Ten years ago today, Tinder landed in the App Store and, in short order, changed everything about modern dating. Overnight, the singles who were close by were, in theory, only a swipe away.
It was one thing to disrupt the taxi cab and hotel industries. Now, a little app completely transformed the way we date, the way we choose sexual partners—even the way we think of romance. It came with a host of new problems, not to mention a new etiquette, a new language, and new ways to get hurt. This anniversary has us thinking: Was Tinder for good? Is it healthy? Is it the surest bet to find your soulmate in 2022?
If you missed Suzy Weiss’s story about the casualties of the new digital dating landscape, you can read that here. Below, seven short essays—from writers Lindsay Tigar and Emma Camp, evolutionary psychologist William Costello, internet historian Katherine Dee, podcaster Patrick Blumenthal, the “smart woman’s” dating coach Evan Marc Katz, and professor Dr. Jordan B. Peterson—on what Tinder has wrought.
The Best $10 I’ve Ever Spent Was On Tinder
By Lindsay Tigar
I spent my twenties like most women in New York City: single and wondering when I would finally meet someone. After unsuccessfully dating (there was the 30-something finance manchild who wouldn’t commit, the aspiring actor who was unpredictable and exhausting), I decided to take a break, do freelance writing, and travel the world for a year. Those 12 months became 15. By the time I returned, I was 30 and still single. I landed at my parents house in North Carolina to figure out my next move.
Out of curiosity—and okay, boredom—I paid $10 to Tinder to use their ‘Passport’ feature. This allowed me to swipe in any zip code or country without physically being there. With some friends in Boston and others in Los Angeles, I decided to do some swiping in both cities to feel out the vibe in each.
On a mid-December evening in 2018, I was half-watching something on Hulu, scrolling Instagram, and munching on the Christmas cookies I’d made when I matched with a guy with a strange name: “Rasmus.” Though he lived in Boston's South End, he was originally from Denmark—hence the name. He was a consultant, and we quickly connected over our love for traveling and culture, great food, our shared family backgrounds, and apparently, super-fast texting skills.
Within 30 minutes, he asked me out for a cocktail or a coffee. I panicked—I was about 700 miles away—but when I confessed that I wasn’t actually in Boston, he wasn’t phased. As fate would have it, he was waiting on his visa to be renewed and wasn't allowed to work or leave the country in the interim. He had time to invest in what he now calls a “low-risk, high-reward” opportunity. I told him I would be in Boston in seven weeks, and we spent that time constantly texting, FaceTiming, and talking on the phone.
We had already fallen in love when we “met” on February 4, 2019. I moved to Boston a month later. Eighteen months after that, we got engaged. A year later, we got married. This March, we welcomed our daughter. Thanks, Tinder!
Tinder Makes For Evolutionary Mismatch
By William Costello
Back in the day—I’m talking about 150,000 years ago, in the ancestral conditions in which our mating psychology evolved—populations were small, the number of potential mates was even smaller, and mate choice was heavily influenced by third-party and parental preferences. Compare that to the 75 million people who use Tinder every month.
This is the epitome of evolutionary mismatch. That is, our current world differs radically from the environments in which our psychological mechanisms evolved. Dating apps expose us to more potential mates in one day than our ancestors would have met in a lifetime.
We evolved to assess potential mates in person. The information provided on a dating app is relatively impoverished, strategically curated, sometimes deceptive, plus lacking in scent, chemical, and audio cues. So certain pieces of data, like height or job, become overly prioritized. To illustrate the point using an entirely random example that has no personal significance to me whatsoever, dating apps might not allow for a charming Irish accent to compensate for one being 5’7” in height. But I digress.
The largest study of romantic relationships in history used machine learning to analyze the happiness of 11,000 couples, trying to tease out which variables correlated with happiness in their romantic lives. The researchers found that most variables the apps tell us are most important—like occupation and attractiveness—had little to no predictive power. The variables that do have predictive power are psychological traits, such as a partner being conscientious or having a secure attachment style (a tendency to trust without feeling jealous or doubting a loved one’s intentions). This suggests that we are often optimizing for the wrong parameters in mate selection, and that dating apps exacerbate the problem.
We’re not going to get rid of apps. But the more we understand how technology interacts with our own evolved mating psychology—and the limitations it presents—the better off we’ll be.
William Costello is a Ph.D student of Individual Differences and Evolutionary Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin.
How Short Kings Won the Dating Game
By Patrick Blumenthal
Who could have predicted that Mark Zuckerberg (5 feet 7 inches)—whose most notable personality trait is his awkwardness—would go on to found the largest social network in the world, redefining the way we communicate with others? Or that Sean Rad (tellingly, his height is nowhere to be found online)—a self-described awkward, misunderstood teenager—would go on to found Tinder and change the way we date?
