Next month I’ll be turning twenty-five during one of the most exciting technological eras since Edison’s. And yet, I yearn for a simpler, bygone time when "Pepperidge Farm remembered," everything was operated by a hand crank, and MTV actually aired music videos. It was a lovely age of innocence when online dating was something your RV-wielding aunt kept on the down low until it was time to make some awkward introductions at the Memorial Day picnic.
Now the potential for instant love is just a swipe away with Tinder, the popular online matchmaking app that has accumulated more than 10 million active daily users since its launch in October 2012. The app, available on select smartphones, has an easy-to-use interface in which users can browse through the photos of other potential matches, swiping right if they like what they see and left if they don’t. If two people mutually “swipe right”, hooray! They’re matched, and they can chat from there. Most importantly, users will not know who passed on their profile, so it eliminates the elephant in the room that is the fear of rejection in an unprecedented by-design innovation. It’s easy, as there’s no lengthy committal forms to fill out beforehand. It’s fun, to the extent that using the app is officially marketed as “playing it.” It’s free, popular, even fashionable. In these ways it stands out from its rivals, such as eHarmony, ChristianMingle, and my failed venture in the for-profit online dating industry, Blacksmiths Only (hey, you’ll live a life of ‘what-ifs’ if you don’t try).
But there is one thing Tinder has going against it in mainstream society: the app’s seedy reputation for easy hookups. For all the reasons above, it’s easier than ever to connect within the “no strings attached” mantra maintained by so many twenty-somethings. Over the past two weeks, I’ve informally asked my male friends about why they really use Tinder. Nobly, their responses averaged “to meet new people,” but they were sure to indicate that most of their friends use it for hookups. A friend I ran into described her Tinder date gone terribly wrong with a man who had different priorities, citing it as the reason she deleted the app. And it doesn’t at all help that before I sat down to write this article, a Facebook friend posted a story with the headline “Busy Douchebag Tries to Text 32 Tinder Matches at Once.” Is Tinder basically the world’s virtual sleazy bar?
Maybe. Well, probably. But in every sleazy bar there’s someone in the corner looking to meet someone fun and make a real connection, and it’s a lot easier to do that on Tinder than in a loud, beer-soaked pub. For Jorden, 24, who met his serious girlfriend through a “match,” Tinder was an easy way to connect with someone new when daily life wasn’t giving him many options.
“I travel a lot for my job,” he said. “I’m usually gone during the week. When I get home on a Friday, I’m just so tired, so I don’t really want to go out to a crowded bar.” He said his intentions on Tinder were always to set up a coffee or movie date—not to “play the game.” That said, he willingly admitted, “I just look at the picture. It really is an app based off looks. You can’t tell who a person is through pictures. You just think they’re hot or you don’t.” This is problematic and has fostered widespread criticism for Tinder, but according to Jorden, “There’s a lot more to a person to me than just looks on the outside. Tinder represents physical attraction, but you really have to take that extra step to get to know a person.”
Another Tinder user, Cody, 28, dated the same girl for months after meeting her on the app, although he initially joined “for a laugh.” “It is straight and to the point,” he said. “Attraction has to be there, and Tinder makes that determination easy and has you do the rest.”
Ryan, 22, who like Jorden found a serious girlfriend through Tinder, holds its questionable reputation against that of the natural world’s. “There are guys on there who are absolutely looking for fun,” he said. “There are plenty of girls looking for that too. But [they’re] talking to so many people at once. There’s such a high volume on there.”
In its defense, Tinder’s increasing popularity may be creating a diverse demographic that gives enough options to its users, whether you’re looking for that one-night stand or not. The “judging a person by their photo is shallow” argument is a fair one, but people do tend to notice looks first in real life as well. For Ryan, the superficial introduction offered by photos can be useful. “People try to look famous online,” he said. “To look sexy and be cooler than what they are. Image is a huge influence on what you’re telling me as a guy.”
This is where it gets complicated. Ryan made a terrific point about photos, and they certainly did not lead him astray. But should people’s images be the prerequisite for whether or not we start a conversation with them? Often in real-life matchmaking, physical attraction is partnered with personality attraction and social compatibility, and when the latter two are strong the former becomes strangely negotiable. Think of all the perfect matches on Tinder that aren’t being made because a Facebook photo is standing between you and someone who you could have the best, most compelling conversations with for the rest of your life? Then again, think of all the beached whales on the shore, and the starving children in third world countries. We can’t solve ALL the world’s problems, but Tinder seems to be solving problems for those who’ve met someone really special in its rapid-fire play. And we can only hope that that same ease of access which enables hookups will cause some real matches.
“My friend who used it for hookups found a girl who he actually started to like and thought was ‘different,’” Jorden said. “I think I’m starting to see more and more people actually use it for meeting people, because as you get older you stop yearning for those one-night stands. You look for a partner that you can possibly share your life with. A lot of the app has to do with the maturity level of the person using it.”
“I think more people go out on dates as a result of a ‘match’ as opposed to just randomly hooking up,” Cody said in defense of Tinder. “Though I think your chances of hooking up on that date may be higher than average.”
There’s a tendency with the nostalgic types, myself included, to idealize the prestige of the past and meet new technologies with the fear that they’re throwing our civilization into ruin. But perhaps this approach isn’t the wisest. Meeting others in person for the first time is one phenomenon, unlike steam-powered automobiles or drug store soda jerks, that will never become obsolete. Tinder is a tool used to make these meetings happen, and while it has certainly paved the way for more quick and easy hookups, it has also helped some people find love in unlikely places. Perhaps, as the skeptics watch from the sidelines, a better Tinder is just a few more meaningful matches away.
Photo by Nima Salimi