When we boil courtship down to a swipe and text messages, then why are we surprised when nobody gives dating any effort?
Google the term “Tinder” on any given day and you will find at least one article sharing “the worst Tinder dates ever” or “the most horrific Tinder encounter yet” or “You Won’t BELIEVE What Happened On This Tinder Date.”
Even if you try to avoid news on Tinder, you can’t—I don’t frequent Facebook much, but when I do, prominently displayed on my timeline will be an article about the not-so-nice guys of Tinder or the women of Tinder who ghost after three supposedly great dates. The one common thread linking all of these pieces is a disdain for the people we meet on this app. So, why do we all keep using it?
Over the span of a year, I went on about 20 Tinder dates, each more disparaging than the last. I swore off Tinder for good, deleted it from my phone, and promised never to subject myself to its unique frustrations again. Then I met someone (the old-fashioned way: in-person), traveled, came home, and once again find myself playing the Tinder game. I do not take it seriously anymore, but I still can’t answer the question of why it’s on my phone again.
Also true is that all of my friends think I’m crazy for going back to a part of my life I only refer to negatively (“the definition of insanity is doing the same stupid thing over and over and expecting it not to be stupid anymore,” a wise friend said to me recently). Again, why do I, and so many other people my age, even bother with it anymore?
I do not have a definitive answer to my question, but I do have a few guesses:
1. Tinder is easy.
I am willing to bet that just about all of the people who write these savage exposés of a Tinder date that wronged them still have the app on their phone and use it regularly. While you should not blame a dating app for a bad date, you should blame yourself for taking the path of least resistance. Checking Tinder is something you do when you find yourself in line and need to kill 10 seconds. Like a page of Tumblr gifs or a quick game of Bejeweled, Tinder is a distraction from the minutiae of daily life. When we boil courtship down to a swipe and text messages, then why are we surprised when nobody gives dating any effort?
2. Our days are too stuffed.
The typical weekday schedule for the working 20-something involves an early wake-up time, an hour of commuting to work, nine hours at a desk, an hour of commuting home, two to three hours of leisure at home, then bed. That relegates the search for commitment to evenings, when people are drained and just want to relax, and weekends, when people are drained and just want to relax. As connected as we are, there really is no good time to make a connection.
Tinder, it can be said, does boil dating down to its basest instincts: We are attracted to each other, let’s get together. I believe this has changed our approach to dating, where we, by necessity, conflate a shared attraction with deeper feelings. We have been conditioned to expect everything to happen for us exactly when we want it to. As a result, we put too much pressure on ourselves to cram everything we need to do into the small amount of time our live-to-work society affords us. Dating, and developing genuine feelings for someone, takes time, more time than one evening dinner or weekend rendezvous at a bar where the music drowns out all conversation.
3. It’s hard to meet people day-to-day.
In my initial year of Tindering, I worked in an office where the next youngest person was 15 years older than me and had kids in grade school; not exactly my type. The only other people I saw in a workday were my other coworkers, the people who share my commute, my parents, and my dog.
Since moving into my own place, not much has changed, other than a few more people my age at the office and I no longer see my parents every day. Still, I doubt most people use their office as a matchmaker. As I mentioned above, that leaves precious little time to meet someone outside of your immediate circle. Tinder cuts out the time spent looking for someone and places them, and several others, within reach; with a few right swipes, you go from having no prospects to having an abundance. It isn’t impossible to meet someone in-person, it is just much easier to have Tinder do that whole process for you.
4. Bad Tinder dates are not discouraging because there is always a Plan B.
I am sure that as much as I say my Tinder dates were not great experiences, the women I went out with would agree. I am not, by any means, a perfect date—I walk too fast, I am naturally quiet, so I rely on the woman to drive the conversation, I know my thoughts, good or bad, of the date are fully displayed on my face. Nobody’s perfect.
Whether or not my idiosyncrasies repelled the women I dated, the fact is I had no way of knowing if I was their Plan A, B, or C; and vice versa. This creates an unspoken yet mutual understanding that there can always be something better. I am not saying go all-in with commitment for a first date, but if someone is taking time out of their frantic schedule to meet you, a stranger, give them the benefit of the doubt.
When we don’t, minor annoyances are blown up. He didn’t tip the barista? He’s an unchivalrous jerk. She didn’t laugh at my great joke? I can’t be seen with someone who has no sense of humor.
We say we use Tinder as a dating app, but treat people like flings. It makes me think we don’t know what dating is all about. Maybe that’s the answer to my question after all.
Alexander Van Beek is a writer, yoga-enthusiast, and avid reader. After a year of travels that took him to South Korea and Morocco, he has settled down (for now) in Washington, D.C.