My Digital Romance

What it's like to join Raya, the world’s most ‘exclusive’ dating app.

After more years than I care to admit ineffectually surfing Tinder, Bumble and Hinge, I downloaded Raya as a last-ditch attempt at meeting someone on a dating app. At the time, it was all the rage in the fashion industry, where junior journalists like myself were finally in the league of the rich and famous(ish) people we rubbed shoulders with at parties.

Raya’s website characterises the app as ‘a private, membership-based community for people all over the world to connect and collaborate’. Since its launch in 2015, glossy magazines have raved about its purported exclusivity and rumours have swirled about which love-hungry celebrities have been caught on the app, encouraging everyone with a remotely decent Instagram following or lots of money to flock to it.

The application process is a bit like filling in a Soho House membership form. The app accesses your phone contacts before instructing you to select one or two existing members to act as references for you. You’re then asked to link your Instagram account – they scrutinise your profile as part of the vetting process – and fill in what you do for a living. Like Soho House, it should be something in the ‘creative’ industries, although, like the members’ club, finance seems to fall under the creative gamut for the Raya board. Members are then handpicked based on ‘algorithmic values and input from hundreds of committee members spread throughout the world.’

According to the New York Times, the app has an 8% acceptance rate, a statistic I find difficult to believe given the amount of nobodies – myself included – I stumbled upon on there. If your application is approved, here’s what happens. First up, a slideshow of photos (actor headshots, holiday pics and skiing down snow-veiled hills are all popular options) is set to music, with photos flicking emotively across the screen to a song of your choice. The app’s auditory feature, however, proves that money has no jurisdiction when it comes to taste: two songs by Ed Sheeran appear on the ‘popular on Raya’ suggestion list. Unlike other dating apps, few singletons bother with an informative bio, and none with a preface that’s witty or self-eviscerating, as if to say, ‘google me if you must.’ The only rule is to refrain from overbearing displays of wealth. The Raya committee is old money, you see.

The app has a more international demographic than Tinder, with the algorithm often proffering people visiting from all over the world. If Eurotrash isn’t your thing, keep an eye out for boy band members, 20-somethings who founded a streetwear brand, or the child of a Y2K celebrity who still makes the rounds on nostalgic Instagram accounts. If you’re in the market for someone both good-looking and rich, but are willing to compromise on modesty, you could be fortunate enough to land a ‘corporate lawyer and model’.

From my experience – perhaps thanks to the app’s extensive community guidelines – messages between Raya members are more courteous than the unsolicited dick pics that do the rounds on the infamously uncouth Tinder. On Raya, in lieu of cringe sexual innuendo comes presumably immaterial holiday offers, ‘now to convince you to come to Miami’, and messages that read like LinkedIn introductions: ‘how do you evaluate efficiency as a writer, Juno?’

Unlike the other apps on the market, messages from which are perennially screenshotted and shared on Instagram accounts like @tindernightmares and @overheardbumble, Raya protects members’ privacy by limiting screenshots. When they are taken, a diagram of a camera appears alongside the warning, ‘please remember this is a private community, and repeated screenshots may lead to the suspension and/or removal of your membership’. Unfortunately, this preventative measure wasn’t enough to safeguard the video encounters Ben Affleck and Matthew Perry had with young women they met on the app, which were shared, and promptly went viral online.

One night on Greek Street, I ran into a cocky financier I had matched with on the app. With hazy lighting shrouding everything in sight save the picante in front of me, I was convinced he was Henry Cavill’s preppy doppelgänger. We went on a date a week later (Greek Street, again). When I arrived, he was already drunk, having been in ‘meetings’ at the locale all day. He proceeded to tell me that he ‘normally only dates Russian models,’ and ‘never sees the same girl twice’. Alas, I should’ve evacuated then.

If you’re not brave enough to send the first message, yet desperate to orchestrate a meet-cute with that boyish west London DJ, you can make use of the app’s maps feature, where members’ faces are pinned like restaurant locations in places like Notting Hill, Fitzrovia, and Chelsea. Unfortu­nately, areas like Kilburn and Finchley are seemingly deprived of Raya members – or, perhaps more plausibly – the app overlords opted to pin us in the closest exorbitant neighbourhood. Camden is skimmed over, unless you go by its lesser known moniker, Hampstead Heath.

My dating app comrades have more salacious tales of Raya. One close friend received nudes from an ex-Love Islander who ironically starred in a BBC documentary about him and his brother’s private parts, and exchanged messages with the former boy band member she crushed on as a doe-eyed pre-teen. To be fair, one couple I know did find lasting love on the app, but it must be noted that together they look like they’ve been deftly plucked out of a 2011 Hollister billboard.

As for me? After footing the £10 a month membership bill for a year, I met my boyfriend on Hinge.

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