Just Swipe: Dating and Sex in the Age of Tinder

Love and sex have been reduced to a swipe on a phone screen. Swipe left to say yes, or maybe, or not really but I need the attention. Swipe right to say hell no! In the game of online dating, we love to feel in control, to be the decider. And in the world of Tinder, where swiping a profile can make or lose the perfect match, you are always in control. And, whether you intend to actually meet the person you swiped left to, the appearance of a “match”, is the ego boost many seem to want. It’s a feeling of validation, “if that hot person finds me attractive, I’m hot!”. For many, Tinder is a game, a “what if?” scenario. Stuck in a miserable relationship? Get on tinder and see how many hotties there are out there! Feeling alone and dejected? Get on tinder and hook up! It’s that easy, just login and swipe away until you find your perfect playmate. Or, so goes the theory. Welcome to dating and “hooking up” in the ADD age.

For the uninitiated, Tinder is an app for your smart phone or tablet. It connects with your Facebook account and creates a unique profile that others see upon logging in. Profiles consist of several images and a short bio, or sales pitch. Additionally, one can connect their instagram to show more images (typically selfies) Once logged in, you are dealt with a steady deck of available matches, based on simple criteria: desired age range and proximity. If one likes what they see, and want to match with that person, they swipe left and tinder! If not, they swipe right. If both swipe left, it’s love at first swipe! At least that’s the idea. But, a little back story is necessary here. Tinder is not a dating app, by traditional standards. Its original purpose was as a “hook up” app, for those that are seeking sex, or just possibly companionship. And its original target market was millenials, who embraced it from the get-go. Who’d of thought it would catch on with other generations, all the way up to Baby Boomers.

Tinder was written as a companion to grindr, an app who’s name is suitable to its purpose. Log in, get grinding, simple. And who else wants to get grinding but gay males. Make it an app for straights, and things get a bit confused. Thus, when one reads profiles on tinder, there’s always the perfunctory “not here for a hookup” line in so many profiles, which shames those that are while saying “I’m better than all of you sleazoids”. Some aren’t here to get laid though, but to make friends and develop real relationships. Others are here strictly for business: they want to get laid, plain and simple. So, there’s an immediate mismatch of intentions built into tinder. Those that want sex, those that want a relationship. And those intentions may be based on a person’s sex, or they may not. In the world of tinder, all expectations are out the window. It’s a new, liberated world out there. Just be careful what you wish for, the results may freak you out.

There are all sorts of reasons why people get on tinder, and it’s not just for hookups, nor even meeting. We all have a curious, voyeuristic interest in checking people out. Whereas, we used to go to bars, cafes and church to do this, we now do it in the privacy of our homes or cars. Everybody wants to see “what’s out there”, and I’ve heard people say they get on tinder just to pass time at stop lights, or to break up the monotony of their day. Some are stuck in hapless relationships or marriages, and fantasize about escape. Some are serial daters, who’ve jumped from dating sites to the newest way to get a free dinner. The same faces, different app is par for the course in Asheville. Some are cheating. Some are players. The thing is, when you are on tinder, nobody’s motives are revealed. It’s a cat and mouse game of sorting out the real from the fake, the deceptive from the sincere, the sleazy from the reputable.

There’s also the non-committal aspect of tinder. Even if you make a match, there’s no guarantee of anything, beginning with a return “hello”. Some will swipe left for literally every single person, then sort out the ones they really like on the second round. Or one can have a match, reach out to say hi, and get unmatched. One can get involved in what seems a genuine connection with someone, sharing interests and experiences, and feeling like something might develop. Only to never hear from that person again. And for some reason, it still feels like rejection. Even if you never made eye contact, you never spoke, you never even knew the person. It’s a strange new world of cyber feelings, not unlike what Joaquin Phoenix experienced in the film “Her”.

I had such an experience, making a connection with a nurse in a city about an hour away. After matching, we chatted a bit and found some common interests. OK, we both wanted sex. After a flirty text exchange, she gave me her phone number and we continued texting through the evening. At some point more images were exchanged, some which might be considered “adult”. “Here’s a present for you”, wrote one text, attached with a revealing shot of my new friend. Call it what you may it certainly got my attention, which may be all she needed for the night. She confessed that she hadn’t had sex in 17 years. I honestly didn’t know that was possible, but agreed to meet for a drink and “see how it goes” the next week. After a few more texts over the weekend, she disappeared and stop responding to my texts. Which left me wondering how someone could send an intimate photo of themselves, their phone number and then just disappear as if nothing happened. This happens all of the time, from what I’ve heard. A word of advice to all: keep the body shots clothed and don’t, under any circumstances give our personal information.

Then there’s the trepidation that arises after that “ka-ching!” moment, where you’re notified of a match. Once you’re matched, there’s the moment of decision, where one actually has to reach out with an introduction. And “Hi!” just won’t suffice. A vast number of tinder profiles will state things like “say something other than hi”, or “if you can’t form a full sentence, don’t bother”. The pressure of delivering an interesting and winning opening line is no different than approaching someone at a grocery store and hoping your line’s a winner. You’ve got one chance to make a good impression and it’d better be funny or witty. At least in real life, you can tell if the person is interested because they’ll just walk away. On tinder you just never hear back from them, leaving a void of not knowing.

