Alice Mongkongllite / BuzzFeed
Tinder is “stupid and harmful because it only makes romantic human connection harder.” It is also “a factory and you shouldn’t pretend it’s even vaguely romantic.” And let’s not forget that “the adult consequence of living with one’s decisions doesn’t really exist when the next best thing is only a swipe away.”
Most of the discussion around Tinder has focused on its core demographic: twentysomethings, gay and straight, in urban areas (New York and Los Angeles, where I live, are its two biggest markets), who seem to use Tinder to hook up, boost or masochistically deflate their ego, and/or issue sweeping, usually disparaging pronouncements about everyone they’ve ever encountered on it.
But I’ve now come to realize that even though all of the press around Tinder focuses on its popularity with twentysomethings, it’s actually the perfect app for someone in their thirties, or older, to find love. As people age, they naturally grow less inclined to seek out relationships that are more casual. (For one thing, it’s exhausting. After you turn 33 or so, staying out past 10 on a school night becomes much more rare.) Also, as we age, the pool of eligible people shrinks, and with it so do the number of opportunities to meet people in the ways people met people in their twenties (well, before Tinder existed): through friends, at parties, at bars, at work, in grad school, wherever. There’s something really comforting to know that, in fact, there are actually tons of people out there who are age-appropriate and are looking for the same thing you are.
Because much of the criticism of Tinder seems to actually be, implicitly, a criticism of the machinations of dating, and the ways in which dating causes people to, sometimes, show their worst, judgmental, passive aggressive selves instead of their best selves. My co-worker Tamerra recently asked me, “Do people think that the app will relieve people of the responsibility of being sincere, projecting themselves honestly, and communicating what they’re looking for in a relationship the same way they would IRL?” Certainly, Tinder seems to make it easier to not be vulnerable, to put out a bulletproof version of yourself. But Tinder doesn’t make it easier to fall in love just because it makes it easier to be exposed to hundreds, or thousands, of potential dates. To fall in love means you need to really know yourself, and be secure and happy enough that you want to share yourself with someone else, and to be vulnerable. Tinder doesn’t get rid of those steps, and it’s unrealistic to think that it would.
I agree with the psychology professor Eli J. Finkel, who recently defended Tinder as “the best option available now” for “open-minded singles … who would like to marry someday and want to enjoy dating in the meantime.” And I think that’s especially true if you are in your thirties and you are looking for a relationship, and you see dating as a means to that end. There are, of course, exceptions to every single rule, but I found that the people on Tinder in their thirties were, generally, more receptive to the idea of being in a relationship than you would expect. Including me.
I spent most of my twenties in a series of relatively short-lived monogamous relationships. I didn’t “date,” per se; I ended up with boyfriends who clearly weren’t right for me, but I was so comfortable with companionship that I didn’t mind. And this was the early aughts, in the early days of online dating: I was briefly on Nerve, and went on a few dates, but it felt unnatural and weird, and I didn’t know anyone else doing it. Or if they did, they were keeping it a secret, like me. So my boyfriends were guys I met in grad school, or at work, or through friends, or, once, at the optician. (He fixed my glasses.) It wasn’t until the last couple of years, when I was already well into my thirties, that I began to date date, and I quickly learned that the only people who truly like dating — and by dating I mean the numbing dance of texting, and not hearing back, and then finally hearing back, and then making plans, and changing plans, and finally meeting and deciding within 30 seconds that this is not your Person, and then doing it all over again — are generally either sociopaths or masochists.
So I do want to be clear that the mostly bad things people say about Tinder were also mostly true (and bad) for me for the year or so that I was on and off it. I got the addictive rush when I matched with someone, and another one when a match would text me, and another when we would make plans. I felt a momentary dejection when someone I was convinced was a match, based on his photos and the briefest of descriptions, didn’t match with me. Or if I went a couple of days without a match, I despaired: Was it possible I had exhausted the entire population of age-appropriate men in Los Angeles, and none of them was interested in me? But no. There were always more matches to be had.
