Not long ago, I was surveying the Los Angeles Hinge pool when I encountered a profile that seemed vaguely promising. It included an audio response to the prompt, “A social cause I care about,” and against my better judgment, I played it. It said:
“I don’t know if it’s a social cause, but I love creating communities of Christian filmmakers in Hollywood. I’m all about bringing people together in community, building each other up through prayer, and then pushing each other to make better art. This is what I’m all about, and I’d love to be able to partner with someone in that. So, if you’re interested, let me know!”
Seeing as the most popular response to this prompt that I’ve found on this app has been something to the tune of “the environment,” I couldn’t help but screen record this truly, uh, unique voice prompt, and fire it off into the ol’ group chat. In response, I was met with a flurry of friends’ screen recordings of similarly, ahem, unique voice prompts, as well as entire TikTok compilations capturing cringe, endearing, or hilarious audio responses from the app, ranging from Squidward and Kronk impressions, to men with names like “John” clarifying the complex pronunciations of their names.
Like many other TikTok users, @melissamerk prefaced her viral Hinge audio compilation posted last month by saying she “was going to delete Hinge but then they added the audio feature.” In the video, which has more than 8.3 million views and 1.4 million likes, one man says in response to the prompt, “An overshare,” that he “was feeling super stressed, so I went to the doctor and she gave me some pills for anxiety, so I tried them out and I ended up adopting six pet rats.” Another TikTok compilation reposted to Twitter features a man proudly declaring he has four nipples, while another man raps the chorus of Fergie’s “Fergalicious.”
You get the idea. Most dating apps have some kind of audio component at this point, like a call or video chat option, but as you might have guessed, cold-calling strangers isn’t exactly a popular mode of communication. Hinge’s voice prompt feature, added in October this year, helps the app stand out in a saturated market, providing a recipe for both viral entertainment, and a significantly less intimidating way to learn someone’s voice and sense of humor.
Regardless of whether or not you’re a professionally trained comedian, the voice prompt option can help anyone show a little personality beyond the bios that read “here for a good time, not a long time,” “looking for adventure,” or “6’3 if it matters.” God knows we’ve needed to spice up these apps for a while now. If you can’t think of a 30-second quip to record for a voice prompt, that’s fine and all, but if I read one more “I’ve been arrested in [INSERT MAJORITY-NONWHITE COUNTRY HERE],” or “Going on a Trader Joe’s run — do you need anything?,” or some line about how idiotic you find astrology, I will throw my phone into a lake, and possibly retire to a nunnery.
These voice prompt responses comprise just some of the 13% of Hinge’s 5 million users who have added this feature to their profiles, and in some cases, gone viral for it. As for the TikTok hitmakers who have put these videos together, they rank among the 46% of Hinge users that the app reports have interacted with voice prompts, a spokesperson told the Verge. The two most popular prompts for audio responses are “A life goal of mine” and “All I ask is that you...,” according to the app.
In some cases, people whose voice prompt responses have gone viral have been on the receiving end of significant internet thirst and a barrage of DMs from interested parties. So, do you have to go viral for your voice prompt to get you a date?
Molly Babel, a professor at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver’s Department of Linguistics and co-author of a 2014 study of “vocal attractiveness,” told Jezebel voice prompts can certainly increase the likelihood of a connection. Even if your audio response isn’t the stuff of viral comedy legend, it’s a more authentic way to communicate, and let your personality shine through.
“Voice just carries a lot of information,” Babel said. “So many things are opened up by this really, really rich voice signal that we have, and there’s loads of social information that listeners can kind of take advantage of as they’re deciding whether or not this is someone they’d like to develop a relationship with.”
A key finding of her research, which has focused on what straight men and straight women find attractive in a voice, has been that many people tend to gravitate toward the familiar — specifically, toward voices that remind them of their communities or even hometowns. “California listeners, at least, prefer voices that have some kind of prototypical Californian accent features to them,” Babel said, referencing her research. “So, you can think of this as not just listeners listening for how tall and attractive does this talker sound, but does this talker sound like someone who’s in my speech community?”
