It’s difficult to overstate how much Tinder changed the online dating game. Yet its brilliance wasn’t so much in function or quality as it was in principle. Looking for companionship on the web has always carried a stigma, with the standard assumption being that dating sites are inevitably comprised of people who are inept at finding romance or sex by conventional means. Whether this is true or not is up for debate, but that’s the common perception.
Signing up to one was once seen as an admission of defeat: that no, you’re not one of the world’s desirable people, and that you need help finding someone, just like all those other lonely offcuts of humanity found in the OkCupid bargain bin. Tinder changed that.
By designing Tinder to feel like a game and programming it with an in-built superficiality, the app’s creators managed to wash away some of the desperation that clings to web-based dating like stale sweat. For once a dating platform felt fun, non-committal, and so devoid of any real effort that everyone could claim that they don’t actually take it seriously. A handful of pictures and a short, totally optional description is all you needed to set you on your way. None of this peering into your soul nonsense, that’s too visceral, the preserve of those lonely hearts who actually invest time into their Match.com profiles.
And Tinder’s frivolousness worked: for what seemed like the first time ever, the young, the fun, and the good-looking outnumbered middle-aged divorcees on a dating site (app...platform...whatever).
I was pretty late to the Tinder game and only downloaded the app in the fall of 2013, a full year after it launched. Admittedly, all of those prejudices that I’ve listed above are in line with my own, and for a long time they held my curiosity at bay. Let’s put it this way: I don't have a single male friend whose romantic life I would consider enviable that uses dating sites, and the same goes for all my female friends that I have ever fantasized over.
But Tinder was fundamentally different: people who I didn’t pity were using it, which is what convinced me to take the plunge. But creating a Tinder profile opened a sort of Pandora’s box: based on the number of matches that I got, and the quality of my matches, I obviously didn’t see myself in quite the same way as other users did, a realization that wreaked havoc on my self-esteem.
If I recall correctly, it took me a full six weeks before I got my first match, a delay that I still put down to some sort of glitch coming out of my refusal to update my battered old iPhone 4 (or so my ego tells me). My first match, when she finally arrived, never replied to my witty openers. Was this another glitch? Or maybe she was using an iPhone 3GS? Or, God forbid, an iPhone 3? I never got the chance to find out, but it seems like a reasonable assumption.
I’m not sure when my next match occurred, but I do know that they weren’t happening with any regularity, and would probably put my swipe to match ratio at no more than 3%, and possibly even less than a single digit. Maybe it was my photos? I ran it by people that I know and they told me that I need a picture where I’m smiling. I’m not really the smiley type, admittedly.
Others told me to discriminate less with my swipes right – to lower my standards, effectively. After initial hesitancy, I gave it a try and the results were unsettling: most of my matches certainly weren’t girls who would ever warrant a double take out of me on the street, and on the odd occasion that one of my matches actually perked my interest, that initial adrenaline rush would peter out to crushing disappointment when my messages were met with no response, or, even worse, an unmatch. The realization that you’re a mis-swipe is a particularly bruising one.
At this point I couldn’t put the fruitlessness of my Tinder experience down to outdated iPhones: I’m quite obviously not as attractive as I’d like to think I am. This is a possibility that has plagued most people at some point in their lives, but it’s also one that’s fairly easy to mute in reality by not putting yourself in situations where you might be shot down – because if it never happens, you can still throw yourself into the warm, comforting embrace of denial, allowing yourself to believe whatever it is that you tell yourself to ward off crippling cognitive dissonance.
Tinder may offer a deceptively safe distance from rejection (much safer than, say, having a drink thrown in your face after a firing off a cringey chat up line) but it also makes it unavoidable and explicitly quantifiable. I had always considered myself a reasonably good looking guy, not a stunner but certainly no less than a 7.4 out of 10, but with a swipe to match ratio that definitely sits under 5%, it would appear that the women of Tinder think otherwise. The good looking ones even more so.
I would be lying if I were to say that this hasn’t made me at all self-conscious, because I really can’t argue with the raw data, but maybe I’m being too harsh on myself? This article in the Washington Post states that the average dude has a match rate of only 0.6%, and I would wager that only a minority of those matches are with conventionally good-looking people.
Should Tinder even be taken so seriously? Of the guys that I know, Tinder is ultimately a novelty rather than a steady stream of hook-ups. Matches that lead to actual sexual encounters are freakish outliers rather than the staples of their romantic lives, and a number of my female friends have told me that they don’t have any intention to meet up with anyone from the app, it’s simply a form of light, ego-stroking entertainment that reaffirms their own desirability. As I outlined earlier, it’s hardly designed to be taken seriously.
Or maybe that’s just what I tell myself to suck some of the sting out of this Tinder-shaped wound to my self-esteem.
The views and opinions expressed in this piece are those solely of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of Highsnobiety as a whole.