Tales of Tinder: A two-week investigation

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Every college student has heard of the dating app Tinder. In this article, author Esther Ju, explores the app through her own trial experience, along with research from other avid Tinder users. Illustration courtesy of Dionel De Borja/ Daily Campus.

Nellie Bly was a journalist best known for her investigative reporting of Blackwell’s Island Asylum. Her committed efforts to disclose the institution’s harmful practices later earned her a legacy for exposing evil through risk-taking. Saying Bly’s story was what inspired my 14-day venture would not just be a stretch; it would probably send the poor woman rolling in her grave. Unlike Blackwell’s Island Asylum, Tinder does not hold a palpable threat to society through the mistreatment of its patients, nor does the divulgence of its experience offer much benefit to the public. However, Valentine’s Day was coming up and I was curious. 

Although there was no specific evil in need of exposing (sometimes there can be, depending on what people send you), there was still an odd sense of risk-taking involved when creating an account. The main caveat of dating apps is having to cram your identity into a single presentation comprised of a maximum of nine photos, your name, your age and a bio limited to 500 characters. Of course, additional information like school, occupation and location are also accessible, but those require the extra touch of a button, which I assume most users don’t bother with. 

After choosing five photos, five passions, a Spotify anthem (“Here” by Pavement) and writing a very vague reference to a Casey Frey video as my bio, I was well on my way to using the swipe function. It’s probably Tinder’s most notorious feature: if you like someone’s profile, swipe right; if you really like them, swipe up; if neither is the case, swipe left. If you’re lucky enough to have the other person swipe right, you’ll have yourself a match. Getting the hang of this simple procedure didn’t take long, and it also allowed me to make notable observations about my feed. 

There were several recurring themes when it came to people’s photos: mirror selfies, car pics, fishing pics, memes, bots, PowerPoint presentations and ominous black screens looking for a dominatrix. A handful of bios also seemed to lack originality, with many utilizing their 500 character limit to write down their heights and zodiac signs — not to mention an unusually high number of anime-lovers and Phoebe Bridgers stans. As fascinating as these examinations are and as exhilarating it can be to swipe through one’s feed, I’d argue the most interesting aspect of Tinder shines through its messaging feature. 

“There were several recurring themes when it came to people’s photos: mirror selfies, car pics, fishing pics, memes, bots, PowerPoint presentations and ominous black screens looking for a dominatrix.”

Based on the screenshots of conversations my friend sends me on a weekly basis, it’s safe to say Tinder lives up to its expectation as the perfect space for a person to relay their weirdest – yet spiciest fantasies – often in the form of a pick-up line. I went in expecting to be thrown off guard by a risqué declaration, but instead, the messages I received turned out to be uncharacteristically wholesome. Most consisted of the standard “Hey” and “What’s up,” while others provided mini ego boosts and one asked for a kiss. Michael, if you’re somehow seeing this, I’m sorry for leaving you hanging. 

By day three, I felt I had already delved into an aspect of human psyche better left unexplored. I declared my Tinder experience underwhelming and considered scrapping the story altogether, until realizing that one testimony can’t speak for others. For the sake of content, more needed to be said, and I happened to have a handful of matches at my disposal. 

I ended up sending a survey to six college students, all of whom delivered input regarding their own experiences on the app. They were asked the following questions: 

  1. How long have you been on Tinder? 
  1. Why did you get Tinder? What are you trying to get from it? 
  1. Do you agree that Tinder has essentially become a hook-up app? 
  1. How would you describe your experience on Tinder? 
  1. Do you think Tinder is helpful for people who are anxious about potential relationships? 
  1. What is your opinion about love and relationships? Do you think dating apps are changing the way young people form relationships today? 

(Disclaimer: Names have been changed to protect the identity of students. All other information was given consent to being mentioned.) 

20-year-old Sam, who identifies as a bisexual woman, gave a particularly compelling answer on why she joined Tinder this past September. 

“I got out of a relationship, and I realized that I was 20-years-old and I had never really dated,” she said. “I’d only ever been someone’s girlfriend. I wanted to get to know myself by casually dating. Plus, as a bisexual woman, there isn’t really a comfortable way to find queer women out there. I don’t ‘look gay’ (whatever that means) and I tend to find feminine presenting women attractive, so dating apps are the only way we would ever know the other was interested in women. I’m happy being single –– in fact, I don’t want a relationship for a little while –– but I like having a little bit of romance in my life.”

“I wanted to get to know myself by casually dating. Plus, as a bisexual woman, there isn’t really a comfortable way to find queer women out there.”

Sam, 20-year-old Tinder user

I think most people can relate to embracing a solo lifestyle while still wanting some added flavor within their social circle. How that flavor affects you really depends on your taste, and sometimes it feels like Tinder only caters to one specific seasoning. The phrase “dating app” seems to have evolved into a much more superficial title. When asked about his opinion on Tinder being exclusively deemed a hook-up app, 18-year-old Alex, who identifies as pansexual, gave an answer based on their encounters. 

“Not necessarily, I’ve met people through Tinder that have become good friends and even potential relationships beyond that,” they said. “It all depends on what direction you move the situation towards.” 

Hook-ups or no hook-ups, the app is different for everyone. 21-year-old Eric, a straight man, has been on Tinder for about two years now with fluctuating amounts of usage. He addressed his thoughts after rating his experience a 5/10. 

“I would say one of the more accurate descriptions I’ve heard is ‘small talk purgatory,’” he said. “Getting a match is time-consuming enough but trying to start convos gets repetitive very quickly and is hard to avoid. Then after a few hours/days they ghost you and then you start the same cycle with another person. Not every match is as boring as I just described, I have met some really cool people and learned a lot, sometimes even world views from them. I cherish those rare gems of [a] conversation, but I can’t ignore the time and borderline pointlessness of the majority of my matches.” 

“Getting a match is time-consuming enough but trying to start convos gets repetitive very quickly and is hard to avoid. Then after a few hours/days they ghost you and then you start the same cycle with another person.”

Eric, 21-year-old Tinder user

Aside from general experience, whether Tinder is challenging for those who are anxious about meeting new people, or whether it actually makes the process easier has become quite a debatable topic. 19-year-old Kate, who identifies as a bisexual woman, offered her input on this issue. 

“I think it definitely erases some of the pressure, it kind of makes meeting new people and putting yourself out there a more casual experience,” she said. “Getting likes and matches can also be nice for some quick self-gratification if you’re a person that struggles with confidence and your image.” 

Perhaps the biggest question from all of this is how dating apps are changing the dating game today. 20 years ago, the concept of forming a relationship online was still uncharted territory. Now, it’s becoming the new norm. Matt, a 19-year-old straight man, joined Tinder this past May after going through a nasty breakup. 

“I think dating apps have kinda revolutionized college hookup culture especially during times like this,” he said. “Maybe it’s because the majority of people on here are college age, but to me it seems relationships are becoming less and less frequent. Regarding love, [I don’t know]. If you’re trying to love someone I wouldn’t start looking here.” 

As a straight woman, 19-year-old Lauren, on the other hand, provided a much more hopeful outlook on the same subject — one that allows this report to end on a positive note. 

“I think dating apps are changing the mindset of people but I don’t necessarily think that’s bad,” she said. “Times are changing and I think that giving people more options to form different types of relationships is really good. I’m honestly not sure what my opinion is on love because I don’t think that I have ever been in love before. I would hope that love and relationships [are] everything I imagined in my head, but I guess you have to experience it to find out for real so I’ll let you know when I do.” 

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