is less more in “mobile” dating?
It’s like a love story. I remember that moment when we first met in July 2013 when my friend Jon held his phone up to me and told me about Tinder. We were sitting on the grassy hill by the farmer’s market eating tamales and drinking coffee on a Saturday morning.
”I’m surprised you don’t know about it,” Jon said. “It’s basically the straight version of Grinder.” Grinder is a gay mobile dating application. And yes Jon was right. Tinder was super-popular and I didn’t even know yet. I count on Jon to inform me of the latest trends.
If you have not been in the dating pool, or you’re not into the latest app, or you live under a rock, then maybe you have not heard about Tinder. Tinder’s premise is simple. The app shows you photos of people near you and you can like or not. Snap judgments: Hot or not. If you both swipe yes, you can communicate. We looked at Tinder on Jon’s phone, we swiped through the photos dissecting trends. We asked, Why are there so many girls wearing fake moustaches? Why are there so many men standing in front of Machu Picchu? Is that the ultimate signifier of adventure?
Of course I thought Tinder was absurd. Vapid. An app for bubbleheads. Not a way to find love or anyone of substance. Certainly this would not be an application for anyone mature to use. Well, I must be a bubblehead because I was sucked in quickly. That afternoon after leaving Jon I found myself lying on my couch staring at the phone for fifteen minutes at a time. I killed a whole hour in a swiping haze.
Sometimes I would swipe right based on looks. Sometimes based on shared interests or friends (Tinder exposes shared friends from Facebook). Sometimes because of a clever comment in the “tagline.” I was generous with my swipes. Jon told me later I am too generous. Like most men, he looked only at the photos.
Simple = addictive. Simple is the hardest to do.
I could tell that Tinder was on to something because it is so addictive. I’ve worked in the social media industry, and I know that simple is addictive and simple is the hardest thing to do. Tinder is crazy simple. You say yes or no based on gut instinct. I saw married friends in the pool. They told me they were on the app for research. The Tinder UI (user interface) is so addictive anyone who works in or around social media needs to understand it.
Tinder had become an app that many women like and use, but I found out months later that the Tinder founders were being accused of sexual harassment and discrimination by a female co-founder and marketing Vice President Whitney Wolfe. Wolfe alleged that the other founders called her a “whore” and stripped her of her title, because as the app grew in popularity, having a “24-year-old girl” as a co-founder would not help the company’s profile.
That suit has not been settled, having worked in the tech industry, I know sexism is rampant in that brogrammer world. The rest of this piece is not a swipe-right on Tinder, but rather, an exploration of the design of their application, and how we approach dating in this driveby world.
Hey, Tinderella, can I be your magic humpkin?
Most people think Tinder is a hookup app for sex. That’s what I assumed it must be. And it is. It’s also an ego boost app. Clearly the app is just as much about finding out who thinks you are cute as it is about meeting anyone. It’s all of that, and more. The app surprised me.
Certainly I have received preposterous messages like: “Hey, Fancy a bit of consensual sexual acrobatics this fine evening?” or “Hey, Tinderella, can I be your magic humpkin?” Or much hotter, “I want to eat you like a mango.” That one I actually found to be a turn-on. Later the guy apologized and said the mango message was a drunken message and when I asked him how many women he sent it to, he said “about twenty.”
But I can tell you that for at least one user—me—Tinder is not just a hookup app. I have formed two thingamabobs you could call relationships through Tinder. I’ve also made friends with women and been invited to book groups.
My experience was actually quite deep. After six months of using Tinder, I had met an array of people, even if we only chatted on the app and never met in person. I met another woman who had worked in user experience and technology for drinks for deep conversation and technology and life. I fell in love with someone in Atlanta and talked to him through the nights for an entire month. (That’s another story.) I met a TV writer from LA who had written for the West Wing and many other dramas. He was in the Bay Area for the weekend. We had a sociologist friend in common. Tinder exposes your common Facebook friends, which creates an easy stepping-stone in conversation. I’ve learned about social history and tango. I’ve learned about strange male fetishes. Yes it has been an adventure, this Tinder thing. Much more of an adventure, incidentally, than OKCupid and Match.com, by the way.
I started to believe that Tinder is an adventure because in its simplicity, it mirrors life.Now, I am not your average person. I will engage in conversation when many people would not. I am intensely curious, and I live by the idea that we learn about the world and ourselves through people. So for me, Tinder has not necessarily been just a way to meet my soul mate (or a hookup), but it’s been a way to bump up against and meet the world.