Deception is rampant on tinder, and spamming has found a perfect way to hook unsuspecting suckers. It unfolds like this. You come across a profile of a very attractive person with a bio that says something like “just want to have fun ;-)” Naturally, you swipe left if fun if that’s what’s on your mind. Then, very quickly, you’ll get a match and that hottie will text you with a “Hi, yournamehere. How are you?”. You’ll fall for the ruse, and write back. “I’m great, how are you?” The response will say something like “I’ve got the November blues”, making you feel like you can help show your empathy and concern for this person. “Why? How can I help get you in a better mood?”, etc. Then the response will suddenly shift into the spam pitch. “I’d like to tell you, but my phone is dying, please send me your number and I’ll text you” or “I have to go now, but you can learn more about me at this website”. To those that fall for this kind of scam, I have trouble feeling sorry for you. But, clearly a lot of people are that gullible.

There are also those that use Tinder to network, albeit in a less than honest manner. I know of one Tinder profile that is simply there to gather connections for a multi-level marketing business. New contacts are easily made, especially the overweight kind. Once there’s been a date, they get introduced to a product line that promises to take pounds off and add vitality. It seems to be successful, since this profile pops often. You’ve been warned.

Because of its instantaneous, “do it now!” model, tinder tends to make things happen fast, only to burn out like an asteroid entering the atmosphere. One can find themselves caught up in a woozy exchange of texts, where very quickly topics will go from simple introductions, to witty banter, to answering personal questions, and ultimately making arrangements to meet. All based on a few photos and a couple lines of text. Needless to say, mismatches are often the result. I made a connection with a woman who stated her love for travel, exercise and music in her profile. We exchanged friendly texts, and agreed to meet for drinks. The first thing one realizes about tinder is that photos lie, and everybody portrays themselves in the best light. Nobody looks like their photos, and nobody fits their self-descriptions. There’s always some level of deception going on. And that doesn’t exclude you.

We met for drinks a couple nights later and got to know each other, flirting and feeling the giddiness of a first date. It was fun and exciting, but it was fleeting. There was a good chemistry between us, even if it did feel like an interview after the first 30 minutes. “So…” she would open the next line of questioning on everything from my love for dogs to my familial history, putting me in the odd position of taking about myself to a stranger. This Q&A went on for most of the evening, in between her self-admissions of not having many friends, and never having left the area, even though she had stated a love for travel. Hmm, OK, I let it slide because I found her attractive and you tend to let things slide in the beginning. Red flags only come later. We made arrangements for a second date, that Friday. Things went well, we had beers, bounced around town a bit, then decided to go back to my place. There things got heated up fast, to the point where I said “we’d better wait”. Strangely enough, she didn’t seem happy with my reticence to go all the way.

In retrospect, I now realize this was the typical “hook-up” scenario. Meet, get to know one another just enough, then get down to business. But where does that leave one feeling afterwards? Is it someone you want to pursue, or was it all just for quick sex? It seems that many are perfectly happy with this setup, but one can only repeat this so many times and still feel unfulfilled and empty. After one more date, the next night, things fizzled fast. We exchanged texts a couple times the next day and we made plans to meet again. Then, that afternoon, she texted me to let me know we were looking for different things, that it wasn’t a good fit, and goodbye. So, having known this person for less than a week, it went from casual to intense to being dumped. Needless to say, one can feel emotionally ripped off by the experience.

Not everything about tinder is a negative though. There are plenty of good people using it, with good intentions. It also allows one to reach beyond the limits of immediate social circles to make new acquaintances. There are also times when one is lost in a new city and could use a friend. Tinder allows one to see who’s out there at any time, in any place, possibly preventing many a lonely night in a far away place. And there are those that are shy or introverted, and Tinder breaks that ice without the painful experience of face to face introductions. Also, we are all bogged down with busy schedules, and it’s nearly impossible to find time for relationships. Like much else in our lives, we prefer convenience and ease of access over traditional ways of meeting. It’s just the way things are.

As a single male, I’ve dabbled in my share of dating sites. There’s a certain masochism that comes with the dating experience, especially in Asheville where one is constantly bombarded with happy hand-holding couples, young families, and the long-married retirees that seem ubiquitous here. That, and the absolute absence of a singles scene or any kind of flirtyness. Being single in WNC is not a picnic, especially if you are older, have lived in larger cities, and have a liberal POV. So, either out of desperation or sheer determination, I’ve checked out everything from match, to craigslist, to nerve to tinder. They all hold the same promise of meeting like-minded people which you can choose much like shopping in a catalogue. Just specify your criteria, and get a list of available matches. Sadly, the results can be underwhelming and one can be certain that the ones you want to date are being inundated with suitors.

There’s a reason all of these sites exist, because we are human. Let’s be real, people are lonely, they want affection and they will seek out ways to fulfill that need. But something has shifted and been altered by tinder and it’s hard to understand. My theory is that the sheer volume of availability is overwhelming people, to the point where they simply don’t choose, or they treat it as a game. It’s hard to make a real commitment to someone you swiped on a phone, who you really don’t know, and who may be hiding something like a spouse. The options can be too many. If you can literally spend an hour swiping through all of those available in Asheville, how the hell do you choose that one person? And then, maybe you’re just too busy, or you meet and (s)he has an annoying accent, or (s)he doesn’t look like his photo or has a strange laugh? The idea of the web making dating easier has hit the wall of possibility. Too many choices leaves us not choosing. Cause there’s always that next swipe.

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