A fizzle or a flame: Sparks fly on Tinder, but at what cost?

I’ve been here before.

The familiar green heart to the right, the red x to the left and the big picture of a guy in a boat holding a fish, or some abs but no face, or someone who looks confused by the modern technology in his hands taking a photo up his nose.

It’s Tinder.

For those living happily under a rock, Tinder is an app that allows you to take a cursory glance at someone’s picture, their first name, age and where they work or go to school (according to their Facebook profile) plus a small bio that most people don’t fill out and decide whether you would like to talk to them. If so, you swipe right, and if they also swipe right, you are brought to a screen where you can message each other. If not, you swipe left and never see them again.

I am not new to Tinder, but having just ended a year and a half long relationship, I hopped on, hoping it had magically morphed into a new, less shallow version of its previous self.

It hadn’t, but I’m older now, wiser. I can handle whatever it throws at me, can’t I?

3 days, 300 matches and 100 messages later, it’s clear that I can’t.

At first glance, Tinder looks like every shy girl’s dream – no need for making the first move, no need for eye contact or awkward flirting – until the actual date, and by then you know what to expect.

Or so you think.

It was September 2015, and I couldn’t find my first Tinder date. I was searching for a 6’2” hot blond in the mall with his Tinder picture in hand when a nasal voice pierced the air, accompanied by a tap on my shoulder.

“Holly?”

I turn to see nothing. Tilting my head down reveals a 5’4” boy looking expectantly at me.

“Hi, I’m Jake.”

Oh no, no you’re not. But if you are… who is this on my screen?

Not meaning to be rude, I stuck the date out, listening with false interest of his numerous Tinder escapades… or lack thereof. It quickly became apparent he was having zero luck, and was getting desperate enough to change his pictures to some other guy for matches.

Now, this interested me.

What would bring a guy to blatantly lie about who he is? How could that end well?

It turns out, men are overwhelmingly expected to send the first message, and due to the huge demand for straight women on the app, females can be extremely picky when swiping. This last fact was lost on me for the first year of my Tinder escapades, unfortunately. My self-esteem was so low I swiped if you even had a semblance of a brain.

For my original first year on Tinder, I didn’t send a single first message, and after many failed meetups, I worked out a system.

  1. Chat with the guy long enough to reveal if all he was looking for was sex.
  2. If not, make plans to Skype call him and see if he can carry a conversation (many, MANY couldn’t.)
  3. Arrange plans to meet in a public place, most commonly on my university campus.

For the most part, this system worked well. It filtered through the tons of messages every female gets by eliminating those who were creepy, ill-meaning or mostly socially inept in the first two stages. It also allowed me to make a few good friends, and roughly determine what I was looking for in a guy. I had a steady stream of dates for my first semester of university, but I was becoming lonelier and lonelier. How could I, an 18-year-old girl living in a dorm, surrounded by friendly people, family, coworkers and constant dates, while excelling in school and work, be feeling lonely? What was I missing?

I think I knew the whole time that I was missing a connection, but I didn’t want to admit it out of fear of being perceived as strange. My friends trusted easily, found others attractive quickly and flitted between groups effortlessly. I hadn’t met someone who was my intellectual equal, with the same twisted and dry sense of humour that I got from my father (thanks, dad) and that I found attractive in more than a year. So, sick of the repetition of shallow dates and unfulfilling class and work, I settled.

My ex and I had nothing remarkable from the beginning. We giggled at the same things occasionally, and that was enough for me. Never mind the lack of common values, life goals, hobbies or interests, I was ready to have a serious relationship and picked the first person to stroll in that didn’t make me want to roll my eyes every two seconds. On paper he was perfect, and I told myself, and all those concerned for me during the course of our relationship, the same thing. Don’t get me wrong, I cared for him deeply and still do, but we knew from the start it wouldn’t work, and we kidded ourselves the whole way through. I was trying to fabricate a connection that would solve my loneliness from absolutely nothing.

