Keeping online dating safe and fun: An inside look at Mutual

Mutual is a dating app specifically for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Photo credit: Abigayl Finch.
Mutual is a dating app specifically for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Photo credit: Abigayl Finch.

According to a 2019 study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, approximately 39% of heterosexual couples met online.

There are approximately 2,500 dating apps and websites operating in the United States. While some cater to a general audience — such as Tinder, Bumble and — many appeal to niche markets. Mutual, for example, appeals to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 

Tiah Westover, Mutual’s marketing director, said dating apps are a tool to help people find and form connections. 

“In a lot of ways it’s kind of like trying to build a house without a hammer when you try to date without a dating app,” Westover said. “You can do it, but you’re cutting out a useful tool for meeting people and creating those connections.”

Westover met her fiancé on Mutual. Westover said the highlight of her job is reading the success stories of other couples who meet on the app. 

Dating app concerns

Over the last few years, many conversations related to dating apps centered around increased risks of sexual assault and safety concerns.

In an address to BYU-Idaho students and faculty about sexual assault, Title IX Coordinator Nick Rammell estimated that about 70% of the sexual assault cases reported to the Title IX office stem from dating apps.

Mutual partnered with the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault to help keep individuals safe on the app and educate them about the risks of online dating. 

Westover said Mutual uses state-of-the-art artificial intelligence to make sure pictures and messages are appropriate and verify that every account belongs to the person who claims to own it.

Westover said that she and her team are very big on reporting and that she’d rather lose someone who is a poor actor than keep someone who may be dangerous to others on the app. 

“We always encourage people to be very wise and actually think about it,” Westover said. “Be careful with what information you share and meet up in a public place for a first date. A hike is not a public place. There are a lot of safety things that you would do if you were meeting a stranger at any other time that you may do differently on a dating app because you feel a false sense of security because it is a dating app for members of the Church.”

Westover said these principles of good, safe dating apply whether you’re dating online or in person. 

“Whether you’re meeting someone in church, online on an app, or in a classroom, you should be very, very careful with how you approach that until you get to know them, and you’re able to understand,” Westover said. “I think there’s a lot of preparation that needs to go into it where you learn to understand the Spirit and how the Spirit speaks to you as well.”

Forming connections

Westover said mutual is a tool to form all kinds of connections. 

“It’s all about how you behave on it. Mutual is a tool. It’s a tool to help you find what you’re looking for, and so, whether your intentions are serious or more casual, you’ll find that. What you build kind of depends on how you use that tool.”

Advice for dating online

Westover said she looked at the top 200 male and top 200 female accounts with the most swipes and the top 200 male and top 200 female accounts with the least amount of swipes to see whether there was any commonality. She found that the results were inconclusive. 

Westover’s one piece of advice: Be yourself.

“I think a lot of times people are like ‘I want more matches, and so I’m going to try to make my profile as attractive to what I think the opposite sex wants’, which will probably work to get more matches, but that’s not how you find the right match for you,” Westover said. “Make your profile completely true to yourself. Have pictures of you doing things that you love, talking about the things that you love, and that you enjoy doing. You might not get as many matches, but you’ll get better quality matches”

Westover said dating apps work for all sorts of different personalities. 

“Dating apps can get the stigma that you have to be the most beautiful for them to work or you have to be the most interesting or most educated or most whatever insecurity that is for you,” Westover said. “It’s just not true because there’s someone out there for everyone and there’s a lot of people that it could work with. It’s really about taking the time to truly show yourself and be vulnerable and share who you are with someone that you’re able to get those results.”

To give suggestions on the app and see what other ideas others are posting, visit the Mutual website.