Until this summer, I’d never heard of Tinder. My friend Grace and I were having lunch, and she was simultaneously chatting and scrolling through her iPhone, in that casual way that young people barely notice and proper adults find stunningly rude. Suddenly, she grinned, and held up her phone for me to see what was distracting her. Floating above two photos – one of my friend, one of some guy I’d never seen before – swirly letters proclaimed, “It’s a Match!” I didn’t understand what I was looking at. “You and Alex have liked each other,” the screen informed, matter-of-factly. Grace had two options: “Send a Message,” or “Keep Playing.”
This, then, is Tinder; this, then, is romance reduced to its barest bones. It is to online dating what a tweet is to a lengthy blog post, in that only the most basic details make the cut. The free app uses Facebook to create a profile (a couple of photos, your first name, age and interests), and your location to match you with people nearby. You can see what, if any, friends and interests you have in common. If you like their profile, you swipe right; if it’s a no, you swipe left. If you “like” someone and they like you back, you’re a match, and the floor is yours to start exchanging messages.
I was, quite frankly, astonished. Internet or mobile dating, to my uninitiated mind, was reserved for middle-aged divorcees and thirty-something women who’ve suddenly remembered that they wanted to have a kid at some point – in other words, people who’ve exhausted all their other options. But we’re young, and we’re not so unattractive that people actively run away screaming from us on the street. We have uni, and nightclubs, and house parties, and festivals, and friends-of-friends, and all those other tried-and-tested methods of finding someone to be your boyfriend or girlfriend, or at least maybe have sex with you. And yet here was my attractive, intelligent, responsible, funny friend, cheerfully swapping messages with a stranger who she’d met on her phone.
Grace assured me that there was no stigma attached to Tinder. “It’s not weird. Everyone at my uni’s on it.” But as David Mitchell put it in a recent article in the Observer, although “everyone’s saying how internet dating is the future – the technological solution to busy, modern disconnected urban life,” the mere fact that you have to bring up the concept of shame implies that there is some shame in it. “Nobody ever bothered to point out that there’s no shame in eating soup or going for a walk.” Indeed. I think this gets to the crux of what innately weirds me out about Tinder. Is it not just a bit cringe? I have always, perhaps mistakenly, placed at least some value on the subtle art of playing it cool when it comes to romance. Maybe I’m wrong, but that period of liking someone – that torturous, squirmy time of not quite knowing whether they even know you’re alive, but then, oh, CHRIST, they’ve texted you, and maybe they’re only asking what your plans are tonight because they want an invite to your friend’s house party, but also, maybe this is the best day ever, but then of course once you get to the party you will have to be incredibly nonchalant yet effortlessly charming – isn’t that the exciting part of the whole ordeal? You can’t play it cool if you’re on Tinder. Tinder wipes the mystery out of fancying someone in the swipe of a screen. It’s the technological equivalent of walking up to someone on the street and shouting “YOU’RE FIT!” in their face.
But it seems that millions of young people don’t share my reservations. Tinder is targeted at people between 18 and 35 years old, and it’s insanely popular, currently averaging around 2 million users a day. The average Tinder user checks the app 11 times per day, seven minutes at a time. In the spirit of journalistic enquiry – and reasoning that there must be something in this kind of phenomenon – I ignore my misgivings. I download the app.
Ten minutes later, I have been completely absorbed. I am flicking through photos of boys I’ve never met and dismissing them almost immediately. No, thank you, Joe, 23; I don’t like boys who wear vests. Ew, no, thanks, George, 22 – weird eyebrows, bad shirt. It’s horribly compelling. For something ostensibly so personal, the process is bizarrely sterile, almost abstract. It doesn’t feel at all like these are real people. It feels like I’m flicking through the Argos catalogue and not seeing any toys I like. There are a couple of absolute crackers, and not in a good way. Special mention has to go to “Niall, 25”, who has chosen as his profile picture a photo of him on a mad one at a foam party, topless, in a Santa hat, sticking his tongue out at the camera. Truly, every young girl’s dream. I’m also surprised to see the amount of boys that have put their Snapchat names on their profiles. Why? Am I being naïve? Is it because they think girls might send them pictures of their boobs? Why? Screenshots of Niall and characters like him can be found at a Tumblr called Twats of Tinder, which is possibly the most 2013 sentence I’ve ever written. For the most part, though, there’s nothing overtly wrong with the boys I swipe into the rejection pile. They’re just normal-looking guys, and while some of them are probably interesting and kind and funny and likable and charming in real life, it’s pretty difficult to get any of that from what is essentially a Top Trump card. I try to imagine what kind of dazzling profile might prompt a swipe-right from me, and it’s a struggle. I certainly can’t see myself ever going to meet someone from the app in the actual living-and-breathing 3D world.
The majority of Tinder users, it transpires, are with me on that. A recent poll found that only 1 in 5 people who use the app have actually met up with one of their matches, which seems a low figure, particularly when you consider that other mobile dating apps have a 66% average meet rate. Of all the people I know who use Tinder, the vast majority of them are quick to dismiss the idea that they might actually be using it to find romance. “No, no, obviously not,” says Tom, 22. “It’s just fun to be able to be like, yes, no, no, no, yes. Like a power thing, maybe.” The other Tinderers I know concur. No, they say emphatically, obviously they’re not really trying to meet people on it. When I ask why not, they’re all weirdly evasive. The closest I get to an explanation is from a friend who says, “The girls on Tinder aren’t edgy enough.” He’s joking (I think), but ties in with my earlier point about wanting to at least maintain a façade of cool in your quest for love.
For all our many great qualities, our generation does tend towards narcissism, and the attention span of your average 18-to-25-year-old is probably not that dissimilar to that of a gnat. Every human being since the dawn of time has loved the quick, meaningless ego boost of being told that you’re hot, but Instagram and Facebook mean that we’ve become almost reliant on this kind of positive reinforcement. And you only have to fidget through the painfully long opening credits of a film from the 1950s to recognize how much we’ve come to hate waiting for anything. Tinder requires zero emotional engagement and indulges our vanity with the promise of a match, and so in many ways, it’s the perfect app for young people today. But actually, my little foray into Tinder-world has reassured me that it’s no threat to actual romance. It might be a little depressing, but for most people, it’s just a bit of fun.
Before I go to delete my account, I have one last scroll through the profiles. I don’t seem to have anything in common with anyone on here: as I’m told again and again: “Shared Interests: 0.” Alright, alright. Do I occupy such a niche gap in the market? Aha! Andy, 23. One shared interest. Well, it’s a start. What do Andy and I have in common? I click. We both, at one point, have liked a Facebook page called “I lol’d at this seal.” Alright. I’m out.
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