“Tinder – isn’t that the hook-up app?” asks a family friend in her 50s, screwing up
her nose. “My daughter isn’t on it. At least, I certainly hope she’s not.”
Hate to break it to her, but the odds aren’t looking good. About 1.5 million Australians are on the fastest-growing dating app right now: that’s one in ten for every Australian between the ages of 15 and 65. Worldwide the figure is closer to 1.6 billion. Even celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio and Katy Perry spend time swiping right. And Perth is every bit as smitten.
The reason for my friend’s trepidation is this: the app seems to function as a glorified ‘hot or not’ game. While RSVP is the reliable stalwart, OKCupid seems playful and fun, and Match.com, with its extensive algorithms for matching people up, seems legitimate, Tinder… Well, it seems more like that drunken guy slurring obscenities at a party: shallow, seedy, and best avoided. It goes like this: you choose a few photos, filter age, gender and location, then swipe left (no) or right (yes) on a succession of suitors. If someone you like swipes right on you too, you get a – ping! – match, which lets you start a conversation. It gives no space for lengthy descriptors, detailed filters or complicated algorithms, but it is enjoying almost ludicrous popularity, advancing online dating from the periphery, where it’s lingered for some time, to the very centre of the action.
But is it just an app for hooking up? If so, why are women taking to it in droves? What does it say about us that we’re so fond of its shallow medium? And is Tinder causing ‘dating ADHD’ in the people who use it? I hit the streets of Perth to find out.
At popular restaurant Pleased To Meet You, I ask our server if he ever sees couples on Tinder dates. “Constantly,” he reveals. “Often, when the girl goes to the bathroom, the guy tells me how they met and asks my opinion on how it’s going.”
“I see Tinder dates all the time,” agrees the 25-year-old hostess of Northbridge’s swanky rooftop bar The Standard. “My fave is at the end – after he awkwardly pays when he would really like to go halves – asking what their plans are for the rest of the night. They don’t know where they’re going, or if one is going
to ask the other back to their house, or what the fuck is going to happen when they leave the venue. Squirm, bitches!”
Despite her newly single status, she’s not on Tinder. “My calendar is full of
dates with people I already know. Plus, I don’t want to see my ex on it,” she
explains. “But all my mates love it and can’t understand my abstinence.”
Like she says, it’s more puzzling for singles of a certain age not to be on the app. And it’s not just the allegorical drunken frat guys, on there, I find out. Women – the less shallow sex who should baulk at Tinder’s unabashedly pixel-deep screening process; who are supposed to be looking for lasting love, not sexy hook-ups – make up 45 per cent of Tinder’s users.
Turns out Tinder isn’t so straightforward – and nor are the women who use it. Take my good pal, a professional in her mid-20s, who used Tinder for casual hook-ups after she’d broken up with her long-term boyfriend; or the friend of a colleague, who admits to loving the novelty of having sex with someone for the first time. The 40-something single mother, who has the body of a woman 15 years younger, and unashamedly enjoys a roll in the hay with men half her age, says: “I’ve become addicted to the excitement of first dates, and the first intimate encounter (which if not on the first date is usually the second). I know I’m probably not going to want to take it any further after the first night together, and feel I should warn them. When I do, it just makes me more of a conquest, and inevitably they want to revisit. Strangely, I have remained good friends with quite a few of my NSA (no strings attached) guys. They love the banter.”
Another friend – a delightfully bright-eyed 20-something, who works in the media industry and volunteers in her time off – discovered the thrill, and emotional complexity, of dating multiple men at once.
“Because you’re chatting to a few people at the same time, it’s easy to line up multiple dates in the same week,” she says. “Once, I had a drink with a guy at 6pm, and then went straight to dinner with another one at 8pm. You feel a bit special, like you’re sought-after, but it’s not just about sex – I really like all the guys I’m seeing, and I feel like the relationships are progressing to something more serious than just a Tinder hookup.”
Take also the scores of men and women – same-sex couples included – who have found long-term, meaningful relationships through the app when conventional methods eluded them.
I personally know several such couples, and Tinder brags about receiving emails to the tune of thousands, announcing engagements, marriages, even Tinder babies. My guess is, in a few more years, half the infants in the birthing room will grow up to claim their parents met on Tinder.
