Look at my Tinder profile. It’s a perfect balance of cute pictures of me, selfies with my friends and beautiful yoga-sunset poses. I’m a fun-loving, confident, witty, charming and adorable 21 year-old — or that’s what I’ll have you believe. I didn’t write anything in my bio — I don’t want to look like the keen one. I’m as selective to my right-swipes as I would be with buying a house or any other big investment.
But it’s not a big investment. It’s Tinder. It’s high-stakes Instagram.
Online dating has been around since the conception of Match.com in 1995. Use of apps and websites targeted at getting people together increases year after year with an estimated 91 million people around the world signed up to at least one, according to Dating Sites Reviews. Yet there is still such a stigma around online dating and hookups. People feel that technology is removing the serendipity of “traditional” dating. In the movies, you meet somebody randomly — on the train, at the coffee shop, by complete and utter flukes.
However, going about a day-to-day life lends itself to a very specific demographic of people you have the ability to meet. With online dating, you can cast the widest net possible. You don’t just have to meet and date English majors because that’s who you have all your classes with. You could meet someone utterly brilliant from the physics department just through the swipe of a finger.
Skyler Wang, leader of a student-directed seminar on the sociology of online dating, believes that “online dating” is a misleading term.
“It’s more of an introductory service rather than a dating service,” he said. “Right now, the power lies in the fact that you have access to so many more people, but the thing is you have less power in terms of controlling the situation, which is a very interesting tension.”
Ah, tension. The inevitable downfall of a texting-only relationship. My sarcasm doesn’t translate well through iMessage.
In his seminar, Wang discusses the fantasies we create about the people we speak to online. We use carefully selected bits of imagery and information to construct our invented identities. Because we have more control over what we show of ourselves online as opposed to what we project in person, it’s easy to leave thrilling gaps which strangers can fill with their own fantasies.
“Within that fantasy is a lot of power,” Wang said. “If you feel deceived after a date with someone you meet through an app, it’s because that person doesn’t fit the fantasy you’ve created for yourself.”
Most of the people I’ve encountered on Tinder are, in truth, different in reality than in their profile. I’m by no means excluded from this. There’s a stigma of seeming too needy. Who wants to be the keener in the relationship? Your profile has to radiate coolness, desirability and confidence. You are your most attractive, witty self online — at least I am.
No matter how many options we appear to have on our screens, we need to be careful not to lose the faces behind them. I am guilty of this. Because of a previous (mis)conception I had of online dating — it was for divorcees, people in their mid-40s or people with very specific interests — I didn’t consider that people my age were actually meeting people online, going on dates and hooking up. The confidence I gained from just flirting online is, in my head, far more entertaining than actually meeting with some desperate random from a dating app (oh the irony, I know). So I’d arrange dates and just not show up.
I am a terrible person, yes. But in my defence, I don’t doubt that the people on the other end of the exchange were doing the exact same thing.
Online, you can say things that perhaps you don’t have the confidence to declaim in a face-to-face situation. I cannot count the number of terrible, awful, embarrassing pick-up lines from guys I’ve matched with. Some of them are hilarious: “It’s a good thing you’re here, Livi! Because I’ve got all these tiny cutlery (fork emoji), but what I’m really looking for is a little spoon.” Some of them are mildly inviting: “How about you and I grab some raw vegan food, do yoga on the beach ’til sunset, then practice tantric sex til our bodies can’t take it anymore (sic)?” And some of them are downright rude: “I’d fuck you so hard then ejasucate (sic) all over your face.” This, I am happy to say, did not garner a response.
To date, I’ve set up around 10 Tinder dates, but have been on just one. It went well — we talked for hours, had a lot of alcohol and I wound up safe and sound. Yet the evening mood was plagued with ongoing thoughts in my head screaming, “Stranger danger,” or worrying about how late it was, when I’d be home or whether my roommates were worried about me. By contrast, dating someone you’re friends with is easy – you can “hang out” for days and days without consequence, without having to DTR (define the relationship).
Wang likens the process of finding “the one” online to online shopping.
“Engage in relation-shipping rather than relation-shopping,” he said. “A lot of the schemas we use is how we deal with shopping – you pick what you want, you sort. It’s kind of like you’ve ordered a dress and return it.”
But that’s not how relationships work. If you’re relation-shopping, you’re seeking out the flaws in a person. When you relation-ship, you’re giving them a chance.
I know the likelihood of finding a lifelong partner on Tinder is pretty low — I swipe right for guys with dogs and tattoos – and there’s so much more to someone than a passion for puppies and questionable artistic tastes, and that’s easy to overlook.
Finding the “perfect person” is not going to happen this way, but still we try.