On August 9th, a couples psychologist named Dr Greg Matos published an article in Psychology Today titled “The Rise of Lonely, Single Men.” Matos hosts a TikTok show tackling modern relationships and has noticed that hundreds of female followers are expressing preferences for men who are “emotionally available, good communicators, and share similar values.” Consequently, Matos concludes that men must become more emotionally connected and communicate better to achieve greater dating success. He also argues that if the “relationship skills gap” is not addressed, it “will likely lead to fewer dating opportunities.”
Contemporary evidence suggests that men—especially young men—are lonelier than women. Men are increasingly turning to dating apps such as Tinder in search of romantic relationships. A 2015 study reported in Time found that nearly two-thirds of Tinder users were male. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of people using dating apps has grown exponentially. According to Matos, the loneliness of single men could be exacerbated by these apps because they offer women a cornucopia of choices allowing them to be “increasingly selective.”
The problem is straight men have not come to terms with their own toxic masculinity and archaic patriarchal values. They will not find their romantic lives improving until they take it upon themselves to dig deeper and find out what it means to be “emotionally available”. Until they learn that being a good partner means being open with your thoughts, feelings and needs while holding space for your significant other. And until they stop mansplaining and listen for once.
I agree with Matos that dating apps encourage female choosiness, but I am doubtful that most women on these apps are selecting men based on their capacity for emotional sensitivity. The majority of men on dating apps are being rejected before they get an opportunity to show their emotional side. Moreover, research suggests that attempts to encourage single men to become more agreeable will fail.
Evolutionary theories have proposed that gender differences in personality are partly the product of sex-specific evolutionary pressures—women invest more physical resources in producing offspring than men, so they will naturally be choosier when selecting mates. Agreeableness is more prevalent in women because it is advantageous when caring for small infants and pursuing a long-term mating strategy. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to pursue short-term mating strategies and are also more likely to be assertive and risk-ready because these traits facilitate the acquisition of resources, making them more attractive to women.
Alternatively, social role theorists argue that gender differences in personality are caused by society encouraging men and women to adopt traits consistent with stereotypical gender roles. Social theory predicts that personality differences ought to be smaller in more gender-egalitarian nations, because the expectations to conform to gender roles have been attenuated. However, most large cross-cultural investigations have found that sex differences in personality are larger in the most gender-egalitarian cultures. For example, Schmitt et al. (2008) assessed Big Five traits across 55 countries. They found that the typical sex differences in personality are more significant in countries such as France and Holland, whilst the most negligible differences were observed in Botswana and India. This pattern of results has been replicated by Giolla and Kajonius (2019) in a sample of 130,602 participants.
Schmitt et al. argue that biological sex differences maximise as society becomes more equal for men and women. If correct, it is doubtful that men can be encouraged to become more agreeable en masse, especially since personality traits are largely stable across time and have sizeable genetic components, which suggests that attempts to alter one’s personality fundamentally could be extremely difficult.
Other female mate preferences
Matos and Ng also overlook other mate preferences that women consistently report. For instance, women generally prefer older (four years older on average), high-status, conscientious men who show strong earning potential. Women also like men to be taller than they are. According to one study that assessed 720 couples, the chances of a woman being taller than her partner was low (0.14 percent). Consequently, it is not enough to simply be a nice, attentive, and articulate guy; attractive women desire much more than that (for more examples, see here and here).
Furthermore, it is unclear which preferences women are more likely to compromise when seeking a long-term relationship. Would most women prefer a long-term mate who is agreeable but lacks earning potential? Or a man who is disagreeable but financially successful? And do female mating preferences change depending on the broader socio-economic landscape (for example, in periods of high unemployment)? Such questions could be the focus of future research.
Some evidence suggests that female mate preferences are not stable but vary depending on their menstrual cycle, age, and relationship goals. Specifically, Durante et al. (2014) found that young ovulating women viewed “charismatic and physically attractive men, but not reliable and nice men, as more committed partners and more devoted future fathers.” The problem with preferring caddish male types is they also tend to be higher in psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism—the so-called Dark Triad traits. It has been suggested that highly fertile women prefer these men because their masculine features and dominant personalities are indicators of good genes. Indeed, another study in Germany found that women preferred aggressive, socially dominant men for short-term dalliances—particularly during ovulation. Similarly, Qureshi et al. (2016) observed that young college-age women reported more attraction to fictitious males with dark triads compared to older, less fertile women.
What do these findings mean for lonely single men on dating apps? Well, men, on average, prefer women in their early 20s (when female-fertility peaks) and, as I’ve already mentioned, are more inclined to seek causal relationships. Dating apps are synonymous with hook-up culture and undoubtedly encourage short-term mating in both sexes. Assertive, masculine, and socially dominant men allure young women searching for hook-ups. As a result, single men seeking short-term dating opportunities are unlikely to see their fortunes improve by becoming more emotionally sensitive.
Are dating apps contributing to the lonely single man phenomenon?
Matos and Ng fail to acknowledge an essential fact about men and online dating: most single men on dating apps struggle to even get “likes” from women. This issue was eloquently addressed in a previous Qulliette article by Bradford Tuckfield, which reported that only a tiny minority of men receive a preponderance of matches, and that this disparity was comparable in scale to the income inequality of South Africa under apartheid. In contrast, the match disparity among females was similar to the magnitude of economic inequality found in Western Europe. During a recent podcast discussion with Jordan Peterson, guest Rob Henderson cited statistics from a study on Tinder finding that women “like the profiles of only four percent of the men they see on the app, whereas men swipe right or like 60 percent of the profiles” (see 33:30 minutes into the podcast).
In short, this evidence suggests that the majority of women simply do not think the majority of men are attractive enough even to consider communicating with them in a dating context. More importantly, these findings cannot be attributed to men’s lack of sensitivity or feminist values since the rejection is primarily based on whether the woman likes the man’s profile pictures.
Men’s situation doesn’t improve much once they try communicating. Except for the dating app Bumble, which forces women to initiate conversation, men are significantly more likely to message their matches first. Yet, copious data reveal that 80 percent of men will only receive a reply to their first message one-third of the time, suggesting that a large proportion of matches do not translate into meaningful interactions with the opposite sex. Indeed, a study by Grøntvedt et al. (2020) on university students’ Tinder use found that “for every 57 matches, there was just one meet-up,” meaning less than two percent of matches resulted in a face-to-face date. Ghosting—abruptly ending a romantic relationship without explanation—has become a common tactic in online dating and is likely to engender male perceptions of constant rejection.
Psychologist Jonathan Haidt has written extensively about how Facebook products disproportionately affect young girls’ mental health, as they use likes and friend requests as markers of social approval. Dating apps may be causing a similar phenomenon among young men as they search for the elusive Tinder match. Evidence in support of this idea comes from a study conducted by the University of Texas which found that Tinder users experience more mental health problems than non-users. Another 2021 study at the University of Toronto discovered that social anxiety and depression increased as users spent more time on dating apps. Moreover, Pew Research found that 45 percent of users say the overriding emotion they feel on dating apps is frustration.
Overall, there appears to be growing evidence that dating app usage is linked to poorer mental health outcomes, particularly in younger users. An average-looking man searching for a long-term relationship is likely to experience a scarcity of matches, as a small minority of hyper-successful good-looking men attract the attention of most female users. Unfortunately, dating apps’ convenience, popularity, and addictiveness often leave dissatisfied users in a vicious cycle of deleting and redownloading. They should consider deleting them for good.