In a world dominated by smartphones and instant gratification, the dating scene has shifted. The pervasiveness of social media has rendered the concept of going on an actual “blind date” as old-fashioned as showing up with a flimsy bouquet of daisies. After all, seeing is believing, and though superficial, social media provides a readymade preview of potential matches. Anymore, daters demand a casual process that involves roughly the same amount of effort as lurking on Pinterest while submerged in a pile of blankets. Many dating sites fulfill this demand by linking you with other potential singles in the Columbus area, but Tinder is different. Tinder has evolved from sexually promiscuous obscurity into a genuine way to avoid spending yet another Friday night alone by offering two effortless options: swipe left, or right. We decided to find out what happens when you swipe right.
But what exactly does dating on Tinder entail? Does it neatly conform with our conventions and mores as an expansion to the foundation of dating protocol, or does it change the game completely? Where do convenience and efficiency fit into our ideas of dating and romance? What the hell is it, anyway?
According to its website: “Tinder is how people meet. It’s like real life, but better,” a bold, if debatable, statement. Basically, it’s a matchmaking app that links to your Facebook account to create a basic profile for you. It then matches you with others nearby—using GPS and taking into account your Facebook friends and pages you’ve liked. Once you’ve been matched you’re shown the other person’s profile (a photo, essentially) and you swipe left if you aren’t interested, right if you are. If they’ve also swiped right on your picture, voila, the two of you are able to begin messaging, and off you go on the romantic, sexual adventure that is dating.
Depending on whom you speak to, Tinder straddles the line between an ego-boosting hookup machine, and a statistically smarter, timesaving mechanism to find romance. Perhaps it’s both, and either way, users have flocked. According to figures released by the company, the app generates more than 12 million matches daily out of the billion swipes it records from 50 million global users in that same time period. If even 10 percent of those matches end in a face-to-face meeting, that creates 1.2 million dates per day.
If you look closely the next time you’re at your favorite coffee shop, bar, or restaurant, you may spot the uneasy postures and vague answers that signify an awkward first date. Chances are that date wasn’t set up by a well-intentioned mutual friend, but rather a flippant right swipe of a thumb, and a couple brief messages. This is love in the Tinder age.
So this month, (614) decided to shadow four daters (a heterosexual female and male, and a homosexual male and female) to explore a truly modern dating phenomenon. (Their names have been changed for the sake of privacy, security, and garnering honest responses.)
Greg, 25, M4F
“Essentially, Tindering is submitting yourself to be vulnerable—to be vulnerable in front of strangers, and to be vulnerable in front of your date. By agreeing to go out on a Tinder date, you are effectively admitting to the world that you are running out of options.”
Or so said “Greg,” a 25-year-old Columbus native who is fed up with dating.
“I just want to get this over with,” he said. “I hate having to try to be impressive. There is a lot of pressure to not only to ‘look good on paper,’ but also to be charming. It’s a lot to take on.”
“I really only downloaded Tinder as a self-validating mechanism. I was less interested in finding people to take out to dinner, and more fascinated with how it made me feel when I match with someone,” Greg admitted. “I like to know that there are 100 people out there that would potentially bang me, but honestly I don’t got time for that shit.”
Greg feels pressured by societal expectations of sexuality. “My hairline isn’t getting any stronger. I know in my heart the older I get, the level of attractiveness of my potential matches is bound to decrease. Unfortunately, now is the time in my life for awkward ‘get-to-know-yous’ at bars I really don’t care about with strangers I just met.”
He is also struggling with a common existential crisis of the sexually active adult: to find that balance between overt promiscuity and the nagging possibility of dying alone. In a way, this is the same struggle faced by the Tinder app itself. It’s an identity crisis that has plagued the startup from the beginning—is it an app for casual sex or a legitimate mechanism for finding true love? Despite similarities in name and function to the gay hookup juggernaut Grindr, Tinder’s creators have maintained from the start that they designed the app as more than just a way to find sex. By eschewing lengthy profiles and questionnaires employed by other dating services and focusing on a quote and photos, its programmers created what they see as an equivalent to real-world dating.
In a New York Times feature in 2014, cofounder Sean Rad explained the thinking behind this move. “When was the last time you walked into a bar and someone said, ‘Excuse me, can you fill out this form and we’ll match you up with people here?’ That’s not how we think about meeting new people in real life.” But trimming the fat is seen by many as the impetus to superficial engagement between two parties, often leading to nothing more than a short-lived physical relationship, an idea that Greg understands all too well. “I always thought of Tinder as means for [sex]. Obviously this notion was appealing, but only on a fantastical level,” he said. “This same concept applies to picking up girls from the bar. It seems great on the surface, but really you are just asking for drama or potential STDs.”
Greg was nervous as he prepared for his first Tinder date. “I have a lot of experience dating through other online mediums, such as OkCupid. Tinder is a lot more intimidating,” he admitted. “You really don’t know as much about your match, other than the few mutual interests and friends, and whether or not they look good in a bathing suit.”
Belle, 26, F4F
Belle is a 26-year-old Pittsburgh transplant relatively new to meeting people on Tinder. “The Columbus dating scene without the Internet is small and incestuous in my experience,” she claimed. “What I like about Tinder is that you meet people that you wouldn’t see otherwise.”
