All is quiet in the Atlas Ballroom bar in Bloomington, Indiana. It’s Saturday, but at 2:30 in the morning, it’s closer to “Piano Man” than “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting).” Stools and chairs creak as they are lifted upside-down onto tables and bars above them. Music is played softly enough on speakers so even the shyest whisperer could be heard from a 15-feet distance. About 10 customers are sitting down, while hordes of students are staggering by the bar outside with wasted grins on their faces, bathing in the faint blue lights projected from devices resting at their fingertips.
At a table near the entrance, a young man and woman sit together semi-attempting to make chitchat after an undetermined number of hours together. Clearly more sober than her date, the girl absentmindedly nods while he tells her about his upcoming internship in Dallas and fake laughs at most of his drunken jokes. Sometimes, she will even lift up her head to look at him, the boy with the navy blue chino shorts and the red and white striped button-up. But all of her focus is on Tinder, and her process of elimination seems to come down to one of the oldest in the history of the human race: hot or not.
Casually, she will “swipe left,” meaning she rejects the potential date offered through the app, about between 10 and 15 times before finally finding someone worth a “swipe right,” meaning she accepted him. Eventually, she lands on a young man named Mark, age 23 with a decently large beard and a Ramones-styled Kilroy’s Bar and Grill T-shirt. She pulls up his profile and goes through his photos.
Back to reality, the boy standing across from her at the table suddenly asks her if she would like a place to stay that night. She assures him she will be will fine and that her roommate will be picking her up at the bar before it closes. She encourages him to leave soon, however, considering that all the bars in town will be closing soon. They say goodbye to each other, and he leaves the bar. As he’s walking out, the young woman bites her lip and swipes right on Mark. The screen changes. It reads: “It’s a Match!”
With more than 50 million active users as of 2014, Tinder is undoubtedly the undisputed champion of social media dating apps on the market today. Unlike its competitors OkCupid, Grindr and Hinge, Tinder has created a system that not only works, but can be entertaining for users. It has become such a staple to the culture of social media that it has been discussed and parodied in recent television shows like Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On and Master of None.
The app itself, which was founded in 2012, is almost like something out of a science-fiction story. In a country where the president allegedly assaults women, gender pay gaps still exist, Planned Parenthood’s funding is being threatened and nine out of 10 rape victims are women, the rise of an app where you choose your future dating or sex partners based on their photos and short bio only seems like an almost natural progression. Suddenly, the sex-fueled dystopia presented in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, a society that manages to have recurring orgies while remaining infertile, only seems to be around the bend.
And why not? Only a few years before Tinder was first available to download, Uber was already hitting the market and has since become a serious threat to taxi services. Perhaps it was the mindset of many Americans, young and old, that if they are willing to enter a car with a stranger, why not the bedroom as well? A surprising number of young adults, and couples of all ages, have reported finding healthy relationships, both romantic and physical, through the app.
With that said, Tinder also has its fair share of problems. Since its initial release, it has gained the reputation as a “hook-up app” and is often cited as reinventing millennial hook-up culture. Instead of burdening themselves with the effort of forming long-term relationships, users can simply use the app for one-night stands with whomever they match that particular night. Therefore, it has become standard for men, who are typically expected by women to begin the conversation after they match, to message with a pick-up line or an inquiry for sex. Often, the two options collide with lewd pick-up lines, usually involving oral sex or the like.
With such a variety of options, it can be easy to match with someone who may not be right—or even safe. As Indiana University junior Toby Klein says, “No love story ever starts with Tinder.” Klein deleted her Tinder account in April after multiple online harassments from men with whom she matched. One man—Carlos, 31, who Klein believes had a child—received Klein’s Snapchat because he “seemed normal enough.” He began the Snapchat conversation with “Would you give me some head?”
When Klein didn’t respond, Carlos proceeded to call her “ugly” and a “cunt” and that the size of her breasts were the only things she could possibly offer someone. She deleted him afterwards. “Guys can go from wanting to marry you to wanting to stab you and call you a disgusting whore in literally zero-point-two seconds,” she says.
In the spring of 2015, then-20-year old Chelsea Cook had recently matched with Austin Prather on Tinder, and almost immediately there was chemistry between the two. For about six hours, the two talked in detail about their individual tastes in music and their past and current issues with anxiety. The bond was short-lived, however.
Prather displayed a behavior Cook was unable to articulate beyond “sending [me] some weird-ass vibes.” He would make attempts to annoy Cook’s friends, as well as linger around even after being asked multiple times to leave. One weekend in Cook’s hometown Terre Haute, Indiana, Prather wandered around the town drunk, asking strangers if they knew of Cook’s whereabouts. She woke up the next morning with texts on her phone from unknown phone numbers, which Prather used to try to reach out to her.
