Apply a spark to tinder, and you start a fire. From its name, the dating app Tinder clearly envisions itself as a catalyst of sorts; a tool that facilitates connections and gives relationships that much-needed initial push. But, is that really what it does?
Does the digital equivalent of mass speed dating (that somehow manages to be even more superficial) really promote romance, or does it go against the very essence of romantic love? Well, yes and no. It kind of depends on you.
“What the hell are you talking about? Tinder isn’t for romance, it’s for hooking up!”
Okay, calm down, Kim Kardashian. I’m clearly not talking to you. Believe it or not, a great many people use the app to find love. But are they looking in the right place?
The problem with apps like Tinder is that they rely on purely digital representations of the self; disembodied avatars made of carefully curated selfies and strategically scarce profiles providing just the right information in just the right amount. Like the pictures of succulent, mouth-watering burgers on McDonalds posters, digital avatars are often expressly artificial compared to their real-world counterparts, and intended more to entice than to provide an accurate representation.
Ever bought a Big Mac and went, “Is that it??” as you stare at that sad mess of bread and cabbage in your hands, struggling to reconcile the reality with that glorious picture on the poster? That’s probably, like, ninety per cent of Tinder dates. Just an estimate, don’t quote me.
It’s perfectly fine for people to want to look and seem their best on dating profiles, but when using Tinder for finding romance, such behaviour poses a fundamental problem. By focusing on self-representation, Tinder encourages users not to find love with others, but to obsess on a narcissistic love of themselves.
Finding love is no longer about being impacted by or willing to change for another person. Love is now about finding someone who satisfies your preconceived notion of the type of partner you want; about finding yourself in someone else.
For the Tinder-reliant seeker of love, gone are the days of awkwardly asking a girl or guy out on a date and risking rejection. You simply swipe, wait, and chat, completely free from the risk of rejection. You are given the liberty to swipe hundreds of people, but never put yourself at risk of humiliation when you get shot down.
Gone are the days of finding out more about your date after meeting them. You only agree to go out with the person when you’ve decided that your digital interactions and representations of yourselves match well enough to warrant meeting. We fall for digital simulations of others before we ever shake their hands.
In place of the trial and error that once defined romance, Tinder provides us with an almost scientific approach to dating. Enter data into an algorithm, wait for someone to match that algorithm, collect preliminary findings, THEN go on a date. The scientist in me wants to approve, but this approach to love can only ever lead to dissatisfaction.
As much as we want someone with the same interests, beliefs, and dislikes, scientifically, it’s just not possible. Due to the sheer number of variables, there is almost no way to find the “perfect” partner completely complementary to you. The belief that we can precondition love is a destructive fantasy that leads to people focusing on finding the “right one”, instead of being the right one for someone else.
“This girl seems nice. Oh wait, she likes K-pop? NEXT!”
Well, maybe you should stop being a judgmental little shit, you swipe-happy monkey.
Don’t blame your tools
As with any other technology, dating apps like Tinder can only be as good or bad as the people who use them. There is nothing in Tinder’s terms of service that states that you have to behave like a narcissistic judgmental prick when you use it. Sure, the format and design of the app lends heavily to and even encourages such behaviour, but the thumbs that touch those screens still belong to you.
Tinder can only kill romance if we use it in such a way that allows us to exclude and filter out potential partners who threaten to challenge our precious notion of self. Because love is an experience that persists and flourishes not just in spite of, but because of hardship and differences.
So next time you think about swiping that random girl left, think about giving her a chance. She might turn out to be an air-headed bimbo, she might look as much like her picture as a bad Big Mac. Or, she might just surprise you, if you keep an open mind.