First Times: Of Coffee Meets Bagel and the Circuit Breaker

This article was written by a 25-year-old Singaporean female who dipped her toes into the world of online dating with Coffee Meets Bagel. Whether you’re no stranger to swiping or still on the fence about taking the plunge in a time of self-quarantine, may her musings help you look at the dating app experience with fresh eyes.

A preliminary piece of advice my friend gave me when I floated the idea of getting on a dating app was to not get too attached. From that advice, I surmised that dating apps might merely provide fleeting connections; for the nature and interface of the app might not allow one to get to know another on a deeper level, not at first anyway. Knowing this, you, dear reader, might ask, “So why did you choose to download a dating app and put yourself out there on a public profile for the world to see and judge?”

Well, to be completely honest, I had some time to spare on my hands in March this year. Feeling rather bored, I downloaded it as a source of entertainment. My friends had been on it before, and it seemed to have provided them with some light-hearted fun. I also figured that it might be good to get with the times — friends who know me can attest to how much of a dinosaur I am when it comes to technology — and try out this new channel the dating gods have given us to potentially meet our significant other. Besides, any interesting encounters could be chalked up to life experience.

While I was not very invested, I recognize that people get on Coffee Meets Bagel, aka CMB, for different reasons. And most do want to find someone they could start a relationship with. At the back of my mind, part of me did too. The desire to love and be loved in return is ever so alluring. Since I am getting on in age, and perhaps slightly pressured by the many couples around me applying for their BTOs*, I deduced that it probably wouldn’t hurt if something good could come out of this experience.

*Build-To-Order flats are public housing properties in Singapore. The pragmatism of getting a flat to live in after marriage usually outweighs any romantic gesture, so most Singaporeans take BTO-ing as an informal proposal or a sign that a proper proposal is pending.

My experience began with the creation of a dating app profile. And here came my first set of dilemmas: How do I choose photographs that represent who I really am? CMB recommends displaying five photographs in order to get more likes, do I comply? What kind of photographs did people post on dating apps anyway? I can now report, having been on the app for a while, that the male profiles I have screened often have multiple photographs of themselves, and they usually include photographs showing themselves posing against varied backdrops, often overseas. I personally opted to upload three photographs after deleting an additional one because I looked rather young in it— oh, the considerations one has to make even with something as simple as uploading photographs! Oh, the curation involved!

After uploading photographs, I was prompted to fill out a form detailing who I am, what I like, and what I appreciate my date doing or being. Some anxiety surfaced while I filled out my profile to “truly represent” me, and I oftentimes wondered whether I was being who I was, authentically, or if I subconsciously filled in details I thought might appeal to the opposite gender. I have to add that my experience is only limited to heterosexual interactions as I set my preferences to males. The app also allowed me to set my preference for females (but oddly enough, not both genders). A friend I consulted assured me that I resembled the person pictured in my photographs.

After my profile was filled out, it was on to the next step: the act of evaluating and swiping profiles. I was presented with a plethora of choices, or as the app called it, a menu of Bagels. My first day on the app was rather underwhelming as the profiles I was presented with did not appeal to me. I had to wait for a number of hours before new Bagels were ‘dished’ up. While swiping, I was also faced with many internal conflicts as each decision made inadvertently included an appraisal of the profiles surfaced, something that struck me as rather superficial. Deciding the suitability of an individual solely based on the markers the app chooses, such as the educational institutions they came from, their careers, etc., along with their obvious physical attributes, definitely did not sit well with me. On top of all that, I also found myself confronted with questions I didn’t think of before, like whether race or religion would matter.

It is intriguing to deduce what people look at when they look for a potential partner. Why were these criteria chosen? Do these criteria change in a different country or culture? What do these say about Singaporeans?

Apart from these practical concerns, I also thought about the different categories the app prompted us to fill up for our profiles. It is intriguing to deduce what people look at when they look for a potential partner. Why were these criteria chosen? Do these criteria change in a different country or culture? What do these say about Singaporeans? Do we prize educational institutions, careers, or even a person’s height more than their other attributes? Perhaps therein lies the importance of how we choose to answer the first three open-ended questions on our profile, that I had mentioned earlier.

In the days that followed, I found some matches that have led to further conversations. While this particular app does not have too user-friendly a chat interface, it was fun talking to people I swiped ‘like’ on for the first time. The rush of euphoria I felt when someone I liked ‘liked’ me back was certainly memorable, although it also got old rather quickly as I was soon left with too many chats to keep up with. Some of my interactions on the app were thus brief and evanescent.

