Love is hard to find these days. Apps are turning people into playthings. The pandemic is killing vibes. Adele reigns atop the Billboard charts, singing her tales of nostalgia and doom.
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,” from indie studio Magnificent Noise, follows four daters looking to break out of old patterns and start meaningful relationships. In exchange for participating (the show uses real voices but fake names), subjects are given a team of fairy godmothers tasked with rehabilitating their love lives.
A dating coach, Logan Ury — the director of relationship science at dating app Hinge and author of “How Not to Die Alone: The Surprising Science That Will Help You Find Love” — helps every dater identify his bad habits. Producers do the matchmaking, recruiting a stable of potential partners based on the dater’s preferences. Listeners hear one real date per episode, conducted on Zoom because of Covid, and the producers and Ury help with that too. Sitting as (mostly) silent participants, they drop occasional icebreakers in 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 tell us about the problems you think you have, and we offer you this unique way of approaching things differently.”
Baker, executive producer of the popular couples therapy podcast “Where Should We Begin?” “With Esther Perel,” which she helped create, brought some of that show’s analytical sensibility to her new podcast. The show balances MTV game show-style elements — separately recorded side commentary is intercut with date audio — with the more serious ambitions of modern social psychology.
Over the course of the season, listeners will follow daters as they go on their first dates, each presented as a step on the path to self-discovery.
“We didn’t just want half an hour of voyeurism in someone’s awkward blind date,” Baker said. “It was important for us to show growth.”
“It’s Nice To Hear From You” also applies narrative framing to the dating game. The show, which ended 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 via voice memo, with no photos or other identifying information exchanged. At the end of the experience, everyone finds out if their connection is more than one-dimensional.
Part of the appeal of “It’s Nice to Hear You” is its implication that appearance and other physical concerns are superfluous to romance. The creator of the show and The editor, Heather Li, developed it after watching the Netflix dating series ‘Love Is Blind’, in which the contestants, who get to know their potential partners in the space 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 couples become within its coercive setting. Two weeks into the project, a woman says she’s already shared more with her match than she had in any previous real-world relationship. “I feel like I’ve known him for years,” she says.
Li, a retail consultant who created the podcast when she herself was in a dating crisis, said the restraints helped some attendees get out of their own way. “You don’t get distracted by someone’s appearance or what’s in their past,” Li said. “I think it’s harder to prejudge someone if you don’t have not as many data points.”
On “This Is Dating” and “It’s Nice to Hear You,” the limitations of the medium are turned into strengths. The impossibility for the listener to see the daters of the shows makes it easier to project themselves into their skin. And the relatively low-key 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” – all but eliminates the “I’m not here to watch” watcher. make friends”. effect fueled by the presence of reality TV teams.
One of the biggest challenges was finding enough attendees to make plausible matches — both shows said they had far more applications from women than men — and making sure interactions on dates were entertaining to listen to. On “This Is Dating,” virtual daters mix cocktails, play improv games, and give each other room tours, among other mood-enhancing activities.
“None of us are professional matchmakers, but creating an environment where people could have fun and feel a connection seemed like something we could totally do,” said Getaneh, one of the producers of “This Is Dating”.
One question both shows struggled with was how to provide satisfying resolutions. Here, Li was lucky. Shortly before starting “It’s nice to hear from you”, she had been ghosted by a guy she had casually seen. Li decided to include her personal journey in a multi-episode story, confessing her intimacy and communication difficulties to the same relationship coach who had interviewed her subjects.
When she finally meets her current boyfriend, who she has now been with for over a year, her happy ending becomes the podcast’s one.
“Listening to so many hours of other people communicating so openly helped me realize that I needed to be bolder and more assertive,” Li said. “If they did, why couldn’t I?”