With online dating, is less more?
With Tinder, I started to wonder, when online dating, is less more?
I have used OKCupid off and on for years when I discovered Tinder. I long believed it was good advice to write a detailed profile about who you are and what you are looking for. Sure that can work. Anything can work. I gave the advice that writing a detailed, long, specific profile is a good idea and even gave that advice on this Commonwealth Club panel on the state of sex and dating in San Francisco. Weed people out by saying exactly what you want. Get to know yourself. Call in “the one” with your specific words about what you want. It’s a great theory and it definitely works for some, and it could work for me. But I found that reading uber-long soliloquies could be more draining than invigorating. I got messages, but very few seemed to be from men who would be compatible with me or met my “requirements”–and if they did, I didn’t feel attracted to them.
Tinder on the other hand provides so little information. Tinder mirrors real life. More like meeting someone in a café. When we see someone in a bar, café or on the street, we don’t know the “self-summary” or the “six things they could never do without.” We don’t know his 500 favorite books, or his vision of the ideal relationship. We go on intuition.
Maybe it’s the posture, maybe it’s the eyes, maybe it’s the smell (one thing technology can’t yet give us). But we have a sense. An intuitive sense about whether we want to talk to them. With the guy in Atlanta that I fell in love with, it was definitely his eyes–they laughed in a way that very few people’s eyes do. With Tinder, I started to believe less information is more.
The two ways to date: directed vs. intuitive
When I started to use Tinder, I could see there are two kinds of ways to online date (for those who are not lucky to meet their partner immediately on the first date!).
First, directed online dating. These are the people who are very ready to meet a partner. I’ve met people who go out on 20 dates in a month, or multiple dates in a day. Heaven help these people. I’ve talked to people for whom this online dating marathon strategy has worked. They keep their spirits up, stay optimistic, know themselves and what they want more with each week. They keep at it. More serious sites like Match, Eharmony, or even OKCupid are a good match for these people. I have respect for that. I’ve tried that. But I don’t have the endurance to go on that many dates. Yes, I want a deep, awesome long-term committed relationship. But in the process of finding that person, I kinda just wanna have fun. For me, it would kill my spirit to go out on dozens of dates.
Then there is mysterious intuitive dating where you learn from each person you meet, even if the person is not “partner material.” Tinder, whether it’s a hookup, dating, or friendship app, or some combination of all of the above, falls into the second category. I could meet my partner via Tinder just as I could meet my partner at the gym or at the dentist. Tinder has been like life. A way to have fun along the way and value the whole experience. To converse with people who were not going to be my partner and learn from them too. I’ve learned in some way from each one at a deeper level than I would have thought.
The epidemic of disappearance
There are things about Tinder that I gravely dislike. I used Tinder for about six months, and then I got sick of it. Maybe I will go back in the future if I find myself single and wanting to date. What I dislike most about Tinder is that it exacerbates the trend of “disposable dating.” The disposability and disappearance.
People are not taught communication skills in this world of instant messaging and when people are done with a relationship, or the sexual part of a relationship, they don’t have the skills or courage to speak about it or transition to the possibility of friendship. Everyone could stand to take a communication class or two (these are skills I teach in my classes and coaching), in nonviolent communication or other class. I have polled men and women. Both men and women, and especially men, are guilty of disappearing without a word in dating. Disappearing is okay after a date or two but not so OK after you have shared intimacy, and I don’t mean just sexual intimacy, I mean emotional intimacy. They are not horrible people. They just don’t know how to have a difficult conversation or be honest.
Tinder makes it so easy to hop on your phone and move on to find someone new. Discard the old person, find someone else. It’s OK to move on, but it is far better to not disappear. Far better to send a text at the least! A call is even better! A conversation! Disappearances happened to me twice in this fast-to-be-intimate-fast-to-disappear-Twitter-world with the men I met through Tinder—the Southerner and the Indian man. They were both very hurtful, so I’m more cautious now. I’m slowing things down. That’s my commitment to myself. I don’t blame Tinder so much for those disappearing acts because that could happen anyway. My commitment to myself now is to slow down and pace things more slowly.
The man that I’m seeing now I met at a café. Through the eyes. The real-life Tinder is even better than Tinder itself.
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