It took a while for me to get used to the idea of ‘ghosting’ someone but once I did, I realised that the usual social conversation rules didn’t apply.

There’s a certain transience associated with the app — presented with a collection of Bagels to talk to, a “hello, how was your day?” could be briefly answered by you, or not answered at all. And that was perfectly normal. It took a while for me to get used to the idea of ‘ghosting’ someone but once I did, I realized that the usual social conversation rules didn’t apply. It’s also interesting to ponder how different mediums or applications allow for various forms of interactions to manifest and normalize. And the sense of anonymity the app provided made one feel as if one could almost get away with anything; if anything went awry, there was always that option to exit chat.

Talking to the matched Bagels was the next phase of this culinary journey (if one could elevate Bagels into some sort of gastronomical delight). And while everyone’s experiences would understandably be different based on the people they matched with, I thought I could share some trends I noticed during mine:

1. The shift to Telegram

Taking your conversation to Telegram is a symbol for taking things one step further. I note that this is mostly initiated by guys (which made me think of gender norms), although I did it once. Doing so tells both parties where they stand in a dating app ‘relationship’ (or friendship?) and whether one was deemed worthy and conversational enough to be invited into a more personal space. I was initially hesitant to move off CMB because that veil of commitment-free anonymity would dissipate once we moved to a medium that was more personal. Happy to discover that I could talk to people on Telegram without revealing my phone number, I soon obliged.

2. Sharing previous dating (app) experiences

There comes a point in the conversation where relationship histories are discussed. This could be an attempt to get to know each other’s relationship preferences better, or perhaps some sort of safe space to share personal stories. Either way, it struck me as slightly odd that this came up; after asking around though, this seems pretty common. Maybe it had to do with the dating app medium and the natural progression it appears to take in one’s conversation.

3. “Are you talking to anyone else?”

There comes another point in the conversation where it diverges to whether you are talking to other people as well. I wonder if it’s some human impulse for exclusivity, to want to know if you’re the only one if you’re somehow special. Maybe it’s a manifestation of the desire for monogamy in a relationship (which is what most relationships are today). Perhaps it’s the remnants left behind by the Judeo-Christian Tradition’s influence on our laws — or in other words, colonial imperialism, and we are all socialized. On the flip side, it may just show human nature’s emotions like jealousy, envy, or maybe just curiosity.

4. Good morning/night texts

I didn’t realize the emphasis placed on wishing someone good morning or good night but it seems to hold some significance to those I’ve been talking to. There’s a certain sense of importance accorded to them spending their last waking moments of the day reading and responding to your texts, or listening to the songs you recommend.

5. Music recommendations

I didn’t know Spotify playlists could come in so handy. I’ve found a liking for listening to those playlists others share with me. They reveal so much about a person. And asking someone about their music preference also connotes interest, and sharing yours in return could very well be our modern virtual way of mutual gift-giving and reciprocity. It’s not too much of a hassle and allows you to learn more about a person. A win in my books. I’ve also found the songs recommended to be very representative of the vibes I get from the people I’m talking to.

Apart from the dating experience afforded by the app, I was also curious to discover that one of the tabs could show you who liked you, subject to you paying for a subscription. Interested in CMB’s business model and how they monetize the service of dating, I found that one could opt to enter into a paid subscription for one, three, or six months, with varying prices ($51/month; $35/month; and $28/month).

Paying for a subscription also provides more ways to get ahead. For instance, you could ‘skip the line’ if you happened to like a particularly popular Bagel. Or you could have your profile displayed on the ‘Discover’ tab more frequently for greater visibility. Subscribing would also give you more beans (the in-app currency) which you could spend on special actions, including sending x number of virtual flowers to a Bagel.

And this dear reader, is how far I’ve gotten on the app (or off it), amidst this COVID-19 outbreak (which doesn’t allow for face-to-face meet-ups as of now). Some of my chats have since been buried amongst others, while others are still active. Maybe I’ll share more about the people I am talking to soon. Perhaps, at the end of this, I may even get attached. One can only hope, especially in torrid times like these. You’ll just have to check back!

Feature image by Sherryl Cheong

For more articles like this, check out our Modern Love/Loneliness column.

a contributor

One of many contributors sharing their stories under the cloak of anonymity.

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