Dating apps and websites focus on common ground: if a pair loves the same movies, food, and band no one else has heard of, then they just might be perfect mates. It’s romantic to assume two people could fall in love over a shared interest of eating waffles in bed. It’s realistic that one of them will hate how loudly the other chews. At least that’s the logic powering the new dating app, Hater.
Founded by Brendan Alper, Hater adds a splash of cynicism to dating. Instead of focusing only on what you like, it also wants to know what you despise. Once you set up a profile, you’re given subjects to either “like,” “love,” “dislike,” or “hate.” With a swipe up, right, left, or down, you make a choice, and a new topic appears. Topics range from the mundane (dancing, avocados, dad jokes) to popular culture (Game of Thrones, The Bachelor) to the intimate (playing music during sex, condoms, cuddling).
The survey hits on timely, often controversial topics as well, including swipes on president Donald Trump, the 2016 election, and issues like “All Lives Matter,” “locker room talk,” and “the patriarchy.”
Alper was a former finance guy with Goldman Sachs and Nomura Holdings before he quit the business in August 2015 to become a comedy writer. At least, that was the plan. The initial concept for Hater came from a comedy sketch, but Alper became obsessed with the theory that people could better bond over things they hate than things they like. With some work, he thought, it could become a real dating tool.
The idea has some scientific support. In 2011, psychology professor Jennifer Bosson published a study in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin that argued for the merits of shared negative attitudes.
While thinking about making an app, Alper found that, at least anecdotally, the idea resonated with friends and acquaintances. Hater’s novelty became its greatest asset. “We knew that if we didn't have an idea that could really resonate with people and catch on fire, then we we're screwed,” he says. “You either need to be viral or you need to have a lot of money, and we definitely didn't have a lot of money.”
Hater requires a deeper investment than an app like Tinder. It’s a more thoughtful process that asks you to swipe on ideas that define you, not just someone’s face. You’re looking at loves and hates, curating your own, messaging with matches. Alper’s explanation of the swiping system has a lot to do with his own online dating experiences. He vents frustrations about current dating apps, where you swipe with someone and then have nothing to talk about. He recalls doing his best with clever one-liners “that sounded totally canned and fake, and really told me nothing about that person.”
Hater feeds you things to talk about. Once you’ve matched with someone, you have access to the full list of things they’ve swiped on. In a private message, you can continue toss out fill-in-the-blank-type cards directly to them. “What’s the worst thing ever?” “I love you like Kanye loves _____?”
On a superficial level, the app holds your hand and stops you from opening with a dreaded and dull “hey.” More importantly, it asks some of the awkward questions for you in advance. Are you pro or anti-abortion? It’s an answer that could be crucial to your relationship, but prickly to bring up on a first date.
But the app’s real strength is a cultural literacy that its competition lacks. A person can tell you that they identify as Republican or Democrat, religious or not, but that only provides a surface-level understanding of what values they might hold. And such reductive labels encourage people to judge off stereotypes and assumptions rather than complexity and depth. Hater’s inclusion of references like “locker room talk” removes the gray area. It’s a specific, loaded phrase that challenges you to clearly state where you stand.
"What are the things that Trump supporters love, and what are the things that Hillary supporters love?” Alper says of results the app has turned up so far. “The conclusion, the thing that was universally loved — pretty much the only thing — was guacamole. Other than that, there's not a ton of similarities.”
Hater includes its share of heavy ideas, but there’s a lighter side to it as well. Alper wanted to offer users a chance to let their sense of humor shine. There’s a kind of comedy to liking things that are considered peculiar, like eating until you hurt, or explaining why you’re so deeply in love with bees. He says this sort of personality gets lost in newer dating apps, and points to sites like OKCupid or Match.com. “They did a pretty good job at putting personality first,” he says. “You were able to filter out the people that you knew you wouldn't get along with and find some of the people who are more similar to you.”
In 2012, Tinder introduced the swipe-based system to dating apps. It’s simple — swift left or right to pass or accept a profile — and primarily based on an immediate physical attraction to a person. The app revolutionized dating, both adding an expediency to the otherwise tedious process and helping to shed the stigma associated with meeting strangers in real life. But Alper says it came with a price that’s ultimately made it harder to find sustainable matches. “It’s lost a lot of that personality that some of the older sites had.”
Personality is Hater’s selling point. Since the app’s launch earlier this month, Alper says it’s already attracted more than 200,000 users. For now, he estimates that there are more than 2,500 topics on Hater right now, but more are added daily. Specific topics carry more algorithmic weight when it comes to making matches. Alper says that a “love” swipe for Trump, for example, is not equal to a “love” for avocados.
The team keeps up with news and scans sites like Twitter to figure out what’s trending. Alper says he keeps a notebook and personally writes down new topics that people tell him they hate. Hater will continue to grow beyond its questions as well, with plans to add an Android version and continue expanding into other regions.
He has deeper ambitions, too, that call to mind group swiping activities like Tinder Live. “We want anyone to be able to go on the app, even if they're not single,” Alper says, “and play with their friends, play with other people from around the world — not just people looking for a romantic partner."
Its combination of serious and odd topics makes a lot of sense as a party game. The app itself will let you check the percentages on how people have answered with a tap; playing with friends or even in person seems like a logical evolution. Alper says that he’s already been surprised by how people answer topics differently. Women overwhelmingly tend to love mixologists, he says in one example, while men hate them. The weird things you’d assume no one is a fan of, like losing a single sock? Even those have their supporters. "It boggles my mind that somehow, they're out there,” Alper says.
There’s comfort in bonding with strangers over the worst things in life: people who clip their nails in public, bad Wi-Fi, fedoras. When I matched with someone who shared my Hulk-like anger about Ed Hardy shirts and bitmoji, it felt better than burning 100 fedoras. That’s what love is about.