A year and a half later, I was re-downloading Tinder. Within minutes, I had a date. It was fantastic for the initial self-esteem boost, but after a couple of days it was tedious again, and in fact, I’d go so far as to say it was detrimental to my mental health. Dismissing an entire person due to an ill-chosen photo in under 10 seconds while contemplating the lack of real substance in my life was taking its toll. Nobody stands out, and nobody tries hard enough because it’s just too easy. I’m not exempt from this, as my conversational skills go out the window when staring at the tiny textbox to Matthew #5 of the day. The familiar feelings of loneliness begin to creep in. Where is someone I can relate to with ease? Why is it so simple for everyone else? Or does it just seem simple for them? Is it possible to blame social media for these sneaking feelings of emptiness and inadequateness too?

I’ve had 8 dates in two weeks, and between work, school, assignments and friend and family commitments, that is all my free time. The first guy was exciting only because we had mutual friends. The second forced his lips on mine, the third was incapable of carrying a conversation, the fourth was leaving for the USA the next day and by the final ones, I was drained. Being older and with significantly more experience navigating the modern dating world, I had abandoned my three-point system, although it was clear I probably shouldn’t have because my judgment over text is just as poor as it was at 18. Needless to say, I was tired of worrying about my appearance or accidentally insulting someone with my sharp tongue and love of sarcasm, even though it’s always in jest. I wished a friend had already chosen them for me because I’d know they could handle my teasing nature and appreciation for debate, and they’d know what to expect. Tired, exasperated and annoyed with my wasted time that I could’ve used to binge watch Archer, I deleted the app again.

Look: Tinder is notorious for being an app for casual sex, and most users know that. I appreciate those who clearly state what they’re looking for, because I can kindly turn them down and continue on my merry way. No need to be rude when met with rejection, by the way. If that is all you’re looking for, have fun, you’ve come to the right place. If you’re looking for a bit more, I can’t say I’ve had much success, or heard of anyone who has in the past. This casual sex culture can be fun, and I know plenty of perfectly content people who take advantage of it with pleasure, yet it begs the question: while this cultures takes precedence and begins to drown out the good ol’ fashion narrative, where do those not interested in sex, such as myself, go to meet likeminded people? The culture is consistently perpetuated regardless of the “78% of women and 72% of men [who] said they had experienced regret following uncommitted sex,” according to a 2012 study of Canadian university students (Fisher, M. L., et al.) While stereotypes about masculinity are being challenged, the ‘young men as sexual beasts with no feelings’ trope is increasingly prominent and complementary to the influence of the hookup culture on the dating scene, which in turn generates difficulties for young men and women looking to date seriously without participating in said hookup culture.

SOS, it seems I’m lonely and sex won’t fix it.

Throwing my phone on my bed, I can’t help but wonder how it was done before the internet. Where did people meet? I get creeped out if people speak to me on the bus or at the store, and I’m in lectures with a hundred students at a time. Speaking to just one is highly intimidating. I even joined a club, specifically the school paper, only to find it was structured as the typical high school club with cliques and gossip, much to my dismay. Bars have an older crowd, clubs are great if you enjoy being groped and having sleazy people put their hands down your pants uninvited. Where is left?

I not only wonder about where they met, but also how they met someone they knew was right for them. I see my parents, together for 25 years, who met at the university bar at the age of 23 and almost immediately knew they were right for each other, and look for couples I know that emulate them in my day.

I have not seen one.

Is it all luck? Are we too glued to our phones to talk to those around us? Are we not introducing our friends to each other, or looking out for people who may go well together anymore? Are we too focused on finding love for ourselves that we forget about helping each other out?

I don’t know, and if anyone has some insight, I’m all ears.

In the meantime, I’ll just keep swiping.

Fisher, M. L., Worth, K., Garcia, J. R., & Meredith, T. (2012). Feelings of regret following uncommitted sexual encounters in Canadian university students. Culture, Health & Sexuality, 14, 45–57. doi:10.1080/ 13691058.2011.619579.


Holly Veale is currently a student at the University of Ottawa and is the Newsletter Publisher for the Web of Loneliness Institute, Inc. She aspires to be a published poet and novelist.

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