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September 30, 2013 | by  | in Features | [ssba]

Playing With Fire: Adventures in Tinder

As the line between those who have smartphones and those who do not becomes more and more precipitous, social networking apps are gaining real traction in our lives. Facebook alone won’t cut it; Twitter’s not everything, and if you’re not snapchatting you’re not living. But what about Tinder, that saucy Grindr-esque app that has been raising eyebrows all over campus this year? Your intrepid correspondent dived headfirst into a Tinder profile to find out what all the fuss was about.

If you haven’t used Tinder before, it’s pretty straightforward. You link in with your Facebook profile to supply your first name and age, and let your phone send your location. Tinder will then show you photos of people nearby for you to either ‘like’ or ‘pass’. At the same time, those people you’re rating can rate you. When two people ‘like’ each other, they are both notified of a ‘match’, and are allowed to chat with each other.

Those chats have given birth to some brilliant lines, but mostly spectacularly crass ones, if the Facebook page ‘Tinder Chat’ is at all representative. It’s part of that new wave of pages and groups like ‘Snapchat Leaked’ and ‘Best Vines’, or even ‘Babe of the Day’ and ‘VUW Cupid’, that have evolved their own little communities. No doubt this has provided a bit of momentum for a wider adoption of Tinder.

Wide enough to include me, apparently. After creating my profile, which took only a minute, I was straight into a matching session. The app couldn’t quite locate me with pinpoint accuracy, but anything further would be splitting hairs. The first thing that struck me, I’m sorry to say, was how many, well… normal-looking people had profiles.

Isn’t our classic hang-up that we expect people using that kind of service to be outcasts? That ridiculous old prejudice that anyone needing a dating site to find love must obviously have some outrageous flaw to justify it. That certainly didn’t seem to be the case with Tinder—it was just the kinds of people I would see hanging out on campus. Feeling more comfortable (and getting addicted to the fast-paced action), I swiped away with glee. It was a fun detour into escapist whimsy, judging these people I’d never met, right up until I stumbled across one of my friends and co-writers at Salient. It was kind of a surprise, but as I was to discover, not at all uncommon.

As that friend (who shall remain nameless) told me, she sees “quite a few” of her acquaintances on Tinder. As to the protocol around whether or not to ‘like’, she’s quite coy. “If they’re not a weirdo, I like them to see … whether they’ve liked me or not.” That’s the point, really: she’s not trying to find a soulmate or anything—just an ego boost. She goes on: “If I don’t know them well enough to pass it off as a joke … I wouldn’t like them.”

That, I think, sums up the experience of many on Tinder. It’s a place for a laugh, maybe some salacious one-liners, but ultimately just there to joke around or find a little bit of self-validation. It’s not easy to line it up directly with methods of dating we’re more familiar with—whether that of real life in Wellington in 2014, or that of television show Friends.

Obviously, there’s the whole ‘mutual attraction’ thing, because that’s a given, but it’s not simultaneous. It’s displaced by time, not to mention affected by whatever is going through each person’s head at the time. My matching behaviour was very different when I was alone compared to when I was with friends, for instance. There’s generally a lot less alcohol involved, too.

That said, I think the biggest difference between Tinder and the real world is that you find so much more posturing when you’re doing everything via text and picture. Sure, you could lie and pretend to be someone you’re not in a bar or club, but you still have to play that part convincingly. We pick up a lot from people in a physical situation, let alone the fact that conversation tends to happen off-the-cuff. On Tinder, it comes down to the well-thought-out lines and carefully selected photos, which could convey anything we so desire.

Texting is the closest thing we had in pre-Tinder days to compare, but there’s an important difference. Generally, if you have someone’s phone number, you’ve already met them in person to get it. With Tinder, though, there’s no opportunity for that first impression. Everything we get is from the screen, and maybe a Facebook stalk if we’re good at it. If there’s anything we can take from that, it’s that we all need to be developing our online savoir-faire, stat. Some people really need to sort out their privacy settings.

Please don’t take this as a scathing review, though. We had a great time in the Salient office making matches and sending them all Drake lyrics—nothing was the same. I’d heard rumours that in Dunedin there were ‘Tinder Parties’, where every member of the flat invited all of their matches, who then had to write the name of their host-match on their arm in black vivid. No word on it crossing the Cook Strait, though. That said, I couldn’t call it a day without further investigating those elusive people who were genuinely using Tinder to find love, or at least something approximating it.

