Before he downloaded The League, Cesar A. Villavicencio ’18 was disillusioned with dating apps. He had gone on date after date, shifting from Tinder to Grindr to Bumble and back, but the connections all felt “shoddy.”
“There was a point where I was becoming almost a serial dater, and there might have been a lot of great connections that I might have missed because I was so jaded from the process,” Villavicencio, an inactive Crimson business editor, says. He was looking for something meaningful, something that the routine of swipe-right-and-repeat lacked.
Villavicencio’s search led him to The League, a dating app increasingly popular among Harvard students that aims to deliver you from the Sisyphean rolodex of uninspired bachelors and bachelorettes on Tinder. Its motto is “Meet. Intelligently,” which tells you a lot about The League’s approach to dating apps, its appeal to the students of the Ivy League whose name it echoes, and why it has faced numerous allegations of elitism.
The basic premise of The League is exclusivity. Users are selected through a rolling application for “ambition”—a quality determined from your Facebook and LinkedIn (yes, actually)—and matches are created by an algorithm that factors in interests and career goals. You get three curated matches a day, unless you want to pay $249 for The League’s annual membership, which gives you an impressive two additional matches per day.
According to Janet J. Ho ’19, who interned at The League as a product manager last summer, the app’s mission is to create “power-couples,” which makes the careful selection of matches essential.
“I think that’s their mission,” Ho says. “To be the anti-Tinder and to be the anti-hookup culture and to really show you people who are serious about dating and serious about finding someone else to be the other half of their power couple.”
It’s a mission that works for Villavicencio, who says the slow pace of The League forms a nice break from the profuse impersonalities of what he calls the Usual Dating Apps.
“It just makes every single match a little bit more special, every single date a little more special,” he says.
But there are costs to more meaningful connections, at least in The League’s Theory of Dating. When you sign up, you indicate your height, race, and religion. When you start using the app, you can filter matches by these same characteristics, which is an approach that seems to request controversy. But don’t worry—you’ll get filtered too.
Ho says these filters are “not really discriminatory,” but rather “knowing what you want.”
“They really want their users to be picky and to really have an idea of what they want,” she says. “They basically want to build off of that and hand-deliver you people that they think you’re actually going to date and make a connection with.”
Villavicencio seems less comfortable with filters, especially the race one. But he says discrimination can be seen as a natural preference in dating, which is “unfortunately more reflective of our society and culture rather than anything that’s inherent about The League.”
“Even if you don’t allow to filter by this, people are still going to be doing that,” he says.
Other students, though, say there is something nonetheless unsettling about the instantiation of discriminatory sexual preferences into a dating app that prides itself on exclusivity.
Brandon N. Wachs ’18, who is on the The League’s 13,000 person long Boston waitlist—there is a waitlist; are you surprised?—says he finds The League’s heavy emphasis on exclusivity “concerning.”
“The whole premise of it to me kind of screams very Charles-Murray-Bell-Curvey, you know what I mean? The elite will just stay with the elite,” Wachs says.
Wachs hasn’t used the app yet (“I just wanted to see what it was,” he says, repeating the curiosity common to everyone I interviewed), but he understands why it might appeal to Harvard students who want partners who understand the pressures they face. Still, he maintains that The League’s “pretentious” marketing is the wrong way to approach the issue.
“The whole thing is like ‘This is an elite group,’” Wachs adds. “To me it seems like everything within the Ivy league that you don’t want, that makes people kind of pretentious a-holes.”
Ho argues accusations of elitism are misguided. The League’s admissions system, she says, is open to people from all sorts of backgrounds, to the beautiful and the damned and everyone in between.
“It doesn’t really discriminate against you based on where you came from or what your background is. If you’ve made a name for yourself and are successful, then The League has its right to choose to draft you into the app,” Ho says. She says it is not so different from Harvard’s own admissions system.
And for all of its ambitions of becoming the “anti-Tinder,” The League might not even be so different from its lowbrow nemesis, at least to Harry H. Hager ’21. Hager says he downloaded The League over winter break because he was “bored.” He expected to see “a resume with a face on it,” but instead, found only “standard dating profile things”: pictures, a bio, and the option to swipe left or right.
“It’s like Tinder but much slower,” Hager says. “It’s so slow! You only get to see three people a day. It’s awful.”
— Magazine writer Luke W. Xu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @duke_of_luke_.