I Tindered on work trips and vacation, meeting up a couple times with people in New York — just to see, I told myself — and became fascinated with the differences among the photos of guys in Norway (lots of skiing), Boston (lots of Red Sox caps), and Israel (lots of shirtless pics). I started taking my phone to bed with me, which had been a longtime taboo, so that I could swipe, swipe, swipe late into the night. I Tindered at bars; I Tindered in the bathroom. When it started feeling like it was taking over my life, I deleted it from my phone, took a break of a few days or a few weeks, and started again.
My profile stayed essentially unchanged over the year or so I was on and off Tinder, and everything I wrote on it was true. I was in “digital media,” I was from Boston, I was relatively new to L.A., I loved tacos and avocados, I had met two internet-famous cats but I liked dogs better. I had around five photos up, showing me in various environments and outfits and hairstyles. What I think I was trying to say was that I was approachable but not desperate, reasonably but not intimidatingly attractive, funny but not someone who did it for a living (this felt important since there were so many stand-up comedians in L.A.). I was finally over obsessing about not being “that girl” — that is, the girl who is vocal about wanting to be in a relationship, who is actually confident enough in herself to be upfront about her own needs. So I was also very conscious of wanting to communicate that I wanted a relationship without explicitly coming out and saying it in the profile, which seemed like a bit much for an opening gambit.
But while my profile stayed mostly the same, my experience on Tinder shifted each time I left and got back on, as though the breaks I took were also opportunities for the app itself to catch up with me. When I started using it in the spring of 2013, most of the guys on it were in their early twenties — way too young for me — and seemed to be only looking for a hookup. I messaged with a few of them out of boredom, but the novelty quickly wore off. When it came down to it, was I really going to go over to a 24-year-old bartender’s apartment at 10 p.m. so he could “make us drinks”? No, the days when that would’ve been appealing — if ever — had long passed. But gradually the average age of my matches crept up, and I soon noticed a very real shift in the ways in which I engaged with people on the app — and that they were responding more sincerely to the message I was sending with my profile.
And soon, I realized that all of this Tindering was doing for me was making me feel more empowered. I got to make the decision about whether we went out again. I had been so conditioned to believe that I wasn’t in the driver’s seat when it came to dating (thanks, New York) that I had become way too passive; I was so obsessed with wondering whether someone liked me that I forgot about the part that was just as important: whether I actually liked them. And going out with so many different people — in fact, simply encountering so many different people, even just on the app — had the effect of, also, helping me refine what it really was I was looking for.
First it helped me figure out what I wasn’t looking for. And that might not be what you’re not looking for, and that’s fine! That’s the beauty of Tinder, and the world; there are lots of different kinds of people for everyone. But for me, that became: anyone whose first profile photo was of them holding a beer; anyone whose first profile photo was of them shirtless in an upside-down yoga pose (granted, this might be an L.A. thing); anyone who seemed deeply unenthusiastic about their career (too old for this); anyone who lived in Orange County (too far and too suburban); anyone who had a picture of themselves proudly holding a large fish they had caught. (It turns out we can intuit a lot of things about people just from a few pictures.) I liked men who were funny and smart and did something creative with their lives. I liked men who were kind.
I’ve always hated those stories, whether it’s a Modern Love piece in the New York Times or an essay published somewhere else, about the single girl who finally, FINALLY finds love, and lives happily ever after. So this isn’t going to be one of those stories, mostly because I’m old enough now to know that there is never a happily ever after, that “ever afters” mean a million different things, and besides, an asteroid might kill us all tomorrow anyway. But I will end with this: that after a year on Tinder, and many matches but many, many misses, I matched with someone last March. We texted for pretty much 24 hours straight, and then talked on the phone for an hour and a half, and then had the best first date I’d ever had, where we talked about nothing and everything and I told him that smoking was a deal breaker and he agreed to quit on the spot. He is smart and funny and handsome and most of all, kind and thoughtful in ways that make me more mindful of how I treat other people. And the other night, when I wasn’t feeling well, he drove 25 minutes each way to pick up chicken soup from the Vietnamese place I like. Sometimes we talk about what would’ve happened if we hadn’t swiped right. I’m just happy we both did.