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.
is less more in “mobile” dating?
”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.
Next week I’ll be going back to Boulder, Colorado to participate in what might be the quirkiest conference in the world. It’s called the Conference on World Affairs, but it’s really a weeklong conference on everything under the sun: the arts, media, science, diplomacy, technology, environment, spirituality, politics, business, medicine, human rights, and so on.
CWA is a community-driven conference. Students and community members of CU-Boulder choose 100 writers, artists, scientists, journalists, businesspeople, and so on to invite for a week. Community members house us and feed us and students drive us around. It’s a percolation of people and ideas. This is the third time that I have been blessed to be invited. . .
This time I will be talking on panels about:
Tinder and Sexting: The Evolution of Dating
Being Fearless in Your Work and Life
Sex: Just Do It (or Not)
The Radical Notion That Women Are People
Hi, Mom and Dad, I Majored in…Now What?
TALK AND PLAY Rhythm and Movement
If you’re quirky and you know it and you live in or around Boulder, I’d love to meet you. Come to one of my panels and introduce yourself.
“Letting go of the strain of yearning was a relief, like stretched elastic retracting.”–Tessa Hadley, “Experience,” The New Yorker, January 21, 2013
I have been thinking for the last 24 hours about what a relief–and even a blessing–it can be to be rejected. How liberating really.
You see, I had a crush. A crush that was bothering me. I wondered if I had been clear enough. If I had done all I could to show my interest. Maybe he was a shy guy. Maybe I would have to really put myself out there. Showing my interest felt like a to-do list item to cross off to make him really know that I was interested.
So I chatted him up. I told him, I have a story to tell you. And he acted like he was interested and then he got quickly bored and abruptly latched on to another woman walking by. He acted like I was telling a very boring story and I do not tell boring stories. Ha. What happened was not so important. What was important was the knowledge: this man is not interested. And obviously I/we want the person who is interested.
At first I felt a hot flash of humiliation. What? How could you so abruptly cut off our conversation to talk with another woman? Then I realized, I could stop thinking I need to do something about this crush! He had made it so clear; I could move on. My crush could shrivel up and die leaving space in my brain (and soul) for other crushes to take root. Fantasies about other people, or other places, or other things. I actually felt so cleansed. It was hard to believe but after an hour of feeling dejected I felt light and free.
The hidden plus side of rejection is this impetus for movement. Get out of endless fantasy, collide with reality, and see what happens. Act on the crush, business idea, creative project, travel plan. If you fail, great, you can move on to the next person, thing, crush, place, dream.
There must be something about my “energy” that is radiating out in the world, “I want a Tantric lover.”
I have a completely bizarre (or amazing) tendency to attract Argentine men who on our first meeting sit across from the table from me and tell me–at length–about their knowledge of Tantra. This has now happened twice in a row in one month. I hardly know what to say. “Great!” “We just met!” I know they are trying to impress me but it feels fast. They want me to know I know they are not like all the other Argentine men. Typical Argentines, they say, want to score with as many women as possible to prove their masculinity.
A male tango teacher used the word “horny” to describe Buenos Aires. “Sexy” would be nice, but “horny”? “Horny” sounds like a city of teenage boys. Everyone is on the prowl for sex, but I get the sense (especially from talking to these chaps) that the norm for sex is traditional and fast. It’s a macho culture.
These non-macho men tell me about how most heterosexuals orient sex toward men’s needs. Until men realize that women have more sexual energy then men, and orient sex around women (learning how to make sex slower and more sensual, and to delay ejaculation), women will not be satisfied and men will have a cheaper version of sex than what’s possible. Read More
Dating is not for the faint of heart. Inevitably, dating means putting your heart out there on the line for people you are just getting to know. Along the way, we may get rejected. Or we may reject. The whole experience can make you want to retreat and watch Netflix for the rest of your life. What does it take to stay upbeat, treat dating as a way to expand your life, and even fall—and stay—in love with yourself while you look for love?
I’m doing a series of profiles and interviews of Quirky Characters. For Quirky Character Number 2, I want to introduce you to Carolyn. Carolyn, 61, is a social scientist. We met in a memoir-writing class taught by Laura Fraser earlier this year and since then I’ve been giving Carolyn feedback about an exciting writing project–so exciting I want to share it with you here.
