Amanda Bradford believes dating needs to be planned as ruthlessly as a career, and only high flyers need apply, she explains to Marie-Claire Chappet.
Its tagline is “Date. Intelligently“. An online dating app for the well-educated, ambitious and generally high paid, The League is an exclusive club. While other such matchmakers welcome all comers, users of this one must apply to be members and undergo a rigorous vetting procedure. It is the dating equivalent of a private members’ club.
The brainchild of Amanda Bradford, a 32-year-old self-confessed nerd, the elite dating app has been active in the US since 2015 and has just launched in the UK. Data for London alone show the top three occupations among accepted members are chief executive, consultant and analyst; some 13 per cent have an MBA. Although users do not have to pay, they do have to be screened. By last month, of the 9,205 applicants to the London League, only 2,000 (21 per cent) had been accepted.
When I meet Bradford in a café in Chelsea, I find a friendly American, wearing no make-up, at a laptop. A computer science graduate and former Google employee, she was doing an MBA at Stanford University in California and freshly single after a five-year relationship when the age of Tinder and other such online dating apps dawned. You name one, she tried it. Her disappointment with them spurred her to start her own.
Unlike other apps, which, she complains, lacked “enough required information“, hers would have a screening algorithm that assesses users’ ambition and intelligence by integrating with their LinkedIn and Facebook profiles. Only those whose profiles match the app’s scrupulous criteria are accepted (though the vetting process itself is somewhat shrouded in mystery).
Once in, users can select their dating preferences — gender, height, age, even religion — and are then allocated a rep from the app to act as their guide and matchmaker. It’s like having Jane Austen’s Mrs Bennet in your pocket. Netherfield Hall is let at last.
“I get frustrated when people say dating apps are killing love,” says Bradford. “Some of the best relationships in my life have been sourced through digital networks. It’s a much more efficient way to meet people.”
She describes herself as a “social networking fiend” from a young age, who moved around as a child and so had to become good at making new friends. Before relocating from Texas to North Carolina at the age of 13, she spent a year preparing herself by networking digitally.
“I was a social media creepy person,” she says. But her digital audacity paid off. The day she arrived she already had a play date. The girl remains her best friend to this day.
She has since made dating her science, and her sweet enthusiasm for the app is as infectious as her slips into Silicon Valley tech speak are jarring. She uses words like “calculus” and “efficient” to describe love. But one can hardly blame her for her seriousness on the subject: the world of elite dating apps is growing and, one assumes, becoming increasingly competitive.
There’s Raya, where you have to be famous to join; Beautiful People, which does what it says on the tin and even culled 3,000 users considered to be overweight; and Luxy, which calls itself ’Tinder without the poor people.’
The League often finds itself on this list, dubbed ’The Ivy League’ for its extreme focus on ambition and education and its Yale-sized waiting list (rumoured to be 100,000).
Now available to British singles, it will compete with dating services like Berkeley International, which pride themselves on working with CEOs of FTSE 100 companies and offering a discreet product for “the elite and discerning”.
But Bradford believes she already has the advantage. After all, Berkeley International will set its members back £10,000 a year while The League will cost nothing, as long as you make the cut. The app’s selection process is incredibly discerning. Ambition and success will only get you to the door, it’s wanting the same for your partner that will get you in.
“I want men on the app who really are looking for strong, opinionated, successful women,” says Bradford. The women on the app are “as successful, if not more so, than the men”.
I get the impression she’s dated her fair share of men who didn’t find her MBA as sexy as she did.
She laughs: “Yeah a lot of guys say, ‘I want a smart girl’ but then when you drill down it’s like, ‘do you want an equal partner or do you actually want a supporting housewife?’”
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, recently advised women to handle this deal-breaker by asking potential partners whether they would support their career. The League does so by making “shared value systems” the main criterion for matches.
As for her own love life, Bradford jokes that her criteria for a man is so specific that “the odds of me finding Mr Right at the local yuppie bar was around 1:1,000,000.”
She met a previous boyfriend last year at a League event but is currently dating a fellow CEO she met in person late last year.
Successful pairings come with their own unique set of problems though. The app frequently matches CEOs with CEOs and doctors with doctors, which can create difficulties when it comes to carving out time for one another.
One League marriage (there have been a few) occurred between two San Francisco entrepreneurs who told Bradford they lived near each other but would never have met without the app because of their “crazy, busy lives.”
She concedes that the established formula of the career-minded partner and the supporting role, might be easier; but “a relationship has to be a joint venture”.
The language she reserves for relationships is deliberately businesslike. “It should be like starting a business and searching for a co-founder CEO,” she says, “You’re creating a team of two.”
If it sounds like she’s offering an uncompromising promise of perfection, she is. In an age when one can just keep swiping until one finds what they’re looking for, The League takes up the trend of treating the search for a partner as consumer experience and runs with it.
This may sound at best unromantic and at worst deeply cynical to anyone above a certain age who met their partner in the real world; but it is perfectly normal to millennial daters accustomed to the tyranny of choice. This is a generation that’s settling down later, partly because they don’t “settle” for anything.
“Marriage is no longer a no-brainer,” says Bradford. “It’s not everyone’s assumed ending. We’re not going to do what our parents did. We have options now.”
Indeed. Perhaps too many. As Bradford says, you can easily go on over 100 dates in your lifetime now. I posit that we may have lost the art of compromise, but she counters that that’s no bad thing. “We want 10 out of 10 and we are OK waiting till later in life to get it,” she says.
Last November she froze her eggs to silence her biological clock and thus avoid making a bad dating decision because of the right timing. Meanwhile she plans to expand The League, with a Dublin launch slated for later this year, and is in deep research mode for 10 new League launches across the US.
What fresh dating data has she discovered, I ask?
“People’s second highest priority in a partner now is political awareness,” she says, with a grimace. “Honestly, we’ve received messages from people saying, ‘I just don’t want to waste three hours on dinner with a Trump voter’.”
In this brave new world of super-selective online matchmaking, at least they need do so no longer.
How to make The League
New members are judged on a number of different criteria.
1. Where you work
Most of The League’s members are in finance, consulting or technology, but the app is also moving into other high-profile industries.
2. Your professional title If it has ‘CEO’ in it, all the better.
3. Your education
Not for nothing is the app called “The Ivy League” in the US. The top three universities in the London League are, unsurprisingly; Oxford, Cambridge and the LSE.
4. LinkedIn connections and Facebook friends
The League judges you on your connections — and we’re talking thousands, not hundreds. It also cleverly blocks you from “matching” with co-workers and friends, while using LinkedIn and Facebook to verity your identity.
5. Take a clear head shot
Think glossy magazine shoot, not fuzzy selfie.
6. Your gender politics
“This is not an app where you find your trophy wife, this is where you find your equal partner,” says Bradford. Power couples only please. – The Daily Telegraph