Until recently I had a deal with myself: if I didn’t find love by the time I left Oxford and end my lonely streak of singledom, I would try online dating. But definitely not until after Finals (too distracting) and, besides, I wasn’t convinced I’d have the balls when it came down to it.
Then Tinder happened. Suddenly everyone was talking about it. It seemed to have some things going for it: a young user-base, minimal commitment and a design that made it almost a game. One night, my friends and I got curious and thought we’d see what all the fuss was about; three hours later, we were still huddled over smartphone screens endlessly swiping.
Like many Tinder users, I seem to have become evangelical, whipping out my phone at every opportunity to explain its virtues. If you haven’t had it explained to you already by a Tinder enthusiast, the way it works is this: you sign up, and your Facebook profile is mined for photos, contacts and pages you’ve liked. (The information transfer is thankfully only in one direction: it doesn’t announce to your Facebook friends that you’re looking for love/on the pull). Very quickly, you have a profile with a few photos, your first name, age and an optional ‘about me’ section.
Then you can begin swiping: right for ‘like’, left for ‘nope’. Photos surrounded by half naked girls? Nope. Terrible facial hair? Nope. “YOLO”? Nope. Cute man with dog? Yes please! Then if you’re lucky, he’ll have liked you too, and your photos will spin together and the app will jubilantly declare that “it’s a match!” You can now talk to each other. With the barrier of initial attraction removed, it’s now down to your communication skills to move the match forward. Crucially, you never know that someone has ‘noped’ you, thus sparing your ego; and once you’ve matched and got talking, you already know that they think you’re hot, sparing you the shot-in-the-dark approach of a normal dating site (or indeed real life). Is it shallow, to dismiss another human being with a leftwards swipe of the thumb? Perhaps, but even the liveliest of chat wouldn’t have created an attraction to those I’ve ‘noped’.
There is one way in which it doesn’t seem to work, however. Despite allowing users to ask to be shown men and/or women according to their sexuality, my friend discovered that Tinder’s approach to ‘female interested in women’ is to throw lots of men at her, as if to say “we don’t have any women for you right now, but have you considered this charming-looking man? Or this one?” I am not sure if this is a software glitch or a misunderstanding of sexual orientation, but either way, my friend was unimpressed. With Tinder seemingly only for straight people and Grindr for gay men, the only lesbian dating app we can find is Brenda, which has 7 users in Oxford and a terrible interface in an unattractive lavender colour. And so my friend cannot join in the dating app fun. Disappointing.
The night we join Tinder in late November, my friends go through all the men within their few-mile radius. Next morning, hundreds more have joined. Suddenly, half of Oxford is on Tinder. Because Oxford is actually pretty tiny and you have about two degrees of separation from anyone you meet, it all feels very safe: Tinder tells you when you have mutual Facebook friends, and shared ‘interests’ (though a shared interest in the page ‘Marmite’ or ‘Scrubs’ mainly serves to remind me that I liked some naff pages when I was 15). The men I talk to all seem pretty decent. After two days, a couple of friends and I are heading out on our first Tinder dates.
Nobody seems to know quite what Tinder is for, and despite swiping and matching and chatting and dating, I still haven’t worked it out. This is partly because I don’t really understand men, but also because its makers have left its purpose fundamentally ambiguous: its tagline is ‘discover those around you’, which doesn’t clear up many questions.
The ‘straight Grindr’ reputation means that some people must be using it as a tool to find sex. By avoiding the bare torso and bodybuilding shots, I don’t match with all that many of these, but even among the men I do match with, I suspect many aren’t looking for beautiful romance. Some people definitely do go for the more direct approach. Dan asks “how does it feel to be the hottest girl on Tinder?” (thanks Dan, I’m blushing), and Daniel offers me a holiday hook-up (half of Oxford’s Tinder seems to be called Daniel). Others take a little while to get round to the point: after a long chat, a charming pilot-in-training casually gives me his number and assures me that, if I was considering sending him some naughty photos, he’d definitely reciprocate (how gentlemanly). My friend dates (another) Daniel who tells her that, on his first night of Tindering, a lady he’d been talking to turned up at his accommodation unannounced. There’s no point being too snarky about people looking for no-strings sex, though, because Tinder definitely has the potential to be used along the same lines as Grindr.
On the other hand, there seem to be a fair few men who genuinely want to chat, get to know you and go on some formal dates. My friends and I speak to more men and have more dates than I think we’ve ever had. We also meet people we’d probably never have met in ‘real life’. Between us we talk to composers, athletes and comedians, and meet nervous French students, Polish millionaires with regrettably right-wing views, funny men with no ‘spark’, and younger men from other colleges. I meet American post-grad J for coffee, and drinks, and dinner, which is all going excitingly well (three dates!!) until he calls it off.
After being slightly crushed by text message, I listen to morose Smiths songs and stare moodily out of the window and overanalyse everything with my (long-suffering) friends. I also swear off Tinder… for a whole five hours. It actually proves to be an excellent post-rejection tool: an instant way to prove to yourself that people still fancy you and remind yourself that the world is full of single, attractive people; fish in the proverbial sea. J might not like me, but John and James and Jack are there to give my spirits a boost. Is it mentally healthy to seek validation from random men in Oxford finding six carefully-selected photos of me attractive? Probably not, but it works. I don’t think I’m the only one using it for an ego boost, either. Plenty of people match but then never start a conversation, content in the knowledge that they’ve mutually considered each other hot.
I wonder if Tinder is a fad. I hope it’s not. I may not yet have found love, but it’s certainly livened up my love life. ‘Discovering who’s around you’ can only be a good thing. It’s bloody distracting, though.