Love is hard to find these days. Apps turn people into toys. The pandemic is killing vibes. Adele reigns at the top of the Billboard charts, singing her tales of longing and woe.
Is romance dead? Not in the frothy world of podcasts, where two recent audio dating shows — “This Is Dating” and “It’s Nice to Hear You” — aim to reinvent matchmaking in a time of isolation.
“This Is Dating”, by the independent studio Magnificent Noise, follows four daters who want to break old patterns and form meaningful relationships. In exchange for their participation (the show uses real voices but fake names), the subjects are given a team of fairy godmothers who must rehabilitate their love lives.
A dating coach, Logan Ury — the director of relationship science at the dating app Hinge and author of “How to Not Die Alone: The Surprising Science That Will Help You Find Love” — helps every dating person break his or her bad habits. identify. Producers do the matchmaking and recruit a number of potential partners based on the date’s preferences. Listeners will hear one actual date per episode, conducted via Zoom due to Covid, and the producers and Ury are helping out there too. Sitting as (mostly) silent participants, they occasionally drop icebreakers into the chat to keep the momentum going.
“It’s an incredible exercise in trust,” said Jesse Baker, co-founder of Magnificent Noise and co-creator of “This is Dating,” which premiered earlier this month and is produced by Baker, Hiwote Getaneh and Eleanor Kagan. “You talk to us about the problems you think you have, and we offer this one kind of crazy way of approaching things differently.”
Baker, an executive producer of the popular couples therapy podcast “Where Do We Begin? With Esther Perel,” which she helped create, she brought some of that show’s analytical sensibility to her new podcast. The show balances elements of style. from MTV game shows—separately recorded sideline commentary interspersed with audio from the data—with the more serious aspirations of modern social psychology.
Over the course of the season, listeners will follow the daters as they go on multiple first dates, each presented as a step towards self-discovery.
“We didn’t want just another voyeuristic half hour into someone’s awkward blind date,” Baker said. “It was important for us to show growth.”
“It’s Nice to Hear You” also applies narrative framing to the dating game. The show, which concluded a six-episode first season last spring (a second is in development), follows three couples who are allowed to correspond once a day for 30 days. In a twist, the couples use pseudonyms and can only communicate through voice memos, without exchanging photos or other identifying information. At the end of the experiment, each discovers if their connection is more than one-dimensional.
Part of the appeal of “It’s Nice to Hear You” is the implication that looks and other physical concerns are redundant to romance. The creator of the show and publisher, Heather Li, developed it after watching the Netflix dating series “Love Is Blind,” in which participants, who get to know their future partners over the course of a week, agree to marry without ever seeing them.
“It’s Nice to Hear You” avoids such high stakes, but it’s remarkable to hear how intimate the couples get within the constraining box. Two weeks after the project, a woman declares that she has already shared more with her match than in a previous real relationship. “It feels like I’ve known him for years,” she says.
Li, a retail consultant who created the podcast while going through a dating crisis herself, said the restrictions helped some participants move out of the way. “You’re not distracted by how someone looks or what’s in the background,” Li said. “I think it’s harder to judge someone when you don’t have that many data points.”
On both “This Is Dating” and “It’s Nice to Hear You” the medium’s limitations are turned into strengths. The listener’s inability to see the shows’ daters makes it easier to project themselves into his or her shoes. And the relatively unobtrusive nature of the production device—a smartphone recorder in the case of “It’s Nice to Hear You” and a Zoom account for “This Is Dating”—almost eliminates the “I’m not here to make friends” observer effect. stoked by the presence of reality television crews.
One of the biggest challenges was finding enough participants to make plausible matches — both shows said many more women than men applied — and making sure interactions on the dates were fun to listen to. On “This Is Dating,” the virtual daters make cocktails, play improv games, and give each other bedroom tours, among other mood-boosting activities.
“None of us are professional matchmakers, but creating an environment where people can have fun and feel a connection felt like something we could totally do,” said Getaneh, one of the producers of “This Is Dating.”
One of the questions faced by both sides was how to deliver satisfactory solutions. Here Li was lucky. Shortly before she started “It’s nice to hear you,” she had been ghosted by a man she had seen casually. Li decided to incorporate her personal journey into a multi-episode storyline, confessing her struggles with intimacy and communication to the same relationship coach who interviewed her subjects.
When she finally meets her current boyfriend, with whom she’s been together for over a year now, her happy ending becomes that of the podcast.
“After so many hours listening to other people communicating so openly, I realized I needed to be bolder and more assertive,” Li said. “If they did it, why couldn’t I?”