The first time I convinced my friend to get the online dating app Tinder, she stopped speaking to me for an hour. She clutched her phone close to her face and fixed her concentration solely on the screen, though emitting the occasional chuckle.
She was hooked, and despite my best efforts to get her to do anything but swipe left or right, she was lost in her phone. There is something about making snap judgments about her compatibility with complete strangers based solely on some of their Facebook pictures that she, and many other college students, find completely engrossing.
The premise behind this highly addictive app is simple. First, you see a picture of someone in your area. You can then look through five more pictures of them, read a description and see if you have any Facebook friends in common. You then swipe right if you think that person is someone you would like to talk to, and swipe left if you don’t. If you both swipe right, you have essentially said you find each other attractive. The channels of communication are opened up, and the app allows you to send each other messages.
The first thing my friend had to do before “playing” was set up her profile. You link it up with your Facebook, so getting pictures is as easy as going through your old profile photos. You also don’t have to go through and answer a bunch of personal questions, nitpicking through your answers to make sure you come across as the proper blend of attractive and interesting. The most important part is picking the pictures that will represent you.
When my friend created her account, she saw Tinder as an opportunity to see if people would continue their romantic pursuits if the first picture they saw of her was one in which she was somewhat aggressively attacking a Chipotle burrito (by the way, they did).
However, she had no intention of actually meeting up with anyone she met on the site. I had told her to download Tinder as a sort of amusing timewaster—the same reason I’d gotten one for. I’d had one for a few months and would occasionally use it like a game. Swiping right and left was kind of like playing Candy Crush or Flappy Bird that involved more of a real-world ego boost (We got matched! He thinks I’m pretty!).
It was a fun way to mess with people and see how they would react to things. What will the average Tinder-user do if they try to chat you up, and you send only a ghost emoji (Hint: They won’t respond)? What is the strangest thing a guy will say to try and get your attention (Answer: "You would look good with a purple Mohawk.")?
Despite it being just a fun way for college students to boost their egos, some of them actually found “love.” I talked to an Occidental junior, who preferred to remain anonymous, and she said she found her boyfriend of eight months through the app.
The student revealed that after a miscommunication of romantic intentions that seems so prominent on college campuses, her sister encouraged her to try the app “kind of as a joke.” But what might have started out as a joke turned into something very real, as she talked to the guys on the app, and then started meeting with them.
“What I would do is I would talk to them for awhile, and then give them my number if I thought they were cool,” she said. “It usually took me about three weeks because I wasn’t about to give any ‘rando’ my number. And then, after texting them for awhile, I would make them wait…Eventually, after them being persistent, I would meet up.”
She chose neutral, public spaces to meet up with the Tinder guys and see where the conversation went from there. And with one of the guys, she found an immediate connection. Their conversation developed into a real relationship, and they have been almost inseparable for more than half a year.
When people ask her how she met her boyfriend, she answers honestly and said people often find her response off-putting. “A lot of people don’t react well,” she said. “A lot of people are very judgmental. Like, ‘That’s so weird. Only weird people meet guys online. They can’t meet people in real life, so they have to go online to kind of like hide behind the screen.’ That’s not how it is at all.”
You may think that it’s almost counterintuitive that students immersed in a hyper-social environment, such as college, would ever resort to dating online. But according to Occidental sophomore Magda Wittig, not all men in college are giving their female peers entirely what they’re looking for.
The college dating culture (or lack thereof) scene doesn’t generally involve guys wining and dining the ladies, no hearts and flowers. And after dating a guy outside of college over a break, Wittig didn’t think she could go back to this scene. Rather, she “wanted to be taken out on dates.” So, she decided to go on the online dating site OkCupid and find men who would do just that.
After she created her profile on the site, Wittig said she was inundated with the potential suitors. She decided to meet with one of them, choosing simply based on her gut. It seemed like a no-brainer. “Worst comes to worst, he’ll buy me a drink, and I’ll take a cab home, and I’ll have a free drink,” Wittig said nonchalantly.
The OkCupid date ended up going well, and as of now, Wittig is still dating the one guy she believed she would “vibe” with according to his profile. However, when she tells people how she met this guy, the responses tend to be generally negative.
The confused reactions haven’t bothered Wittig, though, and she claims that using an online dating site is “just strategic,” not desperate. “I think it’s giving yourself more opportunities to meet more interesting people and not limiting yourself to the few people you see or run in circles with,” she said.
Wittig has a point. Even though college is highly social, students do end up seeing the same people all the time. Finding friends is easy in this type of environment; finding potential romantic companions tends to be a bit more difficult.
Though there are those who, in spite of their initial hesitations, have found genuine love online, it’s clear that some people use Tinder to just mess around. Another Occidental College student, Brita Loeb, has taken to using Tinder for her own amusement.
She created a profile for her dog and has been talking to people as her canine companion. The ‘About Me’ section reads: “Swipe right if you have opposable thumbs,” and it claims to be a member of the Los Angeles Dog and Puppy Training Class of ’12. Her responses from male users have been entertaining: one man offered to set up her dog with his own, but only if he could meet the owner, of course.
However, Loeb also has a Tinder profile that she uses for herself. Unlike her dog profile, her “real one isn’t really a joke;” Loeb actually went on a date recently with a guy she met through the app, and it was apparently “really good.” It seems even those who recognize the potential source of amusement associated with this dating app can actually use it for its intended purpose as well.
Occidental College student Koryeh Cobb also tried out Tinder and ended up meeting up with some of her matches. At first, she loved the app, saying that it was “such a good procrastination method.” She even decided one night to go meet the guy she’d been talking to.
However, Cobb also wanted to try it out so she could break out of her school’s bubble. Apparently, she wasn’t the only one. Cobb said she found people she actually knew in real life on the app, which was off-putting. “I did kind of want to branch out, and the fact that Oxy kept coming back was very weird to me. So I just kind of stopped [using it],” she said.
Tinder itself might not necessarily revolutionize dating. Instead, it may be more of a fad—something for people to become addicted to, then a habit to break.
Still, most of the app users I interviewed think that online dating is going to become more commonplace in the future. Whether or not students all follow Cobb’s lead and delete their Tinder apps, the anonymous Occidental student believes that bringing dating to the Internet just makes sense.
“Our whole lives are online,” she said. “We do our homework online, we talk to people online, we meet people online, we post all of our ideas online, and so this is just kind of the next step in my eyes. A lot of people just haven’t warmed up to it yet.”
Even Cobb agreed and said, “The way that we're moving is more on the technical side. It’s just the way we’re headed.”
She added, “It’s so easy. The app is doing all the hard stuff for you; you just have to do the easy stuff.”