Carolyn is writing a memoir about her Fifty First Dates Project. When she was in her late 50s, Carolyn decided to go on 50 dates to find her next partner. I’ve loved getting to know Carolyn giving her feedback on her writing; I’ve gotten to absorb her philosophy and it’s helped me to be wiser and more positive in my own approach to dating. So I want to share her with you.
Here’s our interview on what it takes to stay in love with yourself while you look for love.
What made you decide to go on 50 First Dates to find your next partner?
I was in a relationship with a wonderful man for eight years during my fifties, and I thought he was perfect for me but there were also limitations and were we growing apart. He lived in Hawaii, and I lived in the Bay Area, California; we had a long-distance relationship and he did not want to commit to a long-term relationship. I wanted someone who lived closer and to have a deeper relationship.
I thought, How am I going to get over him and find someone else when he still seems like the perfect partner for me? I decided I would need to go out with a lot of men, and I decided 50, not just as a way to find a partner but also to break open my idea of the perfect man. We all have a type, sometimes we can’t think beyond that type. My goal was to experience lots of different types of men, in terms of personality, lifestyle, life plan, jobs, ways of living.
Where did you get the idea of fifty?
There was a movie 50 First Dates that I saw on an airplane without sound. The number just stuck in my mind. I’m a statistician; fifty is a significant number for results. In real estate you look at 100 houses before buying. I thought 50 would be a good start. Read More
Coaching is about learning to tune into what you want, and clearing out the voices that tell you you can’t have it. This session my client didn’t want to talk about her career. That had been the primary focus working together. This time she wanted to talk about finding a new lover. So we switched gears for a session. Everything is connected. What we discover in her approach to looking for a lover could help us understand how she approaches moving forward in her career.
I asked her what she wanted in a lover, and what had worked in the past to find one? Dancing, she said. When she lived out west, she would go out dancing and amaze her friends with her ability to reliably pull in men. She had a sensual shrug in her shoulders. (She showed me over Skype and I could believe it.) Now she lives in New York and she had not been able to find the right kind of club to go dancing. The only places where people danced, she said, people were drunk and out to score or grope, and the dancing did not have the natural, uninebriated quality that she likes. Read More
I will be speaking on a Commonwealth Club panel called “The State of Sex and Dating in San Francisco” on Thursday, 3/31. The topic of online dating is sure to come up in this online-dating-drenched, tech-obsessed city. So will the “slow sex movement” as I will be sharing the panel with Nicole Daedone, creator of “the fifteen minute orgasm” (which *I think* has something to do what what she calls “orgasmic meditation”) and the founder of One Taste, a center focused on female sexuality. Ethan Watters author of Urban Tribes will also be part of the conversation. Come on down! The program will also be broadcast on KALW, one of our NPR affiliates, and posted on YouTube.
Update: Here is an SFWeekly writeup where I am described as the sweet counterpoint to a sexpert and someone “who probably won’t be holding up lube.” Is that a dare?
Have you ever gotten sucked into something that you were also ashamed to read? It happened to me yesterday. I was listlessly checking my email when I noticed a text ad that I must have seen more than 10,000 times. “How to catch and keep a man.” Those ads are as oddly ubiquitous as the text link ads for Acai Berry Wonder Diets, but I always assumed that ads with links like “Why Men Withdraw and What to Do About It” were for women who are more pathetic and malleable than me. Yesterday I joined the masses. And let me tell you. I became sickly fascinated. And angry.
I was vulnerable to that horrible ad because I recently heard something along the lines of “I’m just looking for something casual.” Somehow I find that impossible not to take personally. I clicked on the link–“The Ten Most Dangerous Mistakes Women Make”–and found myself swimming through simple, one-sentence direct-mail style paragraphs, like:
“Have you ever slept with a guy very quickly after meeting him, but as it started to happen you got that sinking feeling in your stomach? You knew it was a mistake, but you did it anyway. And then the thing you KNEW would happen actually happened: He unexplainably disappeared from your life. Honestly, have you ever had this happen?”
Of course, the worst part wasn’t that it happened, but that you KNEW you shouldn’t have done it in the first place… but you did it anyway.
Ummm, who hasn’t?
Where is the sexual energy in San Francisco? I am frustrated. I have recently come back from Rio, which is perhaps the sexiest place on the planet, and now I feel like I am living in a sexless universe. I am not talking about hoochie mamas dressed like Janet Jackson at the SuperBowl or random hookups or even on-the-street-make-out-sessions, though those are nice and there are plenty of those to see while you drive around Rio. I am talking about a sexual energy crisis.