It's happened to the best of us. You're innocently perusing the options on your dating app of choice, when you spot a friend, colleague or, worse (depending on your current mindset), an ex. It's an awkward scenario with the potential to change how you present yourself to eligible partners online. (Who wants their boss seeing their latest thirst trap selfie?)
But one new app claims to have removed this problem. Pickable, which launched in the UK last week, lets women be totally anonymous – no name, no photo, no bio, and they don't even need to create a profile – while browsing through men's profiles.
Men can't browse through women – all they have to do is wait for women to contact them, and it's only then that he sees a photo of the woman and can accept or deny her chat request. If he accepts, either party can then initiate the conversation.
There's no shortage of "female-friendly" apps and features that "give women more control" in the heterosexual dating arena. Hinge only enables matching with friends of friends, reducing the likelihood of matching with creepy men, Tinder lets women "throw" virtual drinks over inappropriate men, and Bumble, famously, only allows women to make the first move. But Pickable claims to be the first to put women in control of who sees them in the online dating pool.
The app has over 120k users worldwide, of whom more than 30k are in the UK. Currently the algorithm only works by matching people who identify as male or female with each other, but the company says there are plans to introduce an LBGT+ version.
"From our research, anonymous dating is something women really want," Tamara Goldstein, CEO of Pickable, told Refinery29. "There is a huge opportunity to cater to women who are fed up with exes, friends, family, colleagues and bosses seeing them on dating apps. Removing the requirement for a profile or a picture on Pickable gives women, who were otherwise unable or unwilling to date online, a broader platform through which to meet someone."
Goldstein describes the control conferred upon female users as important, "especially in the era of the #MeToo movement, where women are finally speaking up about what makes them uncomfortable – and having an entire universe of men on other apps who are able to see their face, name, age and job, makes many women uncomfortable."
Indeed, anecdotally, the risk of having their profile spotted by people they know does put many women off using existing dating apps. Imogen, 26, who recently found a boyfriend after reluctantly using Tinder and previously using Bumble, was constantly embarrassed at the prospect of colleagues seeing her profile. Dating apps may be ubiquitous, but she believes there's still a stigma attached to them because of their association with "desperation" and casual hookups rather than relationships, and that the stigma is worse for women.
She wouldn't care if her friends or family spotted her while scrolling, but colleagues are a different matter. "The thought of being seen as 'up for it' or 'desperate' by people you work with is frightening. I'd worry that a colleague’s opinion of me – and any office gossip – could affect my professional life and career," she said, adding that she'd consider Pickable if she becomes single again.
The app also avoids the common awkwardness inherent in other location-based apps, such as Happn, Imogen said. "You wouldn't need to make awkward eye contact with people you've seen on the app, on the street, at the gym, or local supermarket. Often I think, 'I’ve seen them online, have they seen me?' But this wouldn't happen if I'd been anonymous."
The threat that people they know can see their profile also prevents some women from showcasing their optimal, true selves when dating online. "The idea of colleagues seeing me prevents me from putting my funniest answers on Hinge," said 26-year-old Jennifer. "For example, I’d put, 'The hallmark of a good relationship is...pegging x', if I thought no one from work would see, but alas I can’t."
Jacqueline, 25, from London, who is currently on Hinge and Tinder, is frequently embarrassed at the prospect of friends and family seeing her profile pictures and so could be tempted by Pickable, which removes this risk. "They’re mainly selfies and I fear they make me look like a big vain idiot, but I struggle to get any nice, nonchalant pictures of myself where I’m not totally drunk and eating chips or a kebab."
She also appreciates that, like Bumble, Pickable confers on women more control than the likes of Tinder and Hinge. "I get a lot of unwanted attention from guys [on Tinder]. A few have found me on Instagram or Twitter – even though I haven’t matched with them – and I end up having to block them because I’m just not interested. I also get a bit worried on apps like Hinge, because your surname appears on your profile and you have to change this via settings, which feels like an invasion of privacy at that point."
But not everyone who shared their thoughts with Refinery29 was convinced by the idea of anonymity in dating, particularly as it leaves room for a woman's ego to be bruised. Indeed, once a female user decides she wants to connect with someone and sends him a photo, he may reject her outright. "I wouldn’t like to pick someone for them to realise I’m not their type looks-wise. That wouldn’t do anything for my self-esteem!" said Jacqueline. "I think you’d have to be really confident in your appearance to be on an app like that."
The one-way anonymity also arguably removes some of the excitement of dating apps. Twenty-seven-year-old Millie, whose current dating app of choice is Bumble, said it means there's no thrill of being mutually attracted to one another at the same time. "Part of the fun is uploading sexy selfies on your profile to draw people's attention when they're scrolling. Dating shouldn’t have to be anonymous – if women don’t want to be seen on dating apps, they just shouldn’t use them."
Millie admits, however, that she's not the shy type and has never been embarrassed if people spot her profile, "mainly because my friends, family and colleagues all know that I’m single and on dating apps anyway." But if you are more of a wallflower when it comes to online dating, Pickable could be for you.