The internet loves a crush, and the internet’s crush on crushes has been particularly strong in the past year or so.
There was Call Me by Your Name and the cult of Timothée Chalamet, then To All The Boys I Loved Before and the cult of Noah Centineo. Then came the one-woman crush empire Tessa Thompson and Lorde acolyte Conan Gray’s first hit single “Crush Culture.” These were all, in my view, predicted by Tiana Reid’s viral essay on crushes for the New Inquiry: “The teen crush transforms into an adulthood of endless crushes, the possibility of intense attachments to many people at once.”
It’s been so fun! And now Facebook is getting involved.
At its annual developer conference on Tuesday, the company provided more details about its nascent dating feature Facebook Dating, which is built directly into the main mobile app. The most interesting development is that Facebook Dating has a “Secret Crush” feature, which lets users list nine of their Facebook friends on whom they are secretly crushing. If you’re both enrolled in Facebook Dating and you both list each other as a Secret Crush, you’ll get a notification. Otherwise, the crush will remain secret.
If a friend you are secretly in love with is not enrolled in Facebook Dating, you can still list them. Facebook seems to be counting on the fact that people will be so ravenously curious about who might possibly list them as a crush that they’ll sign up for the service just to see.
The idea of anyone having nine secret crushes at the same time is, of course, very funny and also an impossible emotional tangle to imagine. Facebook also seems to be operating under the assumption that most users still regularly update their social circle by adding new friends on the main site and haven’t offloaded their professional, personal, and romantic lives to, say, Instagram.
If I were pressed to select nine people from my Facebook friends whom I would consider making out with, it would be a real challenge. Some boys from my freshman dorm? A former fellow unpaid intern at some horrible magazine? The reception guy from the orthodontist’s office? No idea where he lives now. But if you have one of those weird years-long things with someone from high school or college, I guess having Facebook tell them you’d like to smooch now would be an interesting development in your narrative.
The feature has already been compared to the weird, failed dating app Bang With Friends (which relaunched as Down in 2013) but is more structurally similar to the also-doomed Slack integration built by the polyamory-centric dating app Feeld in 2017, which was supposed to pair up work crushes and was publicly shot down as an HR nightmare.
Facebook Dating and its attendant Secret Crush feature won’t be available in the US until “end of year.” It launched with a test version in Colombia in September and is now open to Facebook users in 19 countries including Canada, Mexico, Brazil, and Thailand.
Design-wise, it’s similar to Hinge, and profiles consist of a series of photos paired with icebreaker prompts. You scroll through profiles instead of swiping, and you can message anyone without matching first. The profiles are distinct from Facebook profiles, though, and only carry over your first name, age, and GPS-verified location. The rest you fill in just as you would do for any other dating app. Outside of Secret Crush, Facebook removes your Facebook friends from the profiles you’ll see — a real leg up over Hinge, which regularly shows me my coworkers and my close friends’ ex-boyfriends.
Facebook is also emphasizing its real-world relevance by integrating groups and events into its dating feature — hoping that people will opt in to displaying their profile to users that they are likely to come across in real life already.
So far, there are no ads or paid features in Facebook Dating, so it remains to be seen how the project might be monetized. When Facebook Dating was announced, product manager Nathan Sharp gave The Verge pretty vague reasons for it to exist: “Dating has been a behavior that we’ve seen on Facebook for a really long time. We want to make it easier and more comfortable for people to engage in. We just thought that now was the right time.”
But there is big money in dating apps. Analysts say the market could be worth $12 billion a year by 2020, based on the business model pioneered by Match Group. Match Group, which owns Tinder, OkCupid, Match.com, Plenty of Fish, Hinge, and more than 40 other dating-related businesses, brought in $1.7 billion in revenue last year from advertising, paid memberships, and à la carte premium features, like Tinder’s supposedly popular “Super Like.”
Eventually, Facebook will need to make money off your crushes. Especially since its pivot to privacy will presumably result in shucking at least some of the revenue it makes from the public News Feed, and because it is currently setting aside $3 billion to give to the Federal Trade Commission as a penalty for repeated privacy violations.