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The Infuriating Appeal of Hyper-Exclusive Dating Apps

Aug 30 2016 7:47 PM
The Infuriating Appeal of Hyper-Exclusive Dating Apps

Image by Marko Milanovik via Stocksy

I tried to get into the exclusive dating site Raya and was rejected because I'm not a rich Instagram star. Undeterred, I continued on my journey to find out how it feels to be part of a members-only dating crowd.

Raya, a dating app for C-list celebrities that's been dubbed "Illuminati Tinder," made the news last week after rejecting a former reality show contestant. Vicky Pattison, a British social media personality, told Closer that Raya denied her admittance despite her 3.2 million Instagram followers probably because she "wasn't fit enough."

People love to hate Raya; in July, Vogue writer Karley Sciortino compared the app to high school, "where the hierarchy of popularity is superficial and undeserved." Raya users, according to her, are either conventionally attractive, come from wealthy backgrounds, or know how to put together the perfect ensemble. She claims that, like at SoHo House, the crowd is more obsessed with being part of the cool clique than being unique. The app allegedly counts Amy Schumer, Trevor Noah, Kelly Osbourne, Joe Jonas and Matthew Perry as users, adding to the supposed thrill of swiping left on a celeb you hate while drunk at home watching Netflix.

Once you've been accepted, maintaining your Raya profile sounds like a full-time job. One blog suggests traveling to exotic locales and taking photos with the local fauna. "Elephants are really trending at the moment, so if you can find one, more Raya Power to you!" writes DBag Dating. Snapping photos of random scenery, meanwhile, shows that you're "more than just hot"—you're "also deep."

Read more: Is This App for Interracial Dating Promoting Acceptance, or Accepting Prejudice?

While a Raya membership seems like an exhausting charade to maintain, it's surprisingly difficult to find users on iTunes openly critical of their experience. Instead, users laud Raya for their strict selection process, writing that by comparison Tinder feels like "riding the city bus." Other reviewers positively note the app's many "nines and tens." The only vaguely critical review I was able to find was from a user who called Raya "Tinder for groupies," and said the app had created an environment for starfuckers to flourish. "It's definitely not for 'people in the creative industries' and it shouldn't be sold that way," he writes.

Meanwhile, those rejected utilize the iTunes reviews section to yell into the void, "Don't you know who I am?"

Under the title, "Not one of the cool kids," one woman tries to grapple with the anonymous selection committee's decision. "I'm hot, I have 7k followers on IG and many celebrity friends who recommended me and was still put on their waiting list. F this app!"

Instead of doormen, they rely on photo verifications and LinkedIn profiles to screen out the unwashed masses.

Perhaps the rise of increasingly divisive dating algorithms and selection committees was inevitable. After all, self-segregation based on social status has played a role in the dating world since time immemorial. Apps like Luxy, Raya, Sparkology, The League, and Hanky are the modern incarnation of exclusive clubs, but, instead of doormen, they rely on photo verifications and LinkedIn profiles to screen out the unwashed masses.

"There is a historical continuity between what happens on dating apps and what people have been doing for decades in terms of dating," Stefanie Duguay, researcher and author of "Dressing up Tinderella: Interrogating authenticity claims on the mobile dating app Tinder," tells Broadly. "Social sorting by class for partner-seeking is one of the latent functions of university, which brings together young people of a certain status at a time when they're starting to look for a partner."

As part of her research, Duguay analyzed how Tinder authenticates new users, finding that mobile dating "intensifies the need to confirm that potential dates are not misrepresenting themselves and are safe to meet in person." One could imagine that with an exclusive dating app, those fears may be allayed by the feeling that only users of a certain "calibre" have been accepted.

Of course, on any dating site, user interface limits how one tailors self-presentation—no matter what social media site is used as verification. "We don't just have one Facebook-approved self—we have multiple sides to ourselves that we show in different contexts, and importing social media profiles into an app doesn't capture that," Duguay said.

To try to understand how limiting or gratifying it feels to be part of an exclusive crowd, I downloaded Raya and applied for membership. I was promptly rejected (as a writer, my low-traffic Instagram account is filled mostly with dumb puns and self-deprecating candids). Undeterred, I downloaded Luxy, which bills itself as "The number one online millionaire dating site for rich, wealthy and beautiful singles," and took glamour shots at my apartment building's kidney bean-shaped, cockroach-ridden pool. Bafflingly, I was admitted and instantly began receiving messages from rich (or wannabe rich) women who thought I was straight (Luxy does not accommodate for wealthy gay men).

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Many of the women looked like they could be cast members of Vanderpump Rules. Alicia posed in lingerie on a rooftop with a black hat covering her hair. Under "preferred brands," she listed Dior, Coach, Cadillac, Ferrari, and Hermes—a safe mélange of status symbols one can both wear and drive. Other users posed on the beach or posted their professional headshots. The overall vibe was mainstream sexy.

Even though the app was useless, I'd be lying if I said it didn't feel somewhat satisfying to be accepted into the self-professed one percent. Like accidentally stumbling into the perfect light for a selfie, Luxy made me feel like I'd managed to dupe an app into thinking I was wildly more successful than I actually am.

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