“That’s my biggest thing with Tinder—I’m so bad at it. I stop playing so much because I feel ambivalent, or if it’s someone I feel nervous about, I’ll just legitimately put it down,” Luke, my friend, ex-hookup, and Tinder match told me from his casually sprawled position on the floor in the corner of the crowded Usdan lounge area. I called him out on his use of “playing” to describe what is commonly used as a hookup app, and he quickly backtracked, explaining how he has become habituated, through his friends’ terminology, to referring to it in game-like terms—something he is not alone in. In fact, the app itself asks you, when you successfully match with someone, whether you would like to message them or “keep playing,” which begs the question: how are we meant to use Tinder?
I first made my Tinder profile over winter break, when my high school friends and I were at my friend Zak’s house in Vermont. It was after dinner, and we were all piled around the couch in food comas. The main source of entertainment was my friend Tessa’s Tinder, which we were completely absorbed by, laughing at the photos and bios of the nearby users—mostly college students up at Stratton for the weekend. Wanting to get in on the fun, I made my own profile, agonizing over striking the right balance of attractiveness and irony, finally settling on a profile picture from Facebook I felt I looked good in, and a bio that read “Interested in: deep thoughts, vintage snow shoes, men’s rights, distilling moonshine, etc.” I immediately hated Tinder and swore to delete it after the weekend ended and I returned to my real life.
I returned to school after winter break, my hair cut short but my Tinder still intact, sure that I would get rid of it before the week was out. However, Tinder felt different at school–there was a much more ironic element to the use of the app. I would swipe right on people because I knew them or was friendly with them, and we would mock the app in our messages, joking about the aspect of Tinder that shows the “interests” you share based on the pages you have liked on Facebook–mostly leftovers from middle school:
I see we both like iTunes…very cool, very cool.
AND dory????? holy shit meant 2 b
There were moments, however, when my use of the app began to slip into a grey area where I was unsure of how the other person and I were using it. This first began with Jswipe, a Jewish version of Tinder that, at Wesleyan, is not very popular and is used in almost a universally ironic manner. All of the match conversations I have had on it consist of Jewish pick up lines or jokes:
You must not be kosher because you make my matza rise
Wanna try for NINE crazy nights????
However, one night I received a Jswipe message from someone that I was friendly with and had had an exclusively joking exchange with via Jswipe previously, that simply read “What are you doin tonight?” Unsure whether or not it was a joke, I responded with “well it’s the Sabbath so” and left it at that. I ran into the boy later that night; he was heavily inebriated and it quickly became clear that his message had not been as lighthearted as his previous ones. But how was I to know?
I decided that the best way to see how Wesleyan students used the two apps was to ask them in person, and so I messaged every single one of my Wesleyan matches and asked them if they would be willing to meet up in a public place so I could ask them some questions for an essay I was writing. Responses ranged from agreements to ignores to messages like, “Solid pick up line, but I’ve seen better,” and “Is this ur way of scheming?” even to a semi-date—though the medium of Tinder left me unsure of the level of seriousness of this engagement.
Christian, a boy I had hooked up with once but have a friendly relationship with, sat very rigidly on the couch in Usdan, staring ahead as he mumblingly answered my questions about how he messages his matches at Wesleyan, after asserting that he made a Tinder “to potentially hook up with people.”
“I’ll ask them about their major and what they’re interested in studying, so that way I’ll get a feel for them as a person and what they’re interested in, and it’s just like a normal ice breaker I feel like,” he explained, a marked expansion on his one word response to my previous question of “have you ever hooked up with a Tinder match?” (“yeah”).
What’s ur favorite emoji I like [variations of office/school related emojis]
rly into [a bunch of unrelated emojis] these days idk
[exchange of emojis]
was our exchange on Tinder. He was unsure how much he used the app in an ironic way versus a serious one.
My friend Ben made a Tinder because he “thought it would be fun and funny to make one.” He laughed nervously when I asked him who he swipes right on, growing increasingly flustered as he tried to formulate a response.
“When I first made it I was swiping left to anyone, but that was no fun because I didn’t match with anyone, so then I just started swiping right on more people. And at school I swipe right to everyone that I see because I’ve run out of people.”
Our Tinder chat conversation also consisted entirely of a series of emojis. Ben did not believe that he would swipe right on someone with the intention of hooking up with them, but did think that he honestly swipes right on people he’s interested in.
Michael agreed to meet with me via Tinder; my first ever late-night Tinder message correspondence with a stranger transpired through this scheduling. I was nervous for this meet-up, but surprisingly our conversation was easy.
“I try not to do anything ironically,” he told me. “I’ve used it seriously too but not at Wesleyan, only at home. I’ve actually met up with two different girls. That was weird. I mean it was cool. It wasn’t like a net weird experience, but there is going to be that layer of awkwardness that goes along with if you meet someone through any kind of digital media first, and then in person.”
But again, he felt uncomfortable using the app on campus, because “you don’t know whether the people that you’re interacting with are using it seriously or not, so you don’t want to make yourself vulnerable or susceptible to that kind of potential embarrassment.”
The next day I got lunch with Liam, a senior who responded to my message a week late, saying that he would like to use this opportunity to get to know me, as someone he had seen around but felt “somewhat odd just approaching given the tinder part.”
He is very attractive, someone I’d seen around campus a million times and never thought I’d have a chance with. When we matched on Tinder my best friend screamed. When I sent her a screen shot of the Tinder message he sent me, she gushed about it to everyone we both knew. I was, of course, excited too, but also exhaustingly nervous and unsure about what our lunch meant.
We met up in the cafeteria. He was twenty minutes late and I had finished eating with my friends by the time he showed up. There are few places worse for any kind of date than the Usdan cafeteria. It is perpetually loud, the fluorescent lights are so bright that I often feel as though I am high while sitting there–when I move my head my eyes don’t quite follow fast enough–and it is a place to watch and be watched by everyone, apathetically but assuredly. Also, anyone can sit down at your table and join your conversation.
Our meet up was fine, I didn’t interview him, and it was not particularly noteworthy in any way. I partially blame Mark—the third party who joined our table, noticeably changing the dynamic of the conversation—and partially the setting. I always feel uncomfortable around Mark because our friendship was built on his knowledge of my social media presence—I manage the Twitter account for his club—and I feel that he sees me as only this “gadget girl” (his words). The three of us talked about microwaves for seven minutes. Liam is not a fan. We parted ways without saying goodbye.
Later, my friend overheard me talking about the meal, and joked “You went to Usdan for your Tinder date?” I immediately grew defensive, explaining it in the context of my essay, though just a few hours ago I had been excited about the fact that Liam had wanted to get a meal with me despite his assumption that I had finished my paper.
Tinder is a game. It’s about playing others so that they accept a version of yourself that you want them to, and figuring out how they are playing you. A few weeks before I decided to write this essay, I added to my Tinder bio “I didn’t come here to make friends, I came here to win.” This was obviously a joke—you can’t win a dating app. But I don’t think that shutting the app when you can’t make a choice is being bad at Tinder, but rather is beating Tinder by not allowing an impersonal presence to dictate your life. On some level, all relationships are games; Tinder is just a little more transparent in its acknowledgment of this idea. And while we may choose to play ironically, seriously, apathetically, or in any number of ways, in the end it’s all one game, albeit one with fairly ambiguous rules.
I’m still not quite sure why I have this app that I still believe I would never use to hook up with or, after my last experience, to date someone–maybe for the societal relevance, maybe for a confidence boost, maybe ironically, or some combination thereof. For now, though, I keep playing, because it’s sort of fun.