From the outside looking in, the Tinder dating app sounds awesome. When I was single, the barroom cold call was always my worst nightmare. Perhaps I had too much empathy, but my attitude was this: “You don’t want to talk to me? I don’t blame you! I wouldn’t want to talk to me either. I shall now return to playing Golden Tee.” I lack the huckster inclinations required to pursue that initial introduction.
Tinder seems like it would’ve been the answer to my problems. By mutual acceptance, the comely specimen at the end of the bar (or the bar down the street, or the gym, or the next stop on the T) grants permission for dialogue. From there it’s up to you, but you’ve vaulted the wall of indifference that urban people erect to maintain their sanity. Awesome deal, right?
Not completely, according to a female friend whose identity I vowed to conceal, except to describe her as “independent, successful, hilarious and strikingly beautiful.” She recently quit Tinder after a year, mainly because it was too exhausting. She says she “matched” with 600 guys and chatted with about 300. And her search parameters were pretty narrowly defined: male, age 33 to 42, located within nine miles and “no pictures holding dead animals, except maybe a fish.” Other deal killers included naked bathroom selfies and photos with cars but no people in them, because, she says, “That just smacks of douchebaggery. Nobody thinks that R8 has your name on the title.”
Still, Tinder did its job. During the year, she went on 25 dates, and most of the guys were nice enough. But the chemistry just didn’t align—sometimes the guy wanted a second (or third) date but she didn’t; sometimes it was the other way around. In only one case did she blow off a date, when she was on her way there and the guy texted, “DTF?” That story makes me feel like I grew up in a chaste Jane Austen novel, where you wouldn’t know if someone was DTF until at least the entree.
In fact, how did people even meet before social media and smartphones? Personally, I subscribed to the theory that I should say yes to almost any proposed date, because the worst outcome would be a bad first date and a good story. So I went on a blind date orchestrated by an Improper reader.
In retrospect, it was a bizarre situation: An Improper reader named Brian sent me an email saying that, based on what he knew of me from my column, I’d get along great with a co-worker of his named Heather. It would’ve been all too easy to dismiss Brian’s proposal, but I figured I had nothing to lose by pursuing the lead from this unlikely Cupid. Also, he made her sound really hot. It was a good pitch. We’ve been married eight years.
My attitude at that point was fundamentally the same as anybody who’s on Tinder today—you have to be optimistic and maybe take a few long shots, because the night you say no might be the night you miss meeting somebody great. Torment yourself with that idea and you start going out a lot.
The question posed by the current dating landscape is whether there can be too much of a good thing, whether Tinder’s endless possibilities present their own kind of dilemma. Like what if you have an off night? You’re probably not getting a second chance. On the other hand, 10 years ago there were a lot of those one-month relationships where you’re both trying to talk yourselves into it even though you know better. I had one of those in which my roommate, Dave, said of my then-girlfriend, “She should wear a helmet.” Today, that would’ve probably been a Tinder one-and-out, but back then you did your due diligence, sometimes to a fault.
With dating there’s always a fine line between putting in the effort and getting burned out. And Tinder dates require extra work because, after all, you’re meeting someone who exists only as a profile on your phone. My now post-Tinder friend explains, “I think the difference between Tinder and meeting organically is that when you meet at the gym or the bar or the produce section, you know immediately if you would maybe like to see that person naked, and it only takes a little longer than that to determine if you find them interesting, entertaining or inspiring—the vetting process is immediate. Whereas, with Tinder, in order to answer those questions you have to put in the effort online first, then meet them, and it’s probable that, even after all that, it will come to nothing.”
So Tinder solves some problems while creating others. In that respect, it’s like every other matchmaking innovation in history, from 8 Minute Dating to the personal ad immortalized by Rupert Holmes in “Escape (The Pina Colada Song).” Now those lyrics get funnier every year. They’d make a great Tinder profile.