LinkedIn, Strava, Duolingo: Daters trying to hookup on non-dating apps

Is there anything more mentally exhausting than the quest for love? Yes, most likely, but sometimes it doesn’t feel like it.

In the age of endless dating apps, endless options, endless ghosting and repetitive conversations, many singles are reportedly sick of trying to find a romantic partner on a traditional dating app. In fact, a 2022 study from Singles Reports found that nearly 80 percent of singles reported experiencing emotional burnout or fatigue from online dating.


Dating culture has become selfish. How do we fix it?

So if meeting the love of your life through a dating app seems tiring, the decision to go slightly unconventional might be appealing. A Wall Street Journal report stated that couples are increasingly meeting on platforms like fitness app Strava and language-learning community Duolingo. And, as Mashable has reported, X (formerly Twitter) is basically a dating app.

But in the age of cyberstalking, cyberflashing, and other forms of domestic abuse online, is meeting someone on a non-conventional app the perfect way to recapture serendipitous romance, or does it have more potential for the crossing boundaries and threatening our safety?

Non-dating app boundaries

“Apps such as Strava and Duolingo can support people to heal from dating fatigue by helping them to come back to hobbies that they love, and build a community of like-minded people,” coach and relationship therapist Madalaine Munro explains. 

But, she warns, it’s important to be aware of the complexities and nuances of how you “appear” and “perform” on these apps — whether it’s feeling self-conscious about how impressive your workout is, or how your post may look to a romantic interest. 

There’s also the issue of the access you give to fellow users of this app, including your location if you’re posting your running routes, for example. 

“Sometimes, bonding through an app can build up a false sense of intimacy,” she says. “For example, because you know someone’s running routes and know that you may have a few things in common, you may feel like you know someone more than you do.” She advises reviewing options for controlling access to your private data and location, and reflecting on what you’d like your followers to be able to see.

“Even when you may have similar hobbies or interests, it doesn’t mean you know someone’s relationship style, their emotional availability, attachment needs, or whether they would be a good match beyond a few similar interests.  You don’t know how they handle stress, move through conflict, or any possible unhealthy behaviours.” 

Sometimes, bonding through an app can build up a false sense of intimacy.

– coach and relationship therapist Madalaine Munro

Munro also advises tuning in with your internal boundaries (“What types of connection are you open to on each platform? Why is that?”) and external boundaries (“What types of messages are you open to receiving, what are your possible replies, what are you [going to say] no to?”). This way, you’re clear in how you’re going to respond to certain scenarios and should be able to save yourself time in indulging people who aren’t on your wavelength. She adds that boundaries can be a “nuanced” topic to navigate with others online, as everyone’s can vary, which can be the centre of the issue.

Is LinkedIn becoming a dating app?

Another non-dating app that’s used a lot for attempts at romance or hookups is LinkedIn — taking the personal into the professional realm. According to recent research by the site DatingNews, 52 percent of people surveyed said they’ve arranged a date via a networking website like LinkedIn. 

But not all perceived LinkedIn love stories end, or start, well. According to another survey done last year of 1,000 female LinkedIn users, 91 percent have received romantic advances or inappropriate messages over LinkedIn at least once. It also found that the majority of these “out-of-line messages” in women’s DMs are “propositions for romantic or sexual encounters.” 

Considering this platform was established for professional advancement and building a community in service of that, the assumption that female members of said community are primarily available for sexual or romantic pursuit feels uncomfortable and problematic.

Mashable After Dark

X user @kizunanyc, whose name is Grace, posted last December about her experiences of unwanted sexual and romantic advances on LinkedIn.

“On [LinkedIn], I’ve been stating I have a partner (significant other) as pre-emptive [sic] protection because I’ve received too many inappropriate messages disguised initially as ‘professionally connecting,'” she wrote, attaching a screenshot of a message she’d received on LinkedIn from someone after telling them she had a partner. It reads: “Are you and your partner open? Like seeing others and stuff? Just curious.”

“These messages make me feel EXTREMELY violated and it feels enormously predatory,” she tells Mashable via DM. “It feels terribly deceptive that someone would use a person’s desire to find work and build clientele as a way to carry out this type of behaviour.”

For positive psychology and business coach Elle Mace, there are many ways unwanted advances on LinkedIn can affect people, especially women.

“A woman who receives unsolicited romantic messages on LinkedIn may start to question her professional achievements and whether she’s being taken seriously in her field,” she says. “This intrusion of personal interest into a professional space can reinforce existing gender inequalities by diverting attention away from women’s professional capabilities and towards their appearance or perceived romantic availability.”

Considering some people have arranged dates on LinkedIn, a proportion of romantic or sexual advances on the site might feel mutual, however. This mirrors a similar relationship dynamic to IRL workplace romances —   but the current normalisation of “hookup” culture and assumptions made on LinkedIn remain complicated and muddied with patriarchal norms.

LinkedIn’s policy on this issue states, “Do not send unwanted advances in messages, posts, or comments or send sexually explicit images to anyone on the platform.” For Munro, the site’s official stance isn’t enough, and we need a broader cultural shift from these apps to affect meaningful change.

“This could be more clear and upfront, and seeing the trend of women dialling back their usage of LinkedIn, I would even recommend a campaign by Linkedin to put the safety of their users first. Just as we saw with the ‘Me Too’ movement, when people in positions of authority or companies address an issue to educate people, it can create a cultural shift.” 

And on an individual level, Munro advises a focus on ethical messaging and an easier reporting system. The burden non-male users bear would at least feel slightly lighter. 


Hinge tests unanswered message limit to ‘reduce burnout’

“More awareness is required about how important ethical messaging is on professional apps,” she says. “By raising awareness, and creating an easier process for women to filter messages, or report people, would go some way to not putting the onus on them to navigate these advances, instead creating a cultural shift on how these types of messages are viewed.” 

Finding love in unexpected places

So when it comes to sending or receiving romantic advances on an app that wasn’t made for such conversations, it’s important to reflect on how to be ethical about your messaging and practice safe boundaries for yourself and the others.

For Munro, a lot comes down to the intent behind a conversation on any app – being clear about your own, and trying your best to ascertain others’.

“The intention behind using your app will be important regardless of whether it’s a specific dating app or community building app,” she explains. She recommends that before approaching someone on a non-conventional dating app, reflect on what connections you’re looking to build, and come up with some boundaries from there.

Dating coach James Preece tells Mashable that we shouldn’t be surprised at non-conventional efforts at romance online — the key is going about it in the right way.

“While these platforms aren’t intended for romance, it’s not unusual for people to explore connections or even relationships there,” he says. “If approached respectfully, making a connection on these apps could lead to something special. Love can happen unexpectedly, and these platforms offer fresh ways to meet like-minded folks.”

Above all, what is needed is a cultural shift in how we approach romantic advances, particularly if we’re attempting it on a medium not meant for “hooking up.” This can be reflected in the language we use and the boundaries we put in place and respect.

Whether it’s on a networking website or an app where you share a hobby with someone you’re interested in, Preece says a shift is needed “towards empathy, respect and prioritising mutual care and comfort over individual desires.”

He says, “If we can reframe meeting someone through a shared passion first, while staying keenly aware of their boundaries, these non-dating spaces could become happier avenues for authentic connection.”

Apps & Software