Interview: Plenty of Fish’s Dating Expert on Self-Aware Singles

Last week, Plenty of Fish released a new survey highlighting that singles are becoming more self-aware of their behaviour and growth. This was part of a new partnership between the dating app and non-profit organisation A Call to Men.

Global Dating Insights had the pleasure of speaking with Shannon Smith, dating expert at Plenty of Fish, to explore this story further.

GDI: It’s great to hear about the partnership between Plenty of Fish and A Call to Men. What do you feel A Call to Men’s expertise brings to this partnership?

Shannon: A Call to Men is all about respecting and valuing oneself by striving to live authentically – and as a non-profit, they have extensive expertise in education and training around healthy masculinity. These subjects are, of course, very closely intertwined with the world of dating and relationships. Together, we share a common vision of a healthier and more respectful society through education and shifting social norms. In my opinion, we’re a perfect match! So in pursuit of our shared goals, we partnered on a joint research study to uncover current dating behaviors and spark conversations on how to make dating more welcoming for everyone.

GDI: Focusing on men specifically, what do you think the recent survey tells us about healthy dating and self-awareness?

Shannon: Unhealthy dating behaviours and habits aren’t necessarily easy to recognize within oneself. However, our research shows that singles are making active strides to better understand how their actions might impact their relationships – and men are leading that charge. With 73% of men saying they’ve been the anti-hero or cause of a failed relationship, it’s clear that men are self-reflecting, with 66% saying they’re working on improving themselves for future relationships (vs. 55% of women)*. They’re willing to dig deeper into the uncomfortable “whys” behind a relationship not working out, and determine positive ways to move forward. Interestingly, in contrast to the common narrative about men and their attitudes towards therapy, when asked how they intend to improve themselves for future relationships, 41% of men stated that they’d actually seek therapy to work through past traumas, compared to 33% of women*.

GDI: Considering these insights, are there any particular traits or trends among Gen Z that differ from other generations? 

Shannon: We’re seeing Gen Z singles take a more laid-back approach to dating and relationships (for instance, less than half of them, 48%, believe that dating leads to a more serious relationship when sleeping over is involved, compared to 64% of Millennials*). This could be attributed to various factors, such as age and maturity, but there’s likely more to it! Gen Z has grown up in the digital age, with social media and the internet at their fingertips at all times, and for many of them, their formative, developmental years were disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. While society is largely back to “normal”, dating etiquette changed drastically during those years (think Zoom/FaceTime dates, casual at-home dates, etc.) and we may be seeing some of the impacts become permanent shifts for this younger generation. Additionally, only 64% of Gen Z say they’ve been the “anti-hero” or reason things didn’t work out in past relationships compared to 76% of Millennials, suggesting that Gen Z may have a less concrete understanding of how their actions might negatively impact their significant other*. 

GDI: As singles start reflecting on their own potentially toxic past behaviour, what are some key ways that Plenty of Fish is helping to create positive dating experiences?

Shannon: Over the years, Plenty of Fish has consistently made efforts to improve the dating experience for  singles. In 2019, we were the first dating app to ban face filters, and in 2020 we were the first to introduce live streaming as a new way of dating during the pandemic – both features were introduced with the goal of making dating low-pressure and more authentic. 

 Last year, we launched Are You Sure, designed to be an in-app sidekick of sorts, utilising prompts that pop up and ask someone to reconsider hitting send when a message could be considered too risque or offensive by the receiver. Just last fall, we launched Cue’d Up, the industry’s first in-app card game designed to make dating more fun, welcoming and down-to-earth. 

 Examining healthy and unhealthy dating behaviours is a focus of ours that’s rooted in the belief that knowledge and self-awareness (while still encouraging plenty of fun) improves the dating experience for everyone. Through our collaborative research with A Call to Men, we hope to encourage singles to take a step back, look inwards and be cognizant of the behaviour they’re bringing to the table as they navigate dating – because there is real opportunity to improve their current and future relationships in doing so. 

GDI: Looking ahead to 2023, what are the biggest trends you expect to see when it comes to positive dating behaviours?

Shannon: Singles are focused on their self-worth and are becoming increasingly clear about what they’re looking for by establishing boundaries – including around their deal-breakers. This has resulted in a rise in the trend of Main Character Energy (MCE) in the dating world. MCE, as it relates to dating, involves prioritising oneself and not wasting time on those who do not meet one’s standards or needs. This shift is evidenced by the fact that 49% of singles say they have made a recent active change to put themselves first**. 

 Self-awareness enables individuals to communicate their needs and boundaries more effectively, leading to healthier and more fulfilling relationships. It also allows singles to reflect on past dating experiences and learn from them, preventing the repetition of negative patterns in future relationships. Ultimately, self-awareness is critical to successful dating as it promotes personal growth, better communication, and more rewarding relationships. It’s my hope that these and other positive dating behaviours rooted in respect and honesty are not trends at all, but rather adopted full-time as better ways to date. 

You can find Plenty of Fish’s blog post about this partnership and healthy dating here.

 *2,000 single or casually dating Gen Z and Millennial Americans were polled in January 2023 by OnePoll, in a study commissioned by Plenty of Fish in partnership with A Call to Men.

**More than 8,000 U.S.-based Plenty of Fish users were polled online in late August 2022. Participants were ages 18-74 with 51% identifying as male and 48% female.