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Tired of Dating Apps, Some Turn to Google Docs

After going through a breakup last year, Connie Li, a software engineer, rejoined the dating apps, ready to dip her toe in the water again. But many of the men who reached out to her seemed to just want something casual, so she tried something new.

Inspired by long, résumé-like dating bios that she had seen others post online, she drafted her own profile. In a Google Docs file longer than this article, Ms. Li, 33, described herself as monogamous, short and prone to wearing colorful outfits. She added that she was undoubtedly a cat in a previous life, “just one of those weirdo bodega ones that like people.”

She posted the view-only document, what their creators have come to call a “date-me doc,” on social media, and the responses started rolling in.

“There is something kinda dorky about ‘date-me docs’ that reminds me of the early days of the internet,” Ms. Li said, referring to the way people used to meet on AIM, AOL’s now-defunct instant messaging service. “I’m still on the apps, though I’ve pulled back heavily in the last few months since they just don’t seem to be working for me in terms of getting serious matches.”

Ms. Li, who recently moved to San Francisco from New York, is part of a small but growing group of people who are using Google’s word processor to find love. “Date-me docs” are both an emerging dating trend and a relic of a past era, more akin to newspaper personal ads than any bio posted on an algorithm-driven, swipe-based app.

Since she wrote her profile in October, Ms. Li said, she has gone on about 15 first dates with men who reached out after reading it.

The popularity of “date-me docs” among some urbanites comes amid signs of people experiencing burnout from dating apps and increasingly turning to professional matchmakers, as well as TikTok, Instagram or other social media sites to find romance. The top dating apps saw a slump in user growth last year, according to a Morgan Stanley report.

Compared with the number of people on dating apps — about a third of adults in the United States have ever used one, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted last year — the number of “date-me doc” creators is small and mostly confined to people who work in the technology industry and live in major U.S. cities.

It’s difficult to know exactly how many “date-me docs” exist, given that some people do not post their profiles publicly, and instead send their profiles to someone if they are interested. One database compiled by a “date-me doc” creator included more than 100 “date-me docs” from people in cities including London; Chicago; Toronto; Dayton, Ohio; and Denver. Another has profiles in Seattle; Ottawa; São Paulo, Brazil; and Los Angeles.

“Date-me docs” don’t follow a set structure, but they tend to be plain-text documents that include age, gender, sexual orientation, hobbies and interests, as well as a few of the writer’s best and worst attributes. Some look like polished websites, with clean design, photographs and embedded music tracks. Others look more like extended résumés.

José Luis Ricón, who works at a biotech start-up in Silicon Valley, said that he decided to make a “date-me doc” after a string of mediocre dates with women he had met on dating apps. Over the past year, Mr. Ricón, a 30-year-old from Madrid, has gone on dates with four of six women who have reached out to him after reading his Google Docs bio. “Even though it’s the first time you’re meeting, there’s already a lot of shared ground,” he said, since other “date-me doc” creators were in his extended social network.

About half of people who have used dating apps have had positive experiences, according to the Pew survey, which involved 6,034 people in the United States. But dissatisfaction may be growing. Last year, 46 percent of users said their overall experiences had been negative, slightly higher than 42 percent in 2019, the survey found.

Women were more likely to have negative experiences than men. About two-thirds of women under 50 on dating apps said they had received physical threats, experienced unwanted continued contact from a match, been called an offensive name or been sent unsolicited sexual messages or images.

Such experiences have led some people to seek alternative ways of finding love. Though “date-me docs” are not yet widespread, they are a potential antidote to that burnout, said Jessica Engle, a therapist and dating coach based in the Bay Area.

She described “date-me docs” as a hybrid of older dating sites like OKCupid (which, unlike dating apps, allow people to write longer profiles) and traditional matchmaking, which tends to happen organically within a person’s social circle. “The limitations of this may be that there are fewer people who are engaging in this way of meeting people, so there’s just going to be fewer matches,” she said.

Unlike profiles that are limited in word count and often focused on what the advertisers are seeking, some people risk sharing too much, too soon.

Katja Grace, a 36-year-old artificial intelligence researcher, said that people tended to talk about themselves too critically in their “date-me docs.” “I would encourage people to say more about why they would be a good person to date,” she said, after reviewing the roughly 100 responses from men and women she received after posting her “date-me doc” on Twitter in April.

Some of the responses had potential, though, Ms. Grace said, adding that she was still dating people who had reached out to her after reading her “date-me doc.”

“Date-me docs” are not for everyone, said Steve Krouse, 29, who created a centralized database of “date-me docs” last year after seeing them posted on different websites. “You have to be part of a weird internet, open-source culture,” he said. When crafting his own “date-me doc,” Mr. Krouse, who lives in Brooklyn, wrote that he was shy about dancing in public and that he did not love traveling, so that people who viewed those preferences as nonstarters would know not to contact him.

You can only glean so much from an online description, he acknowledged. Still, he said it felt more efficient than other ways of finding a partner.

“I’ve literally never in my life gone to a bar to meet a stranger,” he said. “I just can’t even imagine it.”

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