It usually starts as a game. You hear about it from a friend, wonder what its like, download it and have a few swipes and a few laughs. You get excited when you get a match and chuckle at the lame attempts at flirting or the horrible photos.
“If you were yoghurt, I’d spoon you.”
“I feel Art Attack is a vital shared interest.”
Thus goes many young people’s first encounter with Tinder, the online dating app that has captured the hearts and minds of 20-somethings and signaled a change in the way we meet people. The app finds other users within a certain distance of you, and provides five pictures and a plethora of interests gleaned from a Facebook account.
In recent months, there’s been a stir of concern across the media after the take-off of apps like Tinder. Many worry that it is the yet another symptom of a generation obsessed with appearances and unable to create meaningful relationships. The word ‘sleaze’ is tossed around like clothes in a one-night-stand. But what is Tinder really like, and is it just a place for random, strings-free sex?
“He’s not the kind of person I would have met without Tinder. Not because we’re not good together, but because we’re in totally different worlds. If you only ever date in your own little pocket, it doesn’t always go the best.”
Laura has a very positive outlook on the app—she has been seeing someone she met on Tinder for about two months now, and is just “crazy about him”. “I know Tinder has a bad reputation, but I honestly don’t think—apart from the sleazy people—it’s that different to seeing someone in the bar and going, ‘You look nice, I’m gunna try and talk to you.’
“I could meet you at work, and I could start hanging out with you, and you could be a complete creep,” Laura says. “Face-to-face stuff can be sleazy too.”
Tinder follows on the heels of Grindr, which became wildly popular in the gay community after its launch in 2009. However, it is generally seen as more of a ‘sex sat-nav’ than a dating app.
“When you’re in a bar you don’t go, ‘Ooh I can hear her conversation, she sounds intelligent, let’s go and talk to her.’ It’s more like, ‘She’s hot. Done. Waddup?’”
Both Tinder and Grindr have both been criticised for being too much like a game due to their effortless simplicity—swipe right if you like someone, swipe left if you don’t. This decision can be made in an instant—making a judgment based on their first picture—or it can be more carefully by looking through other photos and shared interests and Facebook friends.
Alex, a frequent Tinder user, insists that judging people on their appearance brings nothing new to the way he would meet potential partners in ‘traditional’ situations. “When you’re in a bar you don’t go, ‘Ooh I can hear her conversation, she sounds intelligent, let’s go and talk to her.’ It’s more like, ‘She’s hot. Done. Waddup?’”
Tinder and Grindr bring nothing new to a world of one night stands, fuck-buddies and random hookups. Gen Y exists in social space where such interactions are being complimented and challenged by technology and media, and it is causing some concern, not just within the ranks of frightened baby boomers.
“Once you get addicted, you lose so many social skills,” says Xavier. He uses Grindr to find random hook-ups and casual sex, but will go out to a bar if he is after something more substantial.
“You go out to a gay club, and the amount of guys that are on it! And you’re thinking, ‘You’re in a club with people, socialising and with your friends. Why can’t you just go over and say, ‘Hi, how’re you going? Do you wanna get a drink?’”
According to Dr Lauren Rosewarne, a senior lecturer at the University of Melbourne and expert in pop culture and sexuality, there is a key change that technology is bringing to relationships.
“The internet … has changed the concept of intimacy in the sense that people can become incredibly close to someone who they may have ‘contact’ with every day but who they may never, ever meet in real life.”
Rosewarne says this has also altered our definition of intimacy. “The word no longer has to describe someone we are in contact with in a flesh-and-blood sense.”
This is clearly reflected in the way that Alex and another Tinder user Megan chatted to each other on their first “IRL” (in real life) date, which I was lucky enough to witness.
“We’re clearly comfortable as shit around each other because I feel I already know her,” said Alex, who had met Megan through Tinder but had been chatting on Facebook for months before their coffee date that day.
Megan says that Facebook is a big factor in building a relationship that began on Tinder. “I would never ever meet up with someone that I’d met on this app without going through Facebook first, just so I have that reassurance that I’m not meeting up with some random.”
Megan is also interested in girls, and found it easier to find female dates on Tinder than in bars or through friends. Many people I spoke to said the app allows them to gauge a person before having the pressure of a face-to-face interaction, which can do wonders for people with social anxiety.
the first thing he did was send me a photo of his nether regions.”
It seems that the use of these apps will depend almost solely on what the user wants to get out of the experience—whether you want to wind up picking up your next significant other or picking up your undies off the bedroom floor.
“One of the first things I’m asked on Grindr is, ‘What are you looking for? What are you into?’” says Xavier.
Laura says this honesty can be helpful, but also confronting.
“There was one guy who added me on Facebook, and the first thing he did was send me a photo of his nether regions,” says Laura. “So I was just like, ‘Delete. I don’t want that, thank you.’ So, you know, his intentions were quite clear.”
Gen Y are experts at getting what they want, particularly with technology. Tinder and Grindr may well be just the next step towards a more digitised society, but it remains to be seen what this will mean for sex and intimacy in the future.