The Skepticism of Love at First Swipe

The dating app Tinder prides itself on the fact that “It’s like real life, but better,” and perhaps that’s the issue

Illustrator: Weiying Zhu

Illustrator: Weiying Zhu

I still don’t know how to feel about Tinder.

Since the app’s inception in 2012, it’s quickly become a titan in the world of online dating, although “online flirting” seems to be more accurate terminology. Swiping right on a picture as a means of finding a potential romantic interest has become somewhat normalized. Still, I find myself stuck in a strange, indecisive limbo of Tinder and dating app culture as a whole.

Perhaps my incredulity stems from constant reminders of how skewed online profiles can be, or maybe I’ve watched too many episodes of Catfish to entrust my love life to social media. Either way, I’m skeptical of the illusive dating app that markets itself: “It’s like real life, but better.”

I can’t tell if Tinder is a great social tool for a generation already fundamentally built around social media or if it degrades personal connection down to a dishearteningly superficial algorithm.

For some, the app is an effective way to cure boredom or a safe-space for harmless flirting and the occasional ego boost. Julie Beck, writer for The Atlantic, coined the term “soulless swiping” when describing the elevated level of impulse speed-dating Tinder offers. Yet, for an increasing number of users, the no-strings-attached dating app serves as a potential stepping-stone to forming surprisingly substantial connections.

I can’t tell if Tinder is a great social tool for a generation already fundamentally built around social media or if it degrades personal connection down to a dishearteningly superficial algorithm.

Out of curiosity (and peer pressure), I tried Tinder once, then never again. If you aren’t familiar with the app, here’s a brief overview on how it works:

Upon downloading the app, you must first sum up yourself in six strategic photos.

In a Buzzfeed video titled “How to Get More Matches On Tinder,” Tinder’s head sociologist advises that having a head-on picture of you smiling in your profile is advantageous for more matches. If your smile is open, that’s a bonus 14 percent more likely a user matches with you. However, be weary, she reports that wearing glasses in your profile reduces your likelihood of being swiped on by 15 percent and wearing a hat deflates your chances of finding love by 12 percent. So if you have poor eyesight or enjoy protecting your head from the sun, you might consider steering clear of Tinder altogether.

Next, it’s time to write your 500 word-limit bio. Tinderadvisor.com suggests avoiding writing a bio that comes off too deep, too funny or as if you’re trying too hard. However, these Tinder-sages deem that, “being cute [in your bio] is ok,” whatever that means. If you’re struggling with thinking of a clever bio, perhaps skim through Tinder Advisor’s self-help article “Best Tinder Bio to Sound Cool and Interesting!”

After you’ve conjured up six photos and a bio that you’re satisfied with, you’re ready to start swiping. The rules of the game are simple: swipe left on a profile you’re not interested in and swipe right on one that you are. If you and another profile swipe right on each other, you match, and are then able to message each other. That’s where Tinder’s role in your relationship-building ends and the rest relies on your own agency.

Tinder has found a perfectly calculated formula for courtship. Now, the endlessly exciting love life you’ve always wanted is not only attainable but can fit within the contents of your back pocket. Tinder is always only one swipe away: all novelty, no strings. The app currently enables millions of users to micromanage how they interact with others, when and with whom—how could you pass on an opportunity like that? If you find you’re not making as many matches as you’d like, you can always revamp your bio or opt to change your picture to one of you and fifteen other friends at a party. This makes for a fun (frustrating) game of Tinder Roulette, but at least it increases your chances of garnering more matches, right?

Your profile isn’t necessarily an accurate representation of who you are, it’s an accurate representation of how you’d like to be seen by others.

My hesitancy toward Tinder stems from the same reason I simultaneously love and loathe social media: skewed self-representation. That’s the main flaw in this dating app’s otherwise picture-perfect algorithm. Your profile isn’t necessarily an accurate representation of who you are, it’s an accurate representation of how you’d like to be seen by others. This begs the question: Is forming an authentic connection truly possible while interacting through the guise of a carefully crafted profile?

The answers to that impossibly loaded question vary greatly depending on whom you ask, and nearly all of them are plagued with uncertainty. Perhaps the population of those who also find themselves stuck in the strange, indecisive limbo of Tinder is much larger than it seems.

The sun is shining over L.A., the feel-good dance song “Geronimo” is playing, and 20-something-year-old hipsters are care-freely laughing as Tinder assures us all in its promotional ad, “We’re bringing the world closer together,” and for a moment I believe them.