Tinder’s introductory video begins with a vaguely Asian-looking girl that spies a white guy with stupid, bouffant hair across the neon glow of a carnival. She smiles at him. He looks like he likes her face. Then there is a montage of all the glorious moments in her glorious life. First, the cast of J.Crew appears to be twirling around a bonfire clutching sparklers (vaguely Asian-looking girl is a free spirit); next, there’s a dance party on a city rooftop (vaguely Asian looking girl has friends); and finally, we see her bounding through the park with a golden retriever (vaguely Asian-looking girl likes animals – that diminishes the chances of her being a serial killer). It ends with vaguely Asian-looking girl and white boy with stupid, bouffant hair happily finding each other again on Tinder, followed by a closing shot of their date on another rooftop. The hashtag rises: #itstartshere.
I’m bewildered. What was all that aspirational bullshit? Isn’t Tinder supposed to be about hot sex with strangers? Or am I two steps behind another evolution in the age of digital dating?
Tinder was originally created as a casual dating tool – the heterosexual equivalent to the gay community’s wildly successful hook-up app, Grindr. After creating a profile in which you choose a few photos and write even fewer words, you’re in the game. An endless stream of potential slumber party partners is immediately offered up. All you have to do is match up with them (and that’s easy enough: press a heart icon and wait to see if they do the same for your profile).When you get a match, several paths lie ahead. If we believed Tinder’s video, every match would end up cartwheeling through a field together in matching Converse. In reality, it falls closer towards bad lighting and awkward silences punctuated by drunken fumbles. Then it ends there.
Still, there’s something catchy about Tinder. All my single friends are on it and some are hopelessly addicted. Some use it for sex: it’s quick, it’s easy and there’s a mutual assumption that the other person is up for that. Others are more intrigued by the prospect of meeting someone worth seeing again, albeit in an environment of low expectations.
I called up one of these friends to talk Tinder. After an eight-year relationship that dominated his 20s, he suddenly found himself single and eager to meet new people. Because all of his friends were already using Tinder, he didn’t see any stigma attached to it. Rather, the app offered an efficient way to meet girls that wanted to hook up and hang out. Explaining the appeal, he said, “It’s more superficial than becoming friends with someone and letting it grow into an attraction, but no more superficial than seeing someone out and asking for their number.” After five Tinder dates, he’s started regularly seeing a girl he met through the app. His friends and family know. It’s no biggie.
Because that’s the thing about Tinder: it’s a dating app without any of the desperation. Guardian Soulmates screams of loneliness – like you’ve reached forty and you’re still alone and you’ll always be alone because you masturbate to Jilly Cooper every night in the bathtub. But there’s no shame with Tinder. Shoving all subtlety aside, Tinder makes it clear that you’re available and interested. It’s this ballsy, brutal approach that has attracted hordes of young people, eager for instant gratification and open to meeting new people, but disinterested in committing to a dating service that’s designed to forge meaningful connections.
As my friends develop repetitive strain injury from swiping right, I’m trying to figure out what this means for modern relationships. The Guardian claimed in a recent article, “if you are a romantic, you are probably not on Tinder.” I think they’re wrong. Tinder isn’t killing romance; but nor is it creating the kind of saccharine, soft focus relationships that its promotional video promises. It’s giving people the freedom to date however they feel like it – whether that’s hook-ups or holding hands.