Belle’s date, who we will call Beatrix, planned to meet her for coffee at a local brew station an hour after the interview. We asked Belle what attracted her to Beatrix’s profile. “To be honest, really awesome nose jewelry—the kind that attaches a chain from your nose to your ear—traditional Hindu wedding-style jewelry. Also [her] description was entirely made out of emojis, which made me more comfortable to message [her], because like me, [she doesn’t] take the Tinder thing too seriously.” But beyond jewelry preferences and tiny digital cat faces, it can be tough to get a feel for who’s on the other end. “My expectations are always low on Tinder,” said Belle. “If I met someone in the ‘real world’ and set a date, a connection is already established. With Tinder, it’s just aesthetic. Compared to other dating sites, there is a smaller window to talk to someone before you set a date.” These restrictions, she explained, prevent a user from making accurate assumptions and judgments about the person. Really, you don’t have much to go on, which makes starting a conversation a bit more awkward.
This was only Belle’s third Tinder date, although she has been using the app for quite some time, estimating her usage at about 30 minutes a week. “I’ve been messing around with [it] for two years—generally just to make fun of people. Generally, if I see a match randomly out in person, I say ‘hi’ and skip the whole date-initiation process within the app.”
In the Times feature, Tinder claimed that “on average, people log into the app 11 times a day. Women spend as much as 8.5 minutes swiping left and right during a single session; men spend 7.2 minutes. All of this can add up to 90 minutes each day.”
Belle doesn’t spend much time preparing for her date either. “All I have to do is take a shower. Really the amount of time I will spend getting ready for this would equate to having to go out and get a pack of smokes.” That’s when she got the text. Beatrix was stuck out of town and would have to cancel—classic Tinder. They rescheduled the date for Saturday night at a local hip hop show—a bit of a switch from a casual coffee encounter. “Let’s hope I don’t get too drunk for this,” Belle joked.
Tracey, 36, F4M
Location is a pretty big deal in dating. Where a date takes place can set the tone, and Tracey has been looking for love in all kinds of places—P.F. Chang’s, her Tinder date’s restaurant of choice, being one of them. But maybe “love” is too strong a word for this 36-year-old, who has been dating on and off for a year and half. Perhaps “chemistry” is a better fit.
Talking while sipping Starbucks, she concluded that bars serve as the preferred meeting place, offering either dater a chance to chug a beer or dip if things go sour. She said that an Easton restaurant made for an odd first-date setting. Location often comes into play long before a first date venue has been set in the Tinder world though. According to a study conducted by students at Indiana University, if users are within a mile of each other, they are 54 percent more likely to hookup (in this case, hookup refers to any sort of sexual contact). For every two miles farther apart, that percentage declines by half. (The same study also reported that IHOP experienced an 8 percent sales spike in late-night revenue, attributed to awkward Tinder dates.) It seems that convenience plays a large role in the success of a Tinder date, that is if you define success as a hookup, but not everyone does.
“I think Tinder has a bad rep because people look at it as a hookup or booty-call app, but I put in my profile ‘not looking for a hookup,’” Tracey said. “I feel I’m too late in the game for a hookup. I mean, these guys are in their late-30s. Let’s be grownups and act decent.”
For Tracey, the idea of a one-night stand, regardless of her date’s proximity, isn’t too appealing. “I guess I’m looking for something that can grow, like friendship, where we can go to concerts, watch movies, go bowling, or get drinks. If I feel chemistry can be built, it’s something I’m interested in.”
Many users enter the Tinder scene with what they think is an accurate mental map of the landscape within the app, only to discover the world they have entered is entirely foreign. While others—whether they knew what to expect or they just adapt quickly—jump right in and hit the ground running.
Charles, 27, M4M
Charles is a 27-year-old admitted serial dater. A Tinder-ite for a little over a year, he’s already landed 20 dates, gotten lucky around nine times, and fell into a four-month relationship. It only took him 15 minutes to get ready for the date, but he was looking forward to it.
“I talked to my coworkers today about the date and spoke with my friends about it last night,” said Charles. “This guy is not my normal type at all, but he’s very funny and nice. His biography literally made me laugh out loud.”
“I have no agenda for tonight. I’m kind of thinking whatever happens, happens. I’m getting older; dating is starting to get redundant so maybe I’m looking for something a little more serious.”
He compared the interview over coffee to a blind date, going so far as to label it as initially more awkward than a Tinder meetup. Perhaps the comparison isn’t too far off. Meeting someone face to face for the first time, whether it’s a writer or a potential love match, is fraught with uncertainty.
Case in point: Charles was once “catfished” by a 34-year-old who claimed to be 28 and thin.
Yet, for the most part, Columbus’s dating scene pleases him. Also an active user of dating apps Scruff and Grindr, Charles believes all three bring in different groups of men.
“Scruff is home to a lot of people in their late-20s or older—bear types—and Grindr is used by a lot younger age group,” Charles said. “For the most part, the first two are used to hookup, but I feel like that’s what you get from a bunch of guys with raging hormones.”
So what does Tinder bring to the dating buffet? Beyond the minimalist approach to presenting user info, Tinder’s identity, like any other dating service, is largely defined by the expectations of its users. Whether those users are looking for a late-night rendezvous, a true love connection, or they just enjoy the confidence-building sensation of seeing potential lovers give them approval, they all have one thing in common: they’re taking steps to extend their dating lives beyond traditional methods. And perhaps more fascinating than the idea of 50 million people changing the face of dating—once that first step is taken, not much has changed at all. You might get lucky, you might find love, you might get stood up. Sounds a lot like life before Tinder, and probably life after Tinder as well.
Authors: Chris Manis, Danny Hamen, and Marisa Pesa. Illustrations by Ron Horsley