On a cold, miserable night a few winters ago, my best male friend, tired of my endless sooking about being single, downloaded Tinder on my phone. This was when Tinder was relatively new to Perth – I only knew a handful of people on it, as opposed to now, when practically everyone I know spends their days swiping – and at the time I felt mopey, frustrated, defeated. Had it really come to this? A few hours and close to a hundred matches later, I was buoyant, my ego officially restored. I suddenly felt in control of my dating life. “We have achieved dating autonomy!” my friend and I cheered a while later. “We have the power!”
According to Keira*, a 34-year-old who works in the sport industry, “Tinder gives you the power of choice, and more autonomy. You don’t have to wait for Mr Right to come knocking on your door – you can look for him,” she says. “And even better that you can do it with girlfriends over a bottle of wine, or in your PJs!”
Sophie Kostecki, a 23-year-old child care worker, who signed up to Tinder after the end of a long-term relationship, agrees. “I didn’t care if a guy didn’t contact me again after a date or whatever. I’d just say ‘meh’ and move on,” she says. “I think not expecting anything to come of the dates made them a little better. I didn’t care if he thought my laugh was annoying or I swore too much.” During her time on Tinder, she estimates she went on about 30 to 40 dates. “Not any dates where the guys went out of their way too much, but I like casual anyway so I didn’t mind.” She’s since deleted the app.
Says Dr Elizabeth Reid-Boyd, an academic in the School of Psychology and Social Science at ECU who has written extensively on topics relating to women, “Tinder is a good example of giving women dating autonomy, but it would be a problem for women to assume that just because they have moved past old attitudes, the men they are dating through Tinder have done the same,” she cautions. “Just like in the real world, there will be all kinds of out-dated assumptions. So out-date those dates!”
Social media expert Pamela Weatherill concedes that while women are using their autonomy to get swiping, they are “still potentially being seen as sexual objects of desire on this app, which profiles physical attributes as higher than any other attributes.” Is that such a bad thing? “That’s up to individual women to make that choice, and of course the men are doing the same thing, too.”
If you’ve seen the hilarious video Shit People Say on Tinder, you’ll see guys swipe yes to absolutely everyone, their cousins included, while girls reject guys for reasons as varied as having a shirtless pic, being too old, and “He’s feeding a kangaroo”. It’s not that far off the mark, with statistics revealing men swipe left three times less than women, at 14 per cent and 46 per cent, respectively.
The women I spoke to revealed a slew of deal-breakers that included, but were not limited to, guys clutching beers in every single photo (“I don’t drink, so that was a big thing I looked out for,” says Sophie). Frat-like relics from parties, like a ‘wizard staff’ – a towering pole of taped-together beer cans to show how much its holder has drunk – had one friend swiping left so hard her fingers practically got whiplash. Completely naked pictures are both creepy and mystifying – how, oh how, did they manage to get past Facebook’s schoolmarmish ban on nudity? A main picture of a souped-up car is unacceptable, “unless you’re a transformer,” says my friend. And the dreaded bathroom selfie with that telltale orb of light glinting under the armpit is “a total turnoff – no matter how flat your abs are.”
Guys are less picky – remember the stats? – but pet hates include group shots (“She’s probably the ugly one, and I don’t have time to figure out if she’s not,” says James*, a lawyer in his mid-thirties, who vehemently insisted on staying anonymous), and selfies that are expertly lit, made-up and angled also ring alarm bells. James admits that on his time on Tinder, he was frequently disappointed by the reality behind the selfies.
Of course, even the men who get past the vetting process can be instantly axed for disgusting come-ons: “I want to sit on your face”, “show me where you bleed from”, and, most bizarrely, “if we ran toward each other really fast and smashed skulls, who do you think would die first?” triggered the gag reflex in the women I spoke to.
Lest I start making Tinder sound like some perverted playground, let me clarify the majority of people I talked to, and know, have had pleasant, even life-changing, experiences on Tinder. Take Lauren Evans, a 27-year-old solicitor, who decided to meet up with her Tinder match Matt about a year ago, the same day she was matched with him, “because I was bored”. On their date at Fire and Ice Bar in Subiaco, Matt arrived an hour early to befriend the bar staff, set up a private area with mood lighting and sound, arranged table service (the bar didn’t offer it), and even brought chocolates.
