Technology has revolutionized the manner in which people pursue romantic and sexual partners, particularly for college students. Many on campus choose to utilize Tinder, a dating application that displays photos of the individual and a brief description to a user, who then chooses whether or not they are interested. This creates a unique space, free of competition from others, where a person can privately view prospective dates or sexual partners without having to feel the pressure or sense of competition that exists at parties or in bars.

However, Tinder also creates a space that provides new opportunities for people to be objectified and rude, often in a sexual context. With this new space comes a new responsibility for us to extend the same kindness and polite nature online as we would in person. Moreover, this new space, while an excellent tool to generate face-to-face interaction, should not entirely replace the old-fashioned effort of approaching someone in person. Face-to-face interaction is the best way to build interpersonal skills that will serve us in all areas of life, be it in the professional context, in romance or in friendship.

Many can relate to the experience of having to compete to speak to someone whom they find attractive. Matching with someone on Tinder allows one to approach unimpeded by others. Furthermore, they are able to rehearse their first line to an infinite degree. However, it also takes away the ability to read the verbal or bodily response to what is first said, making the clarity of communication all the more important. Still, with the somewhat anonymous nature of the Tinder interface, communicative mistakes are not permanent. That “Hey cutie how are you doing?” message that you sent two months ago to your first match likely won’t follow you anywhere, though your first match may not have thought much of you with such a message. 

Once you match with someone, the next step in the process is to send the first message. Regardless of your end goal, be it a one-night stand, relationship or something in between, you must show interest in a polite manner, steering clear of commentary that is overtly sexual in nature. Everyone wants and deserves respect, so sending a message detailing what you would like to “do” with your match right off the bat may not be the best way to get your desired response.

You must not drop the chivalry of the well-mannered man who holds the door open for others simply because you are hidden behind a screen. Look through the bio of your match and try to find something interesting, or something you have in common. Perhaps you realize you have the same major or are from the same town. That may be a better place to start the conversation, even if your goal is to end with sex. People appreciate others who care to get to know and learn a little bit about them, even if they aren’t interested in a long-term relationship.

Once you become skilled at connecting with people virtually, doing so in person may become vastly less appealing. Why bother to approach that person at the party when you can invite the one you matched with on Tinder? If we depend solely on pictures and 500-character descriptions to get to know people, are we really developing our interpersonal skills? When you have a conversation with someone in person, you can’t pause and consult the internet to find information about the person’s interests to come up with a subject to talk about, or how to respond to a remark they make.

For us to be capable of successfully building stronger relationships with others, it is vital that we extend our vocabulary of words, actions and emotions beyond the cell phone. These skills extend beyond the realm of romance and dating. In a job interview, you cannot consult Google when asked about sales strategy or how you would approach a management consulting case. You need to build your skills in learning how to respond in real time in an effective manner.

And in the context of relationships, you truly get to know a person through spending physical time with them, not by studying some of their interests on a social media profile. Spending physical time with people reveals the little behavioral tendencies and their peculiarities, such as the way they set a table to eat or how they fold laundry. These are not things that you can learn by perusing what they’ve liked on Facebook.

While we may have our own personal motives for approaching people, be it friendship, romance or sex, it is unlikely we will have this desire reciprocated by the other person if we do not demonstrate a genuine interest in them. When you find yourself at a party or bar and see someone you would like to talk to, do it. Don’t hesitate and don’t be afraid. If you fail, it is unlikely that you’ll be remembered. You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

Zachary Cox can be reached at coxz@umich.edu.

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