Once Prather finally left, she blocked him from all contact just to distance herself from him. Despite this, Prather continued to try to stay in contact with Cook. He left messages, each “about seven lengthy paragraphs,” on her second Facebook page. The one message that disturbed her most was where he was pleading her to be his girlfriend because, as he wrote it, “I want to have you. I need to have you. I will have you.”
Dr. Jessica Strübel, an assistant professor from the University of North Texas who studied the psychological effects of Tinder for the past couple of years, weighed in that this harassment has existed long before Tinder. However, it is her personal opinion that social media apps like Tinder, which leave your image and personality on display 24/7 for “constant critique and validation,” only fuel the dissatisfaction one could feel and the risk involved with using the app.
Last year, a study was released by Strübel and fellow UNT researcher Dr. Trent A. Petrie about the possible correlation between Tinder, self-esteem and personal body image. More than 1,000 women and about 300 men participated in the study, which was in the form of a questionnaire asking related to topics like the participant’s use of the app, body image, psychological well-being and possible objectification.
According to the survey, approximately 10 percent of the survey pool reported using Tinder. Of this percentage, it showed that users of both genders reported low satisfaction with their appearance. Male users, however, were the only ones who reported below-average self-esteems. This came as a surprise to the researchers because body image research traditionally points to more dissatisfaction among women than men. It is mentioned in the study that Strübel and Petrie believe the cause for this lowered self-esteem is because women tend to be more finicky with those they match with than men, who typically are looking to match with any pretty girl they find. Two very distinct ways of approaching usage of the app can lead to feelings of rejection, which may play into what the researchers found in their study.
“If you know you’ve swiped right on 100 girls in one day and you get zero response, what are you going to think?” Strübel says. “We take things like this to heart and start assuming it is a reflection of who we are, of how others perceive us. It is a form of rejection.”
There’s no clear way of knowing whether the lowering of self-esteems for the men was caused by usage of the dating app, as specific questions regarding the correlation weren’t made during the survey. However, Strübel speaks confidently that there is indeed a connection and even offered an alternate, feminist perspective for why women are more selective than men when choosing on whom to swipe right.
“Maybe women are changing,” Strübel says. “Maybe the Millennial generation is rejecting traditional gender roles and expectations of being the passive half. Research has shown that women are becoming more discerning with their mates because they can. A position of power affords a woman more control over the choice in her partner. The codependency on men is almost a thing of the past.”
Strübel and Petrie have already completed a second study about Tinder, which included more participants and physiological measures, such as depression and dietary intent for those who suffer with eating disorders. The findings of this study will be presented in August at the 125th annual American Psychological Association Convention in Washington. D.C.
Strübel is glad she is no longer a part of the dating world. While she certainly sees the benefits of social-dating apps, and fully appreciates Tinder as “the future of dating,” she does not believe she could handle how “dehumanizing” she perceives it to be. She also thinks being able to simply find a possible romantic partner has trickled down the thrill of dating.
“Where is the challenge?” Strübel says. “I understand how technology has, in some instances, made our lives easier, but when you are presented with a smorgasbord of choices, whether it be shoes, music or even potential dates, you become almost anesthetized due to the shear amount of choice.”
Female Tinder users have also found ways of using the app for personal gain. Such was the case for IU sophomore Milly Cai. At the end of the fall semester of her freshman year, she ran out of meal points—a type of currency used on university campuses to purchase food—and decided to use Tinder for guys she matched with to take her on dates and buy her meals. Over the course of two weeks, she managed to trick a dozen men into buying meals for her. She said one of these men paid about $200 for a single dinner.
Describing the men as “the most racist people I’ve ever met,” she said many of her dates would admit to having an “Asian fetish,” in reference to her ethnicity. These sorts of comments made Milly less sympathetic whenever she would “scam” her dates. “Usually, I would wait like two dates because you run out of excuses why you can’t go back to their place or whatever,” she says. “So like after the second date I’d just have like a checklist of all the rude shit they said to me and confront them and cause a scene and just leave.” Cai never hooked up with any of the men, and the only thing she gave in return for the meals was “my witty commentary and my time.”
Indeed, this massive variety has taken the fundamentals of speed-dating and hyperbolized it into a singular app. Perhaps if Tevye the Dairyman were born in the 21st century, his daughters’ song would sound a bit more like this:
Swipe me a match,
Swipe him to right,
And I’ll swipe back.
Look through your app,
And swipe me a perfect match.