Editor’s Note: The students in this article asked not to be identified by their full names for privacy concerns.
We are living in a world dominated by social media. There are the classics, like Facebook and Twitter, young upstarts like Yik Yak and Erodr, serious ones like LinkedIn, and not-so-serious ones like Vine. These platforms all have differing functions, yet they all share a key feature — a brilliant psychological insight, really. Users can approve others and be approved themselves, whether it be through likes, favorites, retweets or endorsements. The best part is that it’s simple. A like is a like. There’s no “ehhhhh” button.
If Facebook and Twitter succeeded because they assuaged some of the anxieties of social interaction, then it was inevitable that a social media service would arise that took some of the anxieties out of romance: Tinder. Launched in 2011 by students at the University of Southern California, Tinder has a relatively Spartan design, considering its decidedly Athenian purposes. Users can log in via Facebook and create a profile, which consists of four or five photos and a short description. They then are given an extended slideshow of other profiles of users in the area, which they can then swipe “left” if they don’t like what they see, or “right” if they do.
What shows up in this slideshow is just the username, age and first photo. You have to click on their profile to see the other photos, their description, and because Tinder is linked to Facebook, what mutual friends and interests you have. Two people will match if both swipe right on another’s profiles. If two people match, they can then message each other.
Tinder’s function appears to be relatively straightforward. Match. Message. Meet. Mate.
But upon closer inspection, not everyone is on Tinder to fit a quick movie-date/handjob into their schedule.
LSA senior Isabel started using Tinder — to meet romantic partners. But she soon ran into issues.
“I started out with women only,” she said. “(But) because I am really just interested in women, I found that it would run out of people to show me really quickly.”
Tinder allows you to pick which genders you want to show up in your feed, and then only matches you with people who have the same preferences. So in Isabel’s case, she was only being matched with women seeking other women.
“I never seriously considered the idea of actually meeting people. Maybe just going on dates, but for me, it was really just for fun, a distraction, something fun and weird to pull me out of the lonely state that I was in,” she said.
In fact, she did go on one Tinder date.
“It was just so funny, because I had never imagined myself meeting up with a stranger I had met on the Internet,” she said.
“It was fun, for the hell of it, for the giddy feelings of ‘Ohhhh, I’m going on a date,’ ” she added.
Isabel was happy, though, with how the date turned out.
“It was good practice for actually talking to people in real life.”
After that, she sought out people, men and women, just to talk with them. But she matched with far more men.
“For every five women I swiped right on, maybe one would match, but for every five guys I swiped right on, it would be like four out of five would match,” she said.
This is to be expected. Tinder keeps records of all their activity, and they estimate that while men swipe left 54 percent of the time, women swipe left 84 percent of the time.
Isabel swipes right on a guy if he looks like he’ll be fun to talk to. But, in her opinion, most men seem to have other aims.
“If I don’t express some sort of romantic interest in them after even a few lines of conversation, oftentimes they’ll stop talking to me,” she said. “Really I just started talking to guys because I was bored, and thought it would be funny … it’s like a game that takes up my time, if I’m like waiting for a bus; it’s filler kind of activity,” she said.
But there’s more to it than meeting the occasional conversation partner.
“There was someone whom I was interested in, in real life, and I didn’t know her at all — I had never talked to her, I just know her because she works at some place that I frequent,” she said.
If the age-old truth is that attraction is complicated, then the new, but equally conspicuous one is that talking online is easier than talking in person. You can be lying in bed, unshaven, with a thin film of pizza crumbs and sweat forming on your chest, and still be witty and seductive online.
“I think the weirdest thing about Tinder is that it presents itself as a game … But is it a game? You’re interacting with this virtual version of somebody else, and you kind of have to remember that there are real people, with real expectations and hopes and thoughts and ideas, but the social distance makes them seem like they’re not real people,” Isabel said.
It’s hard to keep that in mind, and unsettling to realize that the person on the other end may not grant you the same courtesy.
For LSA junior Thomas, Tinder was both a test and a tool.
“I’d just gotten out of a relationship and wanted to bounce back a little bit,” he said. “I wanted to know that I had the capacity to hook up with people, that I still had game.”
Unlike Isabel, Thomas used Tinder like you’d expect: he’d swipe right on girls he thought were cute, and beamed when they matched with him.
“It’s a thrill,” he said. “When you get that notification, you’ll be like ‘shit, this attractive girl thinks I’m good looking — alright!’ ”
When it comes to typical Tinder encounters, Thomas claimed to only pay attention to the picture.
“If I did see someone with a particularly long bio, I’d hold that against them. I mean, this isn’t a dating website; this is Tinder,” he said.
When he did match with someone, he’d usually lead with a simple “Hi, how are you?” and see where the conversation progressed from there, noting that interest in hooking up would eventually become obvious.
Thomas’s typical strategy was to talk for a day or two over Tinder’s messaging system, and then ask for the girl’s number, which indicated an escalation in interest. They would then talk for another day or so.
“You have to flirt,” he replied. “If you’re not someone who likes to flirt, then you’re not going to have a good time on Tinder.”
When he gets confident that a girl was interested, Thomas suggests that they meet up at a neutral location. Inviting a girl to his house would be too presumptuous.
Neutral locations were the stereotypical date spots: movies, dinner, coffee, even a walk in Nichols Arb.
“It’s like a blind date,” Thomas explained. “You’re meeting someone new, you’re making pleasant conversation, but the whole time, the subtext is that you both find each other hot.”
But why jump through all these hoops, if you’ve already acknowledged that you find each other attractive?
“You go through the formalities. You don’t just go up to them, shake hands and then start making out,” Thomas explained. “There’s still a human interaction to it. It’s not just ‘Let’s meet and bang.’ ”
But what would Thomas do if the girl suggested they skip the dinner and small talk and head straight for the sack?
“I’d be a little creeped out by that,” he replied. “I think you want to assure each other that you just got the app for the hell of it, and that you’re not just perverts.”
“I think everyone’s embarrassed to say that they met someone on Tinder because it’s artificial,” Thomas said. “It’s not playing by the rules; it didn’t exist in the past; there’s nothing romantic about it. There’s no movies about people meeting on an app and ending happily ever after.”
It’s fun to consider the possibilities. Paris, gallivanting around Laconia, matches with some chick named Helen, and after a few days of texting invites her out for a ram-horn of wine. Romeo swipes right on “Jules, 14, Verona.” Your parents’ first date was a Tinder date.
But then again, were there ever “rules” in the first place?