Online mating and dating: A grand Tindeavour
Discussions surrounding Tinder generally go one of two ways;
In having this discussion, I have heard friends claim that “Tinder is the heroin addict’s syringe”. Yes, Tinder is potentially damaging and addictive in equal measure, but perhaps this critique is better leveled more broadly at social media as a whole? Tinder is not the only intravenous tool overused for personal validation.
The other point goes a little something like this;
Although these discussions aren't mutually exclusive, the implication of the latter point comes with a begrudging acceptance not tied to the first. Tinder may be the reality that many people accept when searching for a partner, but that doesn't mean it is the fantasy.
Picture it. A grand serendipitous meeting, your hands touch fleetingly as you simultaneously reach for the same vinyl reissue of Pavement’s 'Brighten the Corners'. A glance, a smile, a fluttering. A sickeningly romantic moment that is embellished to friends and family for years to come. It might be pastiche but it sure sounds better than “Yeah well, I saw a picture of him holding a goat and thought ‘What the hell!?’ So I swiped right”.
But then, not everyone is on Tinder looking for love or a lasting relationship. Aside from short-term and physical-based relationships, many users claim to be “doing it for the memes”. There are Instagram accounts dedicated to documenting humorous Tinder exchanges, a subreddit with well over 300,000 readers and an entire podcast series.
A male friend of mine recently confessed to me that his ‘worst nightmare’ is seeing an exchange between him and a suitor posted online. In the modern age of ‘trolling’, the threat of public humiliation lurks alongside us constantly. And the simple fact is that generations before us didn’t have to contend with this anxiety. A dating blunder wasn’t going to live on in metadata forever. It couldn’t be screenshotted or cam-corded. Could this ever-present fear of embarrassment cloud our interactions online? Does our aversion to public humiliation impact our ability to have honest conversations behind technology?
When I was a user, one of my biggest irks with Tinder was the seeming inability of most users to be direct about their intentions. A lot of us were using the app for different reasons, so why couldn’t we just be upfront about the outcomes we desired? A friend presented his answer to this question as being more of a gender issue;
It’s kind of obvious, isn’t it? The experience of men and women on Tinder are worlds apart. Men and women use Tinder differently, and as a consequence, women often have about 20 times as matches to choose from than men. The effect leaves you feeling a little something like this...
Aside from having more choice in a lot of aspects, one direct advantage of being a straight female on Tinder is the lack of femmebots. A femmebot is a computer program (badly) designed to simulate a gorgeous young women in the hopes of reaching a bank account through phishing or service subscriptions. If you can remember Ashley Madison - the infamous dating website designed to facilitate adulterous trysts - you might also remember the ensuing shitstorm when it’s user database was hacked. The data told a very interesting story. Out of the apparent 5.5 million female users, approximately 1 492 were real women. The rest were femmebots designed to keep the whopping 20 million male users on the subscription bandwagon. (If you can’t be bothered doing the math, a mere 0.0073% of Ashley Madison users were real women).
But using online dating sites as a woman isn’t all a femmebot-void, rosey utopia. There are other considerations, like general safety, which necessitates some data-digging and reliance on intuition to work out if a guy is a threat to your well-being long before you agree to a date. Within my friend network, it’s a given that you let your friends know if you’re going to meet a stranger from the internet, lest you become a tragic headline.
The flip of this is that men have to navigate the wariness of the opposite sex. In many regards, you’re guilty until proven innocent. And yet, the perceived onus is on the men to initiate most conversations. I may not have personally subscribed to this, but many of my friends have a staunch rule that the man must contact them first, inviting a dynamic of being wooed and 'won over'.