To that end, I talked to someone who has made a real attempt to chat after matching using the app. We’ll call her Theresa. She’d given it a go, and offered a bit of perspective on how the genuine Tinderers go about their business.

“I went on a date with a guy who was moving to Auckland two weeks later, I got stood up, I had multiple ‘wanna fuck?’s, and I have lost some confidence in New Zealand’s education system because, my God, most people can’t spell to save their lives.”

I had rather been hoping that she was going to be telling me all about the great people she’d met and the experiences she had only managed to have thanks to Tinder. But it seemed to me that she was playing with fire and only getting burned. That’s why she finally decided to delete the app.

“One of my friends described Tindering as op-shopping,” said Theresa. “I just couldn’t be fucked spending any more time and effort searching through the shit to dig out gems.”

Not exactly comforting words for anyone wanting to find their soulmate and thinking of using Tinder. But Theresa was quick to stop me from jumping to extreme conclusions, and offered some sage advice for anyone giving it a go.

“Have fun, don’t have high expectations, always respond to the guy/girl with a hilarious opening line, stretch your fingers because it’s going to take you a while to find someone awesome.”

Fair enough, but it wasn’t quite the experience I was looking for. I decided to step things up to the next level, and fired off a “Hey, how’s it going?” to my seven non-friend ‘matches’. Three of them replied, and two of those replies led to a real conversation. One of those conversations didn’t last long, but the other one somehow led to us going out for drinks. So I’d won at Tinder. In Theresa’s parlance, had I found a gem?

I won’t recap the entire evening, but to be honest it was a little strange to know that we had already seen each other’s online profiles, but otherwise knew nothing about each other. There was a moment of fear, too, that she was somehow gang-affiliated and I was going to be kidnapped and ransomed back to my flatmates for our rent money. Thankfully, that didn’t happen, but nor was it an incredibly romantic night of chemistry and passion. Sometimes even the best-laid plans fall through.

So that was my Tinder experience. Probably typical—a lot of standoffish people and some awkward banter. At least the end result was a pretty fun night. I can’t vouch for the success rate of opening every conversation with a vulgar come-on (my intrepid journalistic spirit doesn’t quite stretch that far), but to be honest, I’d imagine that it’s often met with a snide remark and at best some banter. The rap lyrics definitely didn’t get me anywhere, though.

With Tinder, as with many things, it’s probably wisest to enter without having your heart set on getting anything out of it. Maybe you’ll make some great jokes, maybe you’ll fall in love, maybe you’ll confuse people with lines from ‘Best I Ever Had’. If all else fails, it’s pretty satisfying to hold the power of condemnation in just a swipe of your fingers.


Tinder Photo Tropes

The Faraway

Highlights of this photo include the ability to show off your entire body, and perhaps a really interesting environment. The downside is, of course, that you really cannot be distinguished from any other human being.

The Group Shot

The best way to show that yes, you do have a lot of friends, and you socialise outside of Tinder. On the other hand, it’s literally impossible for potential matches to tell which one you are.

The Asset Cam

When you’re trying to emphasise a particular feature, what better way to do it than publicising it in lieu of your face? Breasts, a six-pack, legs—whatever your asset might be, this shot will let everyone know that you’re after a good time.

The Cute Crutch

Add that X factor to your Tinder profile by including either a beloved pet or somebody’s baby in your photo. Is it yours? Who cares. All you know is it raises your adorability by at least 20 per cent. Be aware that this may turn off anyone who’s frightened by parenthood or allergic to cats.

The Gag Photo

Hey, you don’t take Tinder seriously! Haha, it’s all just a joke lol. Prove it to everyone by making a silly face in your profile photo! As a bonus, it’s a great way to save face in the event of few matches by blaming the photo.

The Obscurity

The best way to deal with people judging your appearance is simply to cover it up, of course. Wearing sunglasses, ski goggles or just cropping your head out of the photo is the perfect way to maintain that mysterious allure.

The Formal Portrait

Only look good when dressed up to the nines? Feel confident in uploading your few formal event photos to Tinder. Be assured that nobody will be able to recognise you during your scraggly morning hikes up The Terrace, or in literally any other social situation.


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