“This sounds really horrible but he told me he was FIFO, so I thought in a way that nothing was going to happen,” she says. “But then I guess I relaxed a bit… He was so sweet and we had so much in common, that suddenly he was like this type of man that I had stopped believing actually existed. He was a gentleman and it shone through!” They’ve been together ever since.
Therein lies the paradox of Tinder: judging a person from a photo the size of a matchbox might seem shallow, but the app’s very lack of information can lead to removing prior judgements, letting romances flicker in the most unlikely of places.
For Sophie, this worked in a different way. “I’m six foot three, so meeting guys in bars or parties like regular-sized girls is impossible,” she says. “I don’t get approached in bars because I’ve been told I’m intimidating. Most of the time I either get catcalled or made fun of. [Tinder] avoids the typical tall-person talk I usually get. Guys on Tinder also tended to put themselves out there a little more because there’s no face-to-face rejection.”
Yes, there’s the odd horror story, and it would be remiss to skip over them. For example, Sophie recounts dating a guy for two weeks last year, who “seemed normal at first” until he dropped the bombshell his ex was carrying his baby. Before Sophie had time to react, he told his family Sophie was his new girlfriend and she would happily support the baby. A week later, she got a message saying he was in hospital, having had a stroke from lifting weights at the gym, and as his “girlfriend,” she had been listed as next of kin. She was firm and told him it was over – and it was, she thought, until she bumped into him on a night out later that week. Drunken and brawling, he chased her through the traffic in his underwear. She managed to escape with a friend, but the whole experience was “mortifying”.
Then there’s the case in Sydney last year, when a 28-year-old businesswoman from New Zealand alleged she was gang-raped by three men, after meeting up with one she had matched with on Tinder. The woman withdrew her police statement after a five-day investigation, but the story’s widespread coverage sparked discussion about the app’s safety. Tragically though, sexual assault
happens frequently, without an app to enable it. All things considered, Tinder
might be less dangerous than hooking-up with a stranger you meet at the bar, thanks largely to the app’s link-up with Facebook. Basically, you can’t make a Tinder profile without a Facebook one, and Facebook – with its strict insistence on real names and actual identities – automatically filters out a bunch of Catfish-style scenarios. Even better, the app shows if you have mutual friends with your match (and in Perth, let’s be real, you probably do), which gives you the option of asking the mutual friend if this person is indeed a human, and perhaps even a normal one at that. Imagine!
For busy women – you know the type: private office, fit bod and friends to boot – one of Tinder’s biggest drawcards is that it enables dating around a hectic lifestyle, not the other way round. For example, when I arrange to meet Kiera, she suggests Saturday at 10.15am – squeezed between her early morning Spanish class and dance class at the gym. She can’t do Sunday, because she flies overseas for work. “Tinder has definitely let me take control of my dating life,” she says. “I can do it whenever and wherever I want – like on the way to the gym.”
“Tinder is an app for the busy!” says Pamela Weatherill. “It is immediate, provides useful geo feedback, and its swipe left and right actions make it a simple app for people who are time-poor. Think about this, though – the average user is on
Tinder for 90 minutes a day. That’s a lot of time to spend looking for a partner that could be spent socialising to build friendships and potential partnerships.”
Point taken. So what are people doing for those 90 minutes a day? Looking for matches. And more matches. And some more for good measure… And whoops, where did the afternoon go? For a generation that’s famously attention-deficit, Tinder could be encouraging dating ADHD, where, desperate for stimulation and validation, daters look for new options instead of building the relationships they have.
“The constant matching is exhausting,” admits James. “You want to move things forward with one person, but instead you get ‘You’ve got a new match, you’ve got a new match’ distracting you.”
According to Dr Reid-Boyd, “Addiction to choice is an internet phenomenon. The upside is that it gives people options, the downside is that it can ‘freeze’ people into inaction.” And, says Pamela, the app uses the same principles as video games and gambling apps, designed to play off your brain’s chemistry.