There are some shared difficulties to navigating Tinder. The fear of becoming a ‘meme’ was only really a voiced source of anxiety from the male contingent of my small sample. However, recent research indicates that ‘trolling’ or sending ‘shock comments’ for a cheap laugh is equally pervasive behaviour for both sexes. So moving beyond the binary of gender, perhaps self-defined ‘success’ on Tinder is more closely related to how you present yourself or even your personality type. Some people are better salesmen and have an instinct for knowing when to move the conversation from thumbs tapping on a keyboard to an in-the-flesh chat. Which is why one of my friends decided Tinder just wasn't for him.
Unsurprisingly, this aligns with research which found that openness to experience and extroversion are two key personality traits of Tinder-users. But it is interesting to reflect on how an online persona may not be completely reflective of a real personality. Some users find it challenging to reconcile an ‘online presence’ with an actual person;
It is as if you are starting afresh when you meet them in the flesh. The cruel reality is that rapport online doesn't necessarily translate to rapport in person.
But personality factors aside, there is a lot of wading through dud dates and mismatched morals if you’re looking for a relationship to develop from Tinder. I’m a member of a growing group of ‘success stories’ who found their partner online. I am one of the ‘lucky ones’ to have met a great love and, the reality is, I would not have found him 'organically'; we ran in different circles, we're 5 years apart and yet, I can't imagine a life without him. As a consequence of this, I haven’t used Tinder in almost 2 years. I have no clue about this Superlike business or the ability to have group chats. Even so, I find the entire format of Tinder to be very bizarre. It is a service that feeds on superficial snap judgments. So to find a long-term relationship that develops based on a fleeting decision feels uncanny... And kind of dangerous.
Does finding love on Tinder breed a mentality that relationships should be ‘effortless’? That, if one aspect is defunct, or requires ‘effort’ you should jump ship. For me, it raises questions about the singularity of our culture. Everything is disposable, only made to be used once and then thrown away. We repeat each insular and instantly gratifying experience because we have to feel, and be, and act now. Every serotonin release with each swipe or match is accompanied by a hit of validation, which is both addictive and overwhelming. We’re presented with so many choices all vying for our attention in flashing neon. And the veritable smorgasbord makes commitment hard. Even so, I'm comforted because, despite dominant cultural ideology, many people do hold the belief that if it’s broken, you fix it.
Although pervasive cultural beliefs about disposability do scare me, I actually find the scariest part of Tinder to be the format - it is an app that you ‘play’. It just flows into another driving myth in society that dating is a ‘game’. The type of reward schedule we see on Tinder makes us rationalise rapid fire swiping because our next match could be one thumb-flick away. It is kind of like playing the pokies with our hearts (or other organs). We fastidiously pump more coins into the machine just to have another spin, another swipe, another chance at hitting a jackpot. At winning big. Does this position relationships as something to be won? I find the dichotomy of winners and losers an unhealthy dynamic to be perpetuating. Shouldn’t relationships be about collegiality and being on the same team?
I worry that this mentality of winning breeds a disingenuity; a greasiness. People lie online because they are detached from their real identity. There is a level of protection provided by this semi-anonymization. This relates to a theory in psychology called ‘deindividuation’ which was popularised by Philip Zimbardo - the guy who ran the insane Stanford Prison Experiment. Part of this theory posits that, if you wear a mask, reflective sunglasses or anything that covers your identity you are afforded power as an anonymous entity. Because you aren't really 'you', there is a perception that real world consequences don't exist. In a sense, screens act as our ‘mask’, and we might do and say things online that we wouldn't face-to-face. For some, it might make it easier to be honest, for others, it might be easier to lie because real world ramifications aren't as immediate.
Tinder is seen as being symptomatic of a rabid ‘hookup culture’. But in reality, millennials are having less sex than generations before us. We are painted with broad brush strokes as being narcissistic, rampant sex fiends. But we’re just people with individual differences just like the generations before us. What is different is our technosexual context. There is no denying it, Tinder is weird. It is a rapid-fire environment of skin-deep swiping. But, humans are weirder. Tinder is merely a tool; it's utility is entirely dependent on the tool-wielder. If you're looking for a screw with a hammer in-hand, you probably won't nail it.