Angela Chen: Finding love in a hopeless place

Wednesday, May 17, 2017 - 6:02pm

College in 2017, it seems, is not quite the place for a hopeless and somewhat obnoxious romantic like me. Ever since the ripe age of 10 years, I’ve clung to a certain idealism, assuming myself the heroine of the cheesiest and most dramatic love stories. In the words of my now boyfriend, I am “dramatic AF.”

Though my current relationship is hardly the fairytale love story of my childhood dreams, I’ve learned to recognize the elements that mark it just as romantic — which, to me, seemed “normal”: high school classmates, best friends first, honorary old married couple.

I thought what I had was standard, that everyone else was just as devout an idealist as me. In fact, hookup culture and online dating were cornered off into the back of my mind, acknowledged only by TV shows, movies and memes I saw purely as entertainment. It took me months into college to realize how wrong I was.

To be clear, this is not in reference to frat party hookups and dorm-room flings (though their prevalence came as a shock to me as well). My romantic standards were for those who were looking not for one-night-stands, but for the companionship and connection of a relationship. Thus, it was seemingly out of nowhere that a dating app I’ve known of — but never registered as a reality — found its way into every crevice of my social life: Tinder.

It’s no secret that Tinder is the classic “hookup app,” but for some indeterminate reason, it gave me another negative connotation. I’ve always imagined the typical Tinder user as a desperate, lonely 40- or 50-something who was past his/her sexual prime, with no other means of kindling a new flame. Hence, it seemed foreign to me that it was so popular among college kids who could, in theory, easily and innocently stumble upon a love interest simply by stepping outside (at such a large and busy university, no less!).

I watched, minorly astonished and majorly confused, as my friends swiped left on the guys who weren’t “cute enough,” and right on the ones who “were.” As they compared their “matches” established solely upon mutual attraction to six edited photos. As they flirted online, met a select few in person and were crushed when their knight in shining phone screen was looking for none other than — you guessed it — a hookup.

While I genuinely hoped it would work out for them, I couldn’t help but wonder: what did they expect? Clearly, dating on Tinder violated all the rules of the traditional romantic code. There is timeless security in truly getting to know someone before slowly falling for them, and classical sweetness to “coincidentally” meeting them on your way to [insert important, unsuspecting place here]. Most importantly, there is unparalleled merit in the excruciating yet exhilarating moment when feelings are confessed, the sparks between you finally settling in the palms of your long-awaiting hands.

I began to feel removed from my generation, the likely consequence of being in a relationship during most people’s favorite time to be single. And while that was fine with me, I eventually realized that there must be good reasons to explain Tinder’s popularity.

Grandmotherly judgment aside, I asked myself: if I have accepted, even welcomed, the internet mobilization of essentially every other aspect of my life — downloadable PDFs of textbooks, Facebook, Netflix, Google Maps — why is Tinder any different?

In fact, Tinder eliminates many of the dating obstacles that most could surely live without. For one, there is no question whether a match is interested in you. After all, they swiped right! And if they didn’t, no biggie — you didn’t know them anyway. There is no room for nervous confessions and awkward rejections. You’re not at risk for losing a friend to feelings, much less for heartbreak.

Even so, as cheesy as it sounds, it is the most difficult of journeys that lead to the greatest destinations. The value a good throwback, the ability to grasp just how far the relationship has come, cannot be underestimated. Even if a Tinder relationship does succeed, where is the romance in “remember when I chatted you up because I thought your photos were hot?”

Of course, it’s unfair to assume that every Tinder user is as superficial and sexually promiscuous as stereotyped. There are always the casual browsers wanting just to “see what it’s like” and others swiping “just for fun” — I mean, who doesn’t want a little self-esteem boost here and there? Nevertheless, there is certainly a reason that this stereotype exists. Despite the rare Tinder relationships out there, those looking for anything more than a friends-with-benefits situation may want to consider more than a mere six photos for a ticket to romantic success. Let’s face it, what you get out of any type relationship is only as much as what you put into it. Chances are, if it only takes one swipe for it to begin, it won’t take much more for it to end.

Long story short: there are indeed plenty of fish in the sea, but not if you’re swimming in the wrong pool. Though romantic fantasies only take you so far, it doesn’t hurt to step out from the safety of a phone screen and dip your toes into cold water for a change. Raise your expectations, dare to dream (and cry) a little — you’d be surprised where the waves can take you.