Can Tinder affect your happiness and satisfaction in life? By Kristen Cochrane. Photo by Petra Collins.
Since Tinder came out in 2012, anecdotes about the dating app can seem overwhelmingly negative—from garden variety ghosting, to having some douche talk to you about his ex-girlfriend for the whole date. (I suppose there’s a reason so many of us sighed knowingly when John Oliver famously coined Tinder’s slogan as “an endless barrage of unwanted dicks.”) But what is it about Tinder that seems to annoy so many of us? Does Tinder actually suck, or does humanity just suck?
A year after Tinder was launched, Holly Baxter of the New Statesman wrote a scathing critique of the app, calling it the commercialization of romance—or “shopping for partners.” However, Baxter’s critique goes against the ideas of writer Tim Urban, who says that, while there is a stigma to treating your intimate and romantic relationships like a business, this stigma isn’t helping us in the long run. On his blog Wait But Why, Urban argues that we all need to be more careful about who we date (and maybe end up spending our lives with). “People end up picking from whatever pool of options they have, no matter how poorly matched they might be to those candidates,” Urban wrote. “The obvious conclusion to draw here is that outside of serious socialites, everyone looking for a life partner should be doing a lot of online dating, speed dating, and other systems created to broaden the candidate pool in an intelligent way,”
This makes sense: if it’s beneficial to broaden our dating pools, and to devote more time to deciding whether someone is right for us, then Tinder is clearly a helpful tool for dating. But if it’s so fucking helpful, then why does it so often make us unhappy and disappointed? To help me answer this dating app conundrum, I called up Yale psychologist and professor Zoë Chance, who’s currently doing research into how people can be happier and feel more fulfilled in life.
“Simple dating apps like Tinder have some major benefits and some major drawbacks,” Chance told Slutever. “One advantage over traditional sites like OkCupid is that sparse profiles lead to meeting up more quickly with more people—and that’s still the only way two people can tell if they like each other. An advantage over speed dating and other meet ups is that Tinder lets you screen through hundreds of people in a short amount of time. While attractiveness is a very superficial way to screen, there’s plenty of evidence that [finding your partner physically attractive] correlates with long-term relationship satisfaction.”
Research is basically non-existent on how many people meet on Tinder and actually stay together. But Chance argues that it can be disheartening for users who don’t receive the amount of matches, messages, or responses to messages that they would find satisfactory.
“For people who, for whatever reason, don’t have attractive photos on their profile, the experience of not getting many matches can be demoralizing,” Chance said. “This is true for all sites, but Tinder swipes are a direct judgment of hotness, rather like that old site Hot or Not. The snap judgments also enhance stereotyping and prejudice, so while some people may expand their social circles [e.g. hipsters hooking up with jocks], Tinder even more than other sites makes it easy to screen out anyone who doesn’t meet your standards for what a date or a mate should look like.”
Nancy Jo Sales echoed this sentiment in her incisive Vanity Fair piece where she claimed that Tinder and its contemporaries (among them dating apps Bumble and Hinge) have ruined dating, resulting in a “Dating Apocalypse.” But this fatalistic assessment is something that goes beyond Tinder. As Chance told me: “It’s an issue way bigger than Tinder—essentially, that men have evolved to want to have sex with many women, but to choose long-term partners who don’t have sex with many men. My personal view is that women should sleep with anyone they want, however the reality is that hooking up quickly or widely can put a woman in the ‘hookup zone,’ which is as deadly for women as the ‘friend zone’ is for men. That said, there are plenty of men who are more open minded than the average man I just described.”
What I got from our conversation was that, in order to avoid being demoralized while navigating Tinder, we all have to be aware of society’s sexual double standards, as well as the social patterns that dictate whether you’re just a friend, a friend with benefits, or a potential partner. Basically, do what you want, but be aware of how your dating behavior might be interpreted by potential partners. And don’t get so hung up on rejections! Tinder gives us way more options, which is great, but it also puts us at risk of more rejection, which is annoying. It’s a give and take.
In a lot of ways, Tinder has become a scapegoat for the general hardship that most people face while dating. Maybe we need to remember that there are actual human beings behind the screen, and thus shouldn’t be scared that we are being tragic by using the internet to find new lovers. Tinder might have changed the dating process, but that doesn’t make it any easier than “traditional” or “offline” dating… whatever that means.
Kristen Cochrane is a writer and graduate researcher at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. Her academic research is currently on queer Latin American cinema, but she also writes about art, sexuality, and life stories. Her work has appeared in Amuse/i-D, Teen Vogue, Somesuch, and VICE.