I wonder if dating ADHD has anything to do with the fact that, when I was on the app, I frequently saw men pop up who I knew were in long-term relationships. I wasn’t imagining things: according to the stats, about a third of Tinder users are married, and another twelve per cent are in relationships. Eek.
“A close friend of mine was on Tinder while with her boyfriend but she never met up with any of the guys,” reveals Sophie. “She just said it was an ego boost to have guys talking to her.” That’s the thing about Tinder – when you get a match, you know it’s indisputably because someone liked the way you looked.
“As an early user of [dating site] RSVP, back in 2004 or something, I didn’t have a picture on my profile,” says my mother when I ask her thoughts on Tinder’s looks-focused nature. “I met my partner through it and was largely attracted to his profile because he didn’t have a picture either.”
Good luck to her getting a date with that method now. Last year, OKCupid, a dating site that famously delights in toying with its users to collect data, did a social experiment called “Love is Blind, Or It Should Be”, in which they removed all users’ photos for a day. It started off well – people responded to first messages a whopping 44 per cent more, conversations went deeper, and contact details were exchanged more quickly. Seven hours later, pictures were restored, and the conversations stopped cold. On the OKCupid blog, co-founder Christian Rudder wrote, “It was like we’d turned on the bright lights at the bar at midnight.” Awkward.
OKCupid got curious. They conducted some lengthy data analysis, examining the way people rank users based on their photographs and text. Turns out the text – including painstakingly crafted descriptions that show you’re funny and cool, but normal and relatable, and maybe even a little bit vulnerable, but not clingy, mind you – counts for less than 10 per cent of what people think of you when looking at your profile. “So, your picture is worth that fabled thousand words,” writes Rudder, “but your actual words are worth… Almost nothing.” Ouch.
But Tinder, which only gives space for a few-hundred characters (that people seldom bother to fill anyway), already knew that. Is Tinder shallow? Maybe. But is it also an app that captures and caters for the nuances of an Internet-fed generation, visual- and option-hungry and impatient, and yes, still searching for connection? Swipe right for that.
TINDER MYTHS BUSTED
ITS SWARMING WITH CYBOTS, NOT REAL PEOPLE
Turns out that unreal babe you’re chatting to might be the real deal after all. Tinder has rigorous screening when it comes to bots; not only does it insist on linking up to real Facebook profiles, making it that step harder for scammers, it also works with mobile identity solution provider Telesign to bring down the fraudsters – at last count, to the tune of 90 per cent. Still, sometimes the bots prevail, like at Austin’s South by South West music festival this year, when some festival-goers matched with a beautiful 25-year-old called Ava who asked the probing question, “Have you ever been in love?” Turns out, ‘Ava’ was actually a bot using the picture of Swedish actress Alicia Vikander, and the stunt was a promotion for the sci-fi thriller Ex Machina. Sneaky.
YOUR TEENAGER'S NOT ON IT
Parents, lock up your daughters, and their smartphones while you’re at it. According to Tinder co-founder Justin Mateen, over seven per cent of Tinder’s 1.6 billion users are aged between 13 and 17. To break it down for you, that’s 112 million teens who use the app. Cue heart attacks across the globe.
ONLY PEOPLE UNDER 30 USE IT
Status: False (sort of)
Sure, a hefty 51 per cent are aged between 18 and 24, but that’s down from 90 per cent in Tinder’s early days, according to Mateen. By February 2014, he revealed users aged between 35 and 44 made up 6.5 per cent of the total figures, and about 3 per cent were older than 45 – and we’d venture the figures have been hoisted since then.
I'VE HEARD LEO DICAPRIO IS ON IT, COULD THIS BE FOR REAL?
Yep, serial model dater, and every girl’s 90s pin-up, Leonardo DiCaprio uses the app under the name ‘Leonard’. He’s in good company. Katy Perry has fessed up she loves Tinder, Hilary Duff recently told an LA radio host she finds it “wildly exhilarating”, and Lily Allen uses the app to meet friends when on tour. In June this year, Tinder unrolled a new feature called ‘Verified profiles’, so if you’re wondering if you’ve really matched with Margot Robbie, a blue checkmark will tell you for sure.