I have opened conversations with ‘hey hows u’. I have posted a picture of myself (I am not sure, with or without irony) wearing a silly hat. I have in the real world seen people I have had lengthy conversations with and walked by them without saying a word or acknowledging them due to sheer awkwardness. I have seen friend’s profiles and their attempts at looking desirable to members of the opposite sex. I have had long and meaningful discussions about the weather. I have seen famous people. I have seen relatives. I have enjoyed clicking ‘X’ on the pictures of people I know and do not like. I have seen people I had forgotten existed. I have drunkenly browsed. I have lost count of the amount of times I have told people what I study in university. I have ignored people. I have been ignored. I have run out of things to say while chatting to people I definitely have much in common with. I have had far too much to say about topics I have absolutely no interest in whatsoever. I have failed at trying to be funny. I have been funny when trying to be serious. I have laughed at things people have said. I have cringed at things I have said. I have had my social anxieties and misgivings magnified by a mechanism apparently supposed to minimize them.
Prior to Tinder, the last time I could remember anything referred to as ‘Like real life. But better’ was in a fan-written review of the consent-deficient voyeuristic fantasia known as 50 Shades of Grey; a book so thoroughly terrible that it made Stephanie Meyer look like Fitzgerald. Ambitious advertisements usually result in ample anti-climaxes.
For those of you not in the know, the Tinder dating app works like this: you see a picture of someone; you click ‘like’ if you find them appealing. If you don’t find them appealing, you click ‘X’. If you’ve both liked each other’s pictures, an online conversation is created. It’s connected to your Facebook, so that pictures of you can be taken straight from your page. There’s a square that surrounds your picture (literally and figuratively compartmentalizing yourself). That’s pretty much it. Imagine a sort of courtship conveyor belt.
There’s also a giant logo in the corner just in case you have forgotten that you are in fact, using Tinder.
I have heard of friend’s romantic triumphs. I have heard of friend’s having horrifyingly awkward and unpleasant experiences. I have heard of people now heading for marriage. I have heard of people running in terror.
If you ever take a writing class, the instructor will probably tell you that when you’re trying to portray a character in a certain way, actions speak much louder than words. You don’t describe what your character is like, you show it. Given that I (along with everyone else using the app) am, effectively advertising myself as a person someone should want to associate with, picking a picture that captures just what I’m all about was going to prove a difficult task.
The one that shows me as a musician? Everybody likes the guy who breaks out the guitar at a party; ‘Wonderwall’ never gets old.
The one that shows me in a faraway land? Everybody is interested to hear about young, privileged white men’s travels and how their perspectives were profoundly altered by visiting a country that happens to be poorer than theirs.
The one with me holding two drinks? Everyone loves a party animal.
The one that shows me at a protest? Everyone loves a guy who makes his political views clear in his social networking profile.
Choosing to play it safe, I went with the one of me in my indisputably hilarious novelty hat.
You’ll notice pretty quickly that online courtships are not like up close, real time, in person courtships; people far more often end up soliloquizing the complaint that their date has ever so slightly fibbed about themselves. The internet allows people to easily embellish their good parts, and hide their not so good parts.
Not that it’s the attempt to make oneself seem more interesting and attractive than one in reality is that distinguishes online dating (henceforth referred to as OD) from regular dating. Nay, the main difference between OD and real life dating, is that it drastically changes the way we try to make ourselves seem more attractive and interesting: flattering filters, adulatory angles, gracious lighting, this is how people are romantically hoodwinked and mislead in the Tinderverse – the clandestine covering up of aesthetic abnormalities, all of which will be revealed if you ever actually bother to meet the person you sent a cumbersome ‘hi, how’s it going’ to. Here, in this disparity between the real and cyber, also lies an unpleasant reality, an oddity implicit only in the social situations created by OD: everyone fibs, but some people fib more than others.
This substantial fibbing (henceforth known as SF) often results in a rather bizarre situation, in which the potential rejecter/rejected dynamic is determined by who has lied less about themselves. Who exaggerated about themselves just that little bit too much in order to get this date? ‘I have a much bigger nose than I let people believe, but my date actually used a picture of someone else in their profile.’ You get the idea.
