I recently surveyed my friends about how many "mutual friends" each considered to be the optimal number when heading into a first date. "None," the first said: She preferred a fresh start. "Three or four," said another: Enough to know he "checks out," but not so many as to guarantee gossip. And now the quest to optimize social overlap has a new data point: After two years of facilitating matches, Hinge — the dating app that is basically the Tinder of your extended Facebook network — is releasing data from its internal studies of how many degrees of separation make for the perfect date. Turns out its users are three times more likely to "swipe right" on a third-degree connection (friend of a friend of a friend), with women and New Yorkers caring the most about social ties.
Hinge operates in 34 American cities and four abroad (London, Toronto, Sydney, and Mumbai). Its user base is almost entirely college-educated white-collar types who are, presumably, seeking the same. ("Most popular industries include banking, consulting, media, and fashion," the company's publicist says, describing either a romantic godsend or the most repellent dating pool imaginable, depending on your outlook.) According to Hinge's internal studies, second- and third-degree connections are two to three times more likely to result in a match (both parties swiping right) than random connections (fourth-degree or higher) are. Women were five times more likely to swipe right on someone they were connected to than on a random person.
Hinge also ranked the cities that care most about social connections — that is, cities where users had the highest rate of swiping right on people they were connected to. New York topped the list, followed by Orlando, Kansas City, Atlanta, and Dallas. The city that cared the least about social connections was Omaha, followed by Indianapolis, Denver, San Diego, and Columbus.
There are two possible interpretations for the news that New Yorkers care more about social connections than anyone else. We could be a gossipy city full of status-obsessed social climbers. Or we could be a population of lonely people, lost and afraid in a giant metropolis where we don't know whom to trust or how to find our way. Once again, it depends on your outlook.