Dating is undoubtedly one of the most tantalizing pursuits of the college experience. Sunday mornings include walking to the library, passing empty alcohol bottles — and sometimes, if you’re lucky, puke — on the front lawns of houses around campus. Along with this brazen culture comes the ubiquity of college hookup culture — be it just for the night, or even a casual relationship.
Last month, I had one of my most confusing Tinder interactions ever. Yes, Tinder. Probably not the best place for someone with my intentions of dating. Alas, the pursuit endures.
It started amicably — she asked if I was Jewish, a conversation starter that felt so far out of left-field that it left me taken aback. But if there’s anything you should know about me, it’s that I love a good conversation about religion. Perhaps this was it, the something deeper that I’d been looking for.
She was cute and mature (i.e., she was older than me). She was from Oregon, and her bio read “nature girl.” The inner granola-child in me gleamed with excitement. I pictured us on our first date: a hike at a local nature preserve, complete with a cup of tea. Maybe I even cook her dinner after with my limited chef skills. And as I was about to ask her on a hike, I realized I needed to slow down; the conversation hadn’t developed fully, and I didn’t want to come across as — for lack of a better word — desperate. This is a fine line in the dating world, as I’m sure you’re aware. So I joked about my background and my interests instead, hoping to create some witty banter. Ahh, how we love witty banter.
The short conversation got me excited for the prospect of something developing. That afternoon, she double-texted me, asking for my Snap.
Shit. I think to myself.
“Ya, I’m sorry I don’t have a Snap, but here’s my number.”
“Why don’t you have a Snap?” she asks.
“I found it was taking my attention away — it felt empty.”
So I give her my number, telling her to reach out if she’s so inclined. I jokingly ask her why she’s so bent on getting my Snapchat, including a sly emoji to lighten the mood. At that point, her flirtatious response makes it clear what she’s looking for — she only wants… pics.
The word alone gives me what my friend calls “the ick.” I mean, who the hell wants to be like, “ah, I just met you, and I would like naked photos of you so I can have a sense of achievement for obtaining them and also a feeling of fleeting intimacy and arousal.”
I’d be lying if the other part of me wasn’t intrigued. Maybe even stuck on the prospect of something developing. I give her my Instagram instead, to which she responds:
“I think we’re looking for different things.”
The response rang in my ears. What? Now I’m lost. First she’s asking about my religion, now she just wants pictures of my body? And what is she gonna do with them? I mean, granted they’ll probably just be screen-shotted, whatever. What started with a mere daydream of going on a hike ended up with someone just asking for nudes. Oh, how things take a turn…
“Confused,” I responded. Defeated.
To which she says “You don’t have to be mean about it.”
“I’m sure you’re used to guys being assholes on here, but the real reason I don’t have Snap is because I’m not asking for nudes. Do with that information as you will.”
The reality is — in the end — for a second, I thought about playing the game. A little bit of “casual fun” to use her words, verbatim. Something I wasn’t exactly looking for (not to mention an older friend who advised that I not do that for privacy purposes). A short-term illusion for what I really want.
So I left her last message (her asking for pics (*ick*), only more explicit this time) sitting. Clock ticking. Would I respond? What would I respond? And as I sat there, she unmatches from me, leaving me lost, angry and confused, my dignity stolen from me.
I felt like maybe I should’ve just played the game, as most other Tinder college guys would have eagerly done. Maybe she felt like I was being a dick because — being the attractive girl she is — she’s likely used to getting guys’ nudes off of Tinder, and I just wasn’t delivering (literally).
So yeah. I’m sorry (not sorry) that I’m not on Snapchat… I guess.
It’s clear that among U-M students, Tinder is, in fact, a hook-up app. Studies demonstrate that 80% of college-aged men using dating apps are looking for casual encounters versus 55% of female students, and, moreover, there is evidence that our sexual behavior is shaped by the peers around us. So the more your peers seek hookups, the more likely you are to seek them as well.
The success rate at finding a long-term partner on dating apps is low, but maybe that teaches us something: dating apps aren’t exactly meant for finding our best partner, but rather serving emotional needs that accompany the chase for a purposeful relationship.
It might seem obvious, but Tinder has no incentive for our dating success. Their business is reliant on our active, addictive behaviors. What does that mean for us? That, ultimately, their job is not to create matches, but — like other social media platforms — to encourage and create a dependency on the platform and even prevent us from successful matching. In other words, Tinder’s goal isn’t to create high quality matches that would inevitably drive us away from the platform. Platforms like Tinder seemingly serve an outlet for those with high motivation for romantic encounters, and Tinder perpetuates that need. College brings studies, co-curriculars and socialization; who has time for a relationship anyways? Nonetheless, we still participate in the pursuit.
Back to my experiences, though. Spring break rolls around and my friend tells me that she thinks I should just delete the dating apps for the week. And I agree with her, but it’s still hard to go through with. We fantasize about a world where dating isn’t a thing, maybe where we find a lover and skip all the messiness that comes with dating; skip all the ambiguity and all the divergent intentions and desires. Wouldn’t it be so simple? But that’s not the point.
The pursuit is an individual process that requires a healthy level of self-awareness and perhaps an equal amount of trial-and-error. I’d be lying if I said I haven’t succumbed to modern college culture to some degree, falling and learning along the way. I’d also like to think I’m still pretty innocent, secretly longing for a hike in the woods and a chance of intimacy. I know people who’ve married off of dating apps, and I’m happy for them. I know people who’ve gotten other things off of dating apps, and that’s great for them, too.
My peers and I talk about how organic connection (i.e., not via dating apps) can enable a form of self-selection that dating apps can’t; that the groups we frequently interact with are more likely to attract the individuals we’re willing to experiment with, and even create long-term partnerships. So, I recently decided to take a break from dating apps, to delete them temporarily in all their glory: all of the swiping, pick-up lines and fleeting conversations. This time, I met my match in person. That’s right: no small photo with a red dot on it. No cheesy pick-up line. No immediate requests for pics. And it feels good.
Isaac Mintz is a Senior Podcast Editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.