Drawing of cut off images of people behind a cut out of the Tinder logoTinder, Inc.



Will Savino ’14

Volume XXXVI, Issue 3, December 13, 2013

I walk into a bar in which I’m the only man. All of the women that I’m not attracted to leave. All of the women that are not attracted to me leave. All of the women who remain hand me a sheet of paper. Each sheet contains anything from a string of random emojis to corny song lyrics, Audrey Hepburn quotes, her height, her desires in a man, and everything in between. I know these women will go to many different bars and hand many different men their sheets of paper. Each woman goes to my bar for a different reason. Some go for random hookups, some to meet potential boyfriends, and others just for laughs. Now I get to talk to them. What do I say?

This is Tinder in a nutshell. Tinder is a mobile app that presents potential “matches” within a chosen radius of your current location. First you select your desired gender and are shown up to five pictures of a person, in addition to his or her name, age, a short bio, and a list of any mutual Facebook friends or interests. After examining these micro-profiles, you can either swipe left to “pass” or swipe right to “like” them. Meanwhile, other users are examining your profile and making similar decisions. If two people like each other, they are both notified and given the opportunity to message each other through the app. Simply put, Tinder is a matchmaker.

The way I see it, you basically have two options for starting a post-match conversation: comment on something you notice in their pictures, or use a pickup line. It’s pretty hard to be successful with the pickup line tack. Remember: Every other dude in the valley is trying the exact same strategy. My friend likes to open with, “If I gave you $200 would you hang out with me serious offer.” At least it breaks the ice.

You might ask why I don’t try to extrapolate a woman’s personality from her written bio and start a conversation from that. That might be a reasonable strategy if most Tinder bios—at least the ones I’ve seen—weren’t absolutely inane. One of my favorites was, “If you eat pizza with a fork, don’t even bother.” Okay, so what exactly does that tell me about your personality? What kind of person even eats pizza with a fork? What kind of girl specifically doesn’t like fork users and thinks it’s the most relevant way to characterize herself? I’ve even seen bios with things like, “RIP grandma.” Why anyone would want to immortalize a dead person in a Tinder bio is beyond me. Others like to include their Snapchat ID. Now, to me, that just screams, “send me dick pics!” but maybe I’m cynical. The only bios that convey any sort of useful information to we the potential suitors are those that indicate schooling, interests, or location. Something such as, “UMass 2015, forensic marine biology major. I love zip-lining and making paper cranes.” Sure that bio is pretty wacky, but it also conveys something actually useful for anyone analyzing that profile.

Thus, in the absence of a coherent bio, starting a conversation requires me to glean something from her pictures. Maybe there’s a picture of her hiking, or her playing a guitar, or her with her boyfriend. At this point I might open with, “Hey, have you ever climbed the Notch?” or, “Hey, can you play Wonderwall?” or, “Hey, why are you on Tinder when you clearly have a boyfriend?”

In theory, Tinder functions best as a hookup facilitator. Given that the only things on which people are evaluated are pure looks and frivolous self-description, the app does not seem to lend itself to matching like-minded individuals in search of long-term companionship grounded in a solid foundation of shared interests and values. Rather, Tinder allows people to determine their “threshold” for attractiveness. Anyone who passes this threshold is (in theory) a potential mate.

Let’s jump back to the bar analogy. I’m in a bar. I’m attracted to the girl I’m about to talk to. I know she’s at least marginally attracted to me. Would I open with, “Want to come to my place?” Of course I wouldn’t. So the conversation starts with the regular getting-to-know-you-isms that I’m told are ubiquitous in the casual dating scene. Eventually maybe we exchange numbers. Then maybe we plan a coffee date. On some future drunken night, I send an awkwardly worded booty-text. From there, who knows?

But Tinder isn’t a bar. Despite its huge user base, people still look at me with disdain when I mention it. The crucial difference between Tinder and the bar is the app’s lack of ambiguity. If I talk to a girl at a bar, a million different things could be going through both of our heads. As a society, we have established a number of subtle rituals and gestures to signal romantic interest. I’ll buy her a drink, she’ll smile, I’ll get her number, she won’t walk away, etc. We need this ambiguity because it provides the opportunity to back out with no hurt feelings. If I buy her a drink and she leaves to talk to her friends, no one is offended. She has simply signaled her disinterest.

Tinder removes this ambiguity. The awkwardness of imprecise flirting is replaced by an awkwardness of understood forwardness. This is what turns people off. It’s not as simple as an aversion to dating apps–it’s a fear of displaying your intentions honestly and unambiguously. Most people on Tinder want to hook up, and if you want to successfully use Tinder for this purpose, you can’t be embarrassed about it.

I’m a Tinder sympathizer. If people need a way to facilitate their sexual urges, well, Tinder can do that. Shallow needs necessitate shallow solutions. Just don’t expect to meet your future spouse. And if you do, remember my second favorite bio: “I’ll tell people we met in a bar.”