People who have engaged in SF when OD are not guilty of any serious moral indiscretion, by the way. We’re all self-conscious about our appearance in some form or another, and a result, using a picture of yourself looking unusually attractive is actually pretty appealing (people are judging your sexual attractiveness based on a far more attractive image of yourself). You’re looking well, and you don’t have to worry about checking your appearance throughout an evening. But SF and allowing yourself to be judged solely on your appearance, with all of its perks, also has its drawbacks: if and when a potential mate does reject you online, not only have you been rejected, you’ve been rejected even if you were much better looking.
And so you click, and click, and click until you see someone you like the look of.
Mistakes are sometimes made, which means that if you do see someone you think is attractive, and you accidentally click ‘X’, you have no way of undoing the potentially life altering mistake you just made. You have no way of (unless you have friends in common) finding out the person in questions fate. This means that they simultaneously exist, and do not exist. Schrodinger’s app.
I am still yet undecided whether any of this is like real life, but better.
One in four relationships now begins online. The stigma that was attached to OD is now gone. The way people talk to each other, increasingly through technology, is different than it ever has been before. This move to the internet in search of romance, whether good or bad, does at least have some interesting implications.
Dating in the age of technology is purportedly liberating, a facet of the supposed emancipation of nubile twenty-something’s from the stigmas and dogmas that once constrained, waned, and shamed the sexual endeavours of generations past. The onus however (I have deduced from my own experiences, as well as from friends detailing their own experiences) is still overwhelmingly on men to make the first move. This may suggest that we, despite our proclamation of sexual liberation, still live in a culture in which female sexuality is suppressed and women still feel inhibited to the point that are not comfortable approaching a member of the opposite sex, lest they be shamed as a slut or a tramp or a big dirty hoor.
That, or gals who decide to OD can somehow see through men’s lies and exaggerations and as a result don’t send messages as much. Or both.
I often hear grievances female friends have with the dating (and non-dating) world. I’m told men sometimes can be pests. I’m told women get harassed a lot. I’m told many males will not take no for an answer. I’m told women often get unwillingly groped and felt up. I’m told that some women get blamed for these things happening to them if they were wearing a short skirt. I believe, and have seen for myself, these tales.
As we trudge toward trying to create a culture less predatory toward females, it has become less socially acceptable to harass women. You stand some chance of facing condemnation if you make a pass at a gal trying to just buy her groceries. You may get looks of disapproval if you go in for the kiss with the girl who let you use her lighter at the bus stop. People probably will not be impressed if you absolutely insist on a female co-worker’s phone number. Baby steps. Despite these progressions, sexual harassment (obviously) is still a thing, rife, and extremely problematic for reasons it would be embarrassing to have to explain to an adult. This ‘Social progress VS social issues and hang-ups still very much present today’ equation in mind, I have come to the conclusion that, if things like Tinder have any utility at all, it’s that they allow women to elude the advances of salacious suitors at the click of a button, rather than a feigned trip to the bathroom. Or just running ‘til their feet hurt.
OD as tool for potentially avoiding harassment aside for a moment: there’s something strikingly sordid about the nature of Tinder. We make conscious efforts to avoid being superficial in our everyday lives and social interactions. We find unpleasant the idea of scanning the landscape of a nightclub and dismissing or judging people based on their appearance. ‘Don’t like her/his hair’, ‘Not a nice face’, ‘OMG WTF is she/he wearing’. We tell ourselves, and must constantly reinforce the notion that it’s a bit of a faux pas to come to conclusions about people based on what they look like. Yet, this is what is so intoxicating to so many people (and I by no means exclude myself from this) about things like Tinder, that we can, without crisis of conscience, dismiss people on the basis of a disagreeable corporeal form. You get to judge a book by the cover.
The fact that we have technology that enables and encourages us to judge each other based solely on appearances, however, is what creates the vicious circle that makes people engage in SF in the first place. If everyone is judging and vetting each other based purely on their appearance, people, in their human insecurity and self-consciousness, will probably be encouraged to lie, which will in turn make them more insecure, which will in turn make them even more likely to lie, and so on. You get it.
Tinder is definitely like real life. You can decide if it’s better.