibe.
By scanning an applicant’s (yes, you must apply) Facebook profile and LinkedIn page, the app’s algorithm assesses you on pedigree markers like collegiate and professional background. The process of getting into the app resembles the college application process. After applying, you’re placed on a waiting list. Yes, really.
While waiting lists have the ability to filter out who is serious and who’s not for things like product launches, they don’t have the same effect in the dating world. “Getting back into dating is always really rough. Add a waitlist to that and you’re telling people that they aren’t good enough to date within this specific forum. That could be really disheartening for some folks,” comments Liz Powell, PsyD, a sex educator, coach, and psychologist in Portland, Oregon.
But the waiting list isn’t my only issue with The League. If you eventually get accepted into the app, you’ll have the option to filter potential matches not only by age, location, and sex/gender (as most dating apps allow) but also by other identity markers like race, religion, and education.
Then, at 5 p.m. every day, you’ll be presented with five potential matches that fit these preferences, which you can accept or reject, or choose to go on League group outings with.
A few dating apps have a community feature, but the most common League groups listed include “Nantucketers,” “Hamptons Crew,” “Brunch Lovers,” “Golf Buddies,” and “Yacht Week,” which I think are pretty reflective of the app’s user.
As a white, able-bodied, college-educated, entrepreneurial twentysomething, I fit our society’s standard of beauty and success. As my friend responded via text when I told him about this article, I’m “basically the app’s dream user.” If the fact that I was only on the waiting list for 24 hours is any indication, my friend is right. So maybe it’s ironic that my dislike of the app is so strong.
More specifically, I think The League is a toxic dose of elitism that my (and your!) dating life doesn’t need.
I ask Shadeen Francis, a sex, marriage, and family therapist in Philadelphia, to talk this out with me. “The League is marketing to picky people and the things that these ‘picky people’ tend to be picky about are things that we tend to associate with elitism: where someone went to college, what level of education they’ve completed, and where they work now,” Francis says.
“There’s not necessarily anything wrong with wanting to date someone with a similar background as you,” she continues. (Proof: the University of Pennsylvania studied marriage trends between 1960 to 2005, and found that people are increasingly likely to pick a partner with similar education and income levels.)
“But the problem with this way of picking a partner is that these markers alone are not be enough to determine whether or not someone is going to be a good match for you,” says Francis. “Where you went to school or where you work now don’t inherently say anything about your level of ambition or the type of education you got, which is exactly what The League wants you to believe.”
Powell adds an example. “You and I both could have gone to School X, but if you showed up to class and got straight A’s, and I never showed up to class and got D’s, the education we both got is very different,” she says. A better marker of intellectual compatibility would be whether or not you can carry a conversation with this person, if you share interests, and if you consume similar content, she believes.
Even if you give The League the benefit of the doubt and applaud the app for niche marketing, there’s still a problem. “When you market something for the elite and call it ‘The League,’ the subtext is that only people who are white, cisgender, straight, and financially well off can be classified that way,” says Powell. The website imagery reinforces this subtext with models who are white, appear to be heteronormative, and all have a certain body type. “There are no images of people with disability, or fat people, or people who exist outside the gender binary,” she notes.
Yep, it bears repeating: this app is designed to exclude a lot of people.
So what should you do with this info? It depends. Ultimately, dating is complicated. “Even real life events and clubs are designed like The League with waiting lists, VIP lists, and emphasis on perceived wealth,” says Francis. In other words, The League isn’t the only platform that encourages elitism in modern dating.
If you want to date within a very constrained pool of “elites,” chances are you already have real world links to this group. But if you define your dating type by educational background and job, Francis and Powell would both encourage you to reflect on how you perceive ambition and success.
“For women, it can be really scary to date online considering the number of creepy messages you might receive,” says Powell. And for some women, the LinkedIn-Facebook double verification system The League uses might make some safety-conscious daters feel okay about the app’s snobby side.
For me it doesn’t, so I’ll keep the app deleted. A week of having guys in finance and real estate ask me where I went to college and if I was in a sorority as opposed to asking thought-provoking questions was enough to solidify my negative opinion.
For now, I’ll stick to the other dating apps on my homepage. And who knows, maybe I’ll even find someone IRL.
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