I joined Tinder for several reasons, none of which I am proud of. The most justifiable one is that I recently moved to the Triangle from another city and don't know very many people here. The way I am accustomed to meeting women is through friends and acquaintances, at parties and bars. Lacking a local network, Tinder promised an effective shortcut.
The old model was beginning to show cracks even before I moved. I'm thirty-three years old. Most of my friends are married; many have kids. They don't socialize like they used to, and I was starting to feel like the guy in that great Chris Rock bit about settling down: "Every club you go into, there's always some old guy. He ain't really old, just a little too old to be in the club."
I don't totally buy into his logic, and I would never get married just to avoid being that guy. But I did want to find a new club where other people like me existed.
Tinder, it turns out, is not that club.
First, let's dispense with some common, if fading, misconceptions about Tinder. Most of my married friends seem to be under the impression that Tinder is some kind of app-based portal for free sex. In their minds, you punch in your location, find other people nearby who are ready to have sex, and then go someplace and have sex. I am hardly so pure as to consider myself above such an app. It sounds great. But that is not the way it works. No app can reverse human nature. At least in my experience.
A very attractive friend, on the other hand, once showed me his Tinder matches. Most of them seemed—sexually, at least—highly desirable. I asked him which ones he'd had sex with. He scrolled down and ticked through the list in earnest. He is not the kind of guy to lie about such things, and he reported it was more than half. That's life in the One Percent Hot Club. I nodded solemnly.
For an ordinary-looking man of my age, Tinder in the Triangle seems to be, roughly, 50 percent people who do not meet your own superficial standards of beauty; 20 percent people who, either because of attractiveness or age, you stand zero chance of matching with; 10 percent people who either quote a Bible verse or tout their NRA membership; 5 percent people who happened to be visiting the area and left their geolocation setting on; and 5 percent bots.
The 10 percent that remain are those with whom you could conceivably forge some kind of romantic connection. That is not so bad, really—not so far from IRL standards. But, as in the real world, some of these people are terrible, too. Just because somebody's profile says she does volunteer work and likes Os Mutantes doesn't mean she's not self-absorbed. It might even raise the odds.
The darkest thing about Tinder, for me, is how I unwittingly came to rely on it for some kind of sick ego boost. The sound of the "new match" alert—solid proof that somebody I think is attractive also thinks I am attractive—supplies a serotonin jolt. But this joy has a remarkably short half-life. What's worse is realizing that, most of the time, I don't even want to go to the trouble of meeting these people. Maybe this suggests I am a sociopath or that I have more in common than I would like to admit with those Japanese millennials who are only interested in online relationships. Or—oh God!—people who spend real money buying things on Farmville.
There have been more grim realizations. Based on a combination of a woman's photos, personal style, and whatever information she reveals in her "About" section, I can often intuit that we will match. But sometimes these people are not quite as attractive as I imagined my ideal romantic partner might be. This is a horribly superficial thing to think, but that's what Tinder is, too. Do I swipe left and dismiss them and feel bad about myself for being a terrible person? Or do I swipe right and then match with them, knowing I'm not really into it?
Geography in the Triangle, I have found, makes this all worse. Some of these already limited matches live in Raleigh. I live in Durham. That is a much greater distance than I was led to believe prior to moving here.
If I match with a woman in Raleigh, I would first have to think of some lame bit of conversation to message her with, based only on profile context clues. I would have to maintain that conversation for a little while, which is often grueling. I would finally need to schedule some kind of date, drive forty minutes to Raleigh, sit through the uncomfortable date, and probably drive back to Durham an hour later.
All this so I can eventually have sex, maybe, or, best-case scenario, find a long-term partner? I don't know.
I'm already pretty happy watching Frontline and looking at Instagram memes alone, and maybe that's the problem. With Tinder (or Bumble, the more tasteful new dating-app upstart), you gotta want it. I only kind of do.
Still, it's nice to be in some kind of club.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Love Me Tinder"