This makes sense — it’s not at all uncommon to be attracted to someone who feels familiar, or shares similarities with you. That said, I’ve never set foot in Europe in my life and would still very much welcome a suitor with a British accent, and I have a hunch plenty of other American dating app users would, too. There’s no real recipe for the perfect, soulmate-winning voice prompt, which Babel acknowledges, and she hopes people keep an “open mind” about what they’re hearing.
According to Babel, traditional research into vocal attractiveness has relied heavily on biological essentialism, and the idea that cis, straight men and women look for hints in someone’s voice that suggest they would be an ideal, healthy reproductive partner. However, Babel emphasizes again that perceptions of voice attractiveness aren’t that simple.
“It’s not just this perfect biomarker that some evolutionary psychologists kind of want it to be, about Darwinian evolutionary fitness,” she said. “But [voice] does carry so much information, like guessing someone’s gender, you can even guess age, socioeconomic status, education, even level of emotional investment in this conversation.” Research, for example, has shown that people lower their voices to express sexual desire.
In other words, for better and worse, when Hinge users add voice prompts to their dating profiles, they open themselves to another dimension of judgment and evaluation from possible mates. There are an infinite amount of qualities that can be gauged, ridiculed, and overanalyzed by the sound of someone’s voice — just as users might give someone a chance solely for their funky audio anecdote, they could just as easily snatch it away over the pitchiness or octave of someone’s voice.
It’s not clear whether Hinge’s voice prompt feature is directly generating more dates, and I can tell you that not a lot of people have particularly interesting things to say, nor does the sound of someone’s voice saying “looking for a gym buddy” make that sentiment more interesting. But arguably more importantly, the feature has been a boon to content-makers, and those of us who would rather lie in bed laughing at the most bizarrely charming or psychopathic dating profiles on the internet than get up, agonize over picking an outfit, and actually go on a date.
Caroline Green, who goes by @salty_caroline_ on TikTok, is primarily a Book-Tokker who devotes her account to book reviews, but she gets the appeal of vicariously living through other people’s online dating lives via TikTok. On top of her book content, Green maintains an ongoing, now four-part series of Hinge voice prompt audio compilations that has amassed close to 1.9 million views.
“Most of [the response] has definitely been from predominantly women, straight women,” Green told Jezebel. “I think it’s because we all kind of see and are used to the ridiculousness of men on dating apps, so it’s sort of this universal feeling of laughing or cringing at these together, like, ‘Oh, yeah, these are the cream of the crop.’”
She’s absolutely right — being a woman on a dating app can be a minefield of verbal abuse, and crude, disrespectful, or even just weird messages. Hinge voice prompt compilations on TikTok provide a necessary, almost feminist sort of comedic relief that allows women to share a laugh, or just commiserate about the truly odd experience that is being a woman and seeking love, sex, or connection on the internet.
The key to creating these compilations, Green says, is to never skip a voice prompt when surfing the app.
“Some of them are just, like, kind of boring, and I’m like, ‘yeah, I’m gonna move past it,” Green said. “But then, if it makes me laugh, it’s usually on a kind of a spectrum of on one end, it’s genuinely funny jokes. And then on the other side of that, you have things that are so insane that someone would put on a dating profile that it makes me laugh out of like, ‘Oh my god, what were you thinking?’”
That latter type of humor has certainly found the most success when it comes to going viral on social media. Outside of these shock and cringe factors that have made voice prompts so popular, Green also thinks voice prompts are the right feature amid a pandemic that’s isolated and disconnected so many people. As she notes, it helps a lot of people who “are still hesitant to meet in person.”
“I think it adds just that much-needed, more personal element,” she said. “Normally, you wouldn’t get to hear somebody’s voice unless maybe you FaceTime or something early on. But this way, you can kind of get a sense of their personality that would be harder to gauge over text, or just from a profile, without having to meet in person.”
Green has yet to go out on a date with someone just because of their voice prompt response, and isn’t really dating and meeting up with people in light of the resurging pandemic right now, anyway. But she says she’s chosen to match with and talk to several people she otherwise might not have, were it not for their compelling or humorous voice prompts. So long as voice prompts remain a feature on Hinge, she says she won’t be deleting the app any time soon.