By Hannah Steinkopf-Frank
“You can tell your parents we met at a coffee shop.”
This is an oddly common line on the dating app, Tinder. While other dating sites like OkCupid or JDate (which my Jewish grandma wants all her grandchildren to use) involve long questionnaires and complicated algorithms, Tinder relies on the basic human instinct of hot or not. And it works: There are more than one billion profile swipes a day and 12 million matches.
Tinder has become taboo. Everyone has it, but no one talks about it. Recently, my 35-year-old brother confessed to me that he uses the app. It even took me a while to open up about using Tinder, and I always feel uncomfortable when a friend says, “So I saw you on Tinder…”
It’s easy to classify Tinder as just another outcome of the internet. As many a grandparent has relented, us Millennials spend all our time socializing on our smart phones and don’t forge any meaningful relationships. This “informal” communication transfers into how we date. I know I’m not the only one who has worried about DTRing (defining the relationship) or what a one-time hookup meant.
But to view Tinder as purely a perpetuation of young peoples’ easygoing dating lives ignores the app’s potential for connection.
According to Tinder’s co-founder, Justin Mateen, less than 8% of users view Tinder as a hookup app. While there are many people who use Tinder for meaningless sex (seriously, asking for naked pics is not a good way to start a conversation), the app doesn’t have a singular use.
After using Tinder for over six months, I have seen people looking for “the one,” I have seen people searching for a hookup and I have seen people just looking to meet new friends. Because the app does not have an agenda for certain types of connections (I’m looking at you glutenfreesingles.com), users are able to define their own Tinder experience.
As a self-identified woman, this makes Tinder especially unique. Since both users have to swipe right in order for a conversation to start, mutual consent is necessary. Having used other dating sites where creepy dudes can send me message after message, Tinder is a breath of fresh air.
In the past, I’ve grown frustrated with other dating sites for the lack of monitoring. Even though you can specify the age ranges you want to see, I’ve had men old enough to be my father send me inappropriate messages.
While it is usually easy to block these users, deciding to make an online dating profile takes a lot of confidence because it leaves you vulnerable to the scrutiny of a seemingly endless stream of singles. I’ve been tempted to close online dating accounts after other users had made me uncomfortable.
In contrast, Tinder is able to create a safe space where the only threat of being violated is a miscellaneous dick pic thrown into someone’s profile.
Queer friends around the world have also told me that Tinder allows them to connect with other queer people. While it can be difficult to meet queer partners, dating apps can provide comfort and connection in places that are less accepting of divergent sexualities.
While I have matched with over 60 people, I’ve never used Tinder for its intended purpose: to make real life connections. I have yet to meet anyone I’ve swiped right on IRL (in real life). Even when I swipe right on someone, neither of us has the audacity to start a conversation.
But that doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy using Tinder. In fact, I have turned my fascination with the number of pictures of people with fish on the app into a game called “Go Fish.” Whenever I travel, I take screenshots of fish all over the country — from Portland lumbersexual hipsters to Northern Floridian Rednecks.
And as a feminist media critic, I can’t help but look at Tinder through a sociological lens. I’m fascinated specifically by the representations of traditional masculinity that come through on profiles. Gym pictures, hunting pictures (that explains the fish!) and other expressions of hegemonic masculinity are abundant.
At this point, I don’t know if I will or even could meet a significant other on Tinder. Call me a traditionalist, but my most memorable relationships have all started IRL.
Not that there’s any pressure to find “the one.” Maybe it’s because of the app’s laid-back approach to dating, but there is a certain comfort knowing that no one is judging you while you appraise possible mates with a swipe of your screen.