What Really Happens on Tinder – A True Story

I originally intended this piece to be in a darker tone. I set out to write it struggling with the personal bias that the application is no more than a quick and easy hook-up tool for people who, for whatever reason, are not in a place where they can give more of themselves to someone.

While not an unfounded point of view considering the application’s reputation, my opinion came mainly from a place of hurt and betrayal. Tinder had gravitated too close to my personal life. The less-than-flattering articles I usually read for entertainment were no longer enough, I needed to know exactly what happens there firsthand. Angry in the distinct way a woman with a point to prove can be and armed with my own ideals about the matter, I became a user to study the community for myself.

What I came across was not what I expected, or not entirely at least. As a first-time member with a preset distaste for it, I started off with buckets of skepticism. Tinder made it to the digital scene in 2012 and was almost instantly stamped by the media as the perpetrator of all things indecent. Nearly every time it was mentioned since, it has been in association with words like shallowness, promiscuity, cheating and how social applications of the likes are ruining modern day relationships.

I was certain that what I was going to find would be dark. And I’ll admit, it was difficult at first not to let myself fall into a pattern that would help me validate what I was so sure I would see. But Tinder surprised me. To say that the community is limited to an incessant pool of want and need between the genders is no longer accurate to me.

My profile at the time

Though my amateur social experiment was born out of subjectivity, I did try to follow some sort of scientific approach for the outcome to be valid.
First, my profile. I consciously set it up in a way that suggested neither hook-up nor relationship to avoid skewing the interaction received in favor of one or the other. It is actually very easy to create an account. You log in with Facebook and… that’s pretty much it. The application pulls your location and starts to suggest people near you that match your search criteria in terms of age and gender. In my mind at least, my profile – to the right – looked fairly standard. Regular, mid-twenties girl. Nothing too bland or too provocative.
Then, the interaction. I maintained a similar approach by keeping a friendly attitude but not much more. Not wanting to limit who can reach out to me, and in doing so missing out on the full aspect of Tinder, I started off by swiping right all around.

Within no more than a few swipes, a swarm of winky faces and “where are you now?” messages began. The vast, vast majority of what I received was for a short-term fix. I encountered pick-up lines in bulk, and honestly some of them were just gold. Credit to the users, there was 0 ambiguity about what they wanted. Some waited for a few back and forth replies before getting to the point, others went straight to it. I even had a guy apologize to me for the fact that he was about to unmatch me because, direct quote “you seem really nice and I’m sorry, but I’m so not looking for nice right now. Kinda the opposite.” Thumbs up.
I was annoyed with the constant pop-ups on my phone but I cannot say that I was surprised. I was waiting for them, I needed them. I wanted to see them happening, the one liners and the shallow comments, to help justify whatever whirlwind was consuming my thoughts. In retrospect, I might have started all this only to confirm a conclusion I had already come to but did not want to accept.

With a broken beat in my left rib cage, I told myself maybe I got what I needed and it was time to end my experiment. It was only then that I realized the shift in my own behavior on Tinder and the impact it had on the outcome. A private person by nature, I was squeamish about being there for quite a few days. It took me a while to get used to the fact that I had that little red flame icon among my applications. Without my even noticing, as I grew more accustomed to it being there I also started to invest a little bit more in choosing who to talk to. The winky faces gradually lessened and more importantly the smallest thread of real conversations started to appear.

Within the mass of unconcealed attempts for a short-lived connection, I started to notice the tiniest sliver of communication happening just for the sake of meeting someone. I had some truly interesting, platonic conversations with great guys. Guys who did not want much more than to have a chat about nothing at all in particular. It was conversation for the sake of it, for getting to know another person that seems nice. Not unlike when you meet a friend of a friend, for instance, and take to talking to them because there’s a good vibe there. Granted, this is not the dominating trend on Tinder, not by a mile, but it exists if a conscious effort is made to find it.

In its broadest sense, Tinder remains undeniably a dating application and one that, for the bigger part, is used for quick fixes, but it does extend past that by a tiny bit to make space, a small space, for genuine conversation. I have come to find that you only get out of it what you put in. If you really are there to meet new people, it could be useful.  A friendly chat is not exactly what’s driving the user subscriptions but it doesn’t mean the whole of the community is there for a hook-up.

On a more personal level, I developed a kind of childish fascination with being allowed to know more about someone else’s life just because of a swipe-right. I have always been curious about the stories of those around me, strangers or otherwise. I love hearing them and learning what got a person to where they are and why they are afraid of heights or why they hate figs.
It was wonderful to be able to see so many personalities, each with their own background, living in such close proximity to me. I can safely say I would have never met these people, some of which became friends, otherwise.

Unfortunately, I did not find any answers to the questions that prompted my social experiment. As it turns out, they don’t lie within the application. The problem is not Tinder, it is how the person on it is choosing to use it. More than with any other social platform, it is truly the intent that matters with it. A bittersweet realization for me because unless your Charles Xavier from the X-Men (he can read thoughts, for the non-geeks out there) intent is intangible. Easy to conceal, nearly impossible to prove. All I managed to do for myself is see grey instead of black and learn to make due with a semi-damaged beat, for now.

I remain a little apprehensive of the application because its very premise for interaction still contradicts how I believe we should evaluate another person’s worth, which happens to not be by their physical appearance. Tinder often tried to defend itself against claims of it being shallow by saying it only brought to the digital sphere what people already do instinctively, the once-over. That up and down glance when you first meet someone and decide “yes I like” or “ no I don’t”. To a very limited extent, that stands to be true.
Anyone with basic instincts should be able to filter what type of person they want to interact with on the application based on how they portray themselves- even I was able to and I tend to be slightly (very) naïve.
But that is where the validity of Tinder not being shallow ends. From there, it falls short in the personality component which factors in just as much in that once-over. The way someone talks, or shakes your hand or looks at you draws heavily on their personality and impacts that first impression we have of them. Based on pictures alone, I know I misjudged a lot of guys as “quick-fix boys”- to avoid use that other term- when in fact they could have been looking for something more.

The opposite, I am not too concerned with because they quickly corrected me with a winky face. They haunt me now, the winky faces… so many.

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