The tech nerds won the last decade. Social media now determines what we read and discuss, algorithms influence what we buy, and dating apps have become the de facto way to meet romantic partners. Ten years into the Tinder era, we’re all a bit more like Sean Rad because we’re all playing by the rules of a new dating game that was designed by dating’s original losers.
It’s not that the game isn’t beatable. It is. But beating the game only means adopting tech’s mindset that dating is an optimization problem, to be solved by abandoning those pesky unknowables like serendipity and romance.
There’s no denying that dating apps are easy, convenient, and have given us a new way to procrastinate—but the irony is that we’re all worse off now. Even Hinge, which brands itself as the dating app meant to be deleted, is just Tinder with a different interface. The prompts are the kind of questions that make everyone feel like we’re being interviewed for a job we don’t want: “My greatest strength” and “My dream dinner guest is…” Answers to those prompts are always either extremely boring or completely unhinged.
Plus, the social outcasts are still not getting dates. And if a man is under six feet tall, he’s getting filtered out by a “majority of women on the platform,” according to a former product manager at Bumble.
Sean Rad is just the latest example of a social reject who became a tech mogul, and therefore socially desirable. But in his efforts to use technology to make the rest of us winners, too, he’s unintentionally made us all losers. If you’re looking for love in the age of the nerds, be prepared for a world that’s more Black Mirror than Rom-Com.
How Tinder Killed Intimacy
By Katherine Dee
When Tinder arrived in the iOS app store in 2012, it was met with a flurry of hysterical accusations: Tinder gamifies dating! Tinder cares more about flattering photos than helping people find a good match! Tinder is dehumanizing! Tinder: the shallowest app ever?
And then in 2014, when the app began to see rapid growth, there was speculation about how Tinder was making courtship obsolete, replacing it with hook-up culture and becoming the de facto “Grindr for straight people”—the app that brought cruising to gay men’s pockets.
But ten years in, we know that the price we all paid for Tinder wasn’t just courtship. It was intimacy, as well.
Whereas before your options were limited to your social pool—your school, your places of work or worship, maybe a bar—now, the only limitation is whoever else is on Tinder. On the apps, women compete over the most attractive men, and the less attractive men are left with few or no options. For women, this increases promiscuity and a cottage industry of excuses for why “settling down” is a forfeiture of hard-won liberation. For men, this led to the creation of the “incel,” or “involuntarily celibate” movement.
Another one of the knock-on effects of Tinder was the increase in the volume of rejection people experienced while dating. One bad first date turned into 100 bad first dates. One instance of being ignored turned into hundreds, even thousands, of leftward swipes. High volumes of rejection were becoming par for the course, thanks to social media and Tinder importing it into our romantic lives.
Even now there is no cultural script on how to manage this rejection—or even a socially sanctioned way to critique why it’s happening—other than to say, “don’t take it personally.”
One thing is certain, though. The dating dictionary post-Tinder (words like “ghosting,” “situationships,” “catching feelings,” getting “cuffed” for winter) all suggest a vacuum where deeper, more meaningful romantic questions—like those of emotional intimacy and building a shared life—do not and cannot exist.
Katherine Dee writes about technology for Tablet. You can subscribe to her newsletter here.
Tinder is Watching You
By Emma Camp
Anyone on a dating app expects to fork over a little personal information. Apps like Hinge and Bumble encourage users to share their political affiliation or drug habits. On Tinder, displaying one’s height is paramount. (Just ask any short guy you know.) Giving prospective dates all this data might seem innocuous—even necessary. But what about the information you’d rather your potential romantic prospects not know? What if your Tinder matches could push a button and suddenly see your DUI from college? Or your STI diagnosis?
Earlier this year, Tinder—along with other apps owned by Match Group—added a background check feature. With a few swipes and a small fee, Tinder, using partner site Garbo, will tell you if your match has been arrested or convicted of any crimes “relevant to a user’s safety.”
While the feature may seem like an obvious way to make customers safer, there is little evidence that background checks can reliably protect users from violence during app dates. At best, the feature serves as a kind of security theater, assuring presumably female customers that their product is safe—safer, in fact, than the wild world of, say, meeting someone at a bar.
It’s not just prior criminal history. Tinder (and Hinge and Bumble) now encourage users to display their vaccination status. It’s not hard to imagine a brave new world where full background checks—plus dating history and SAT scores—become the norm. Knowing as much as possible about a match can feel empowering; it makes red flags more visible—more literal—and creates the illusion of control against a powerful algorithm.
But for all my misgivings over digital privacy, I ultimately can’t hate on Tinder too much. It is, after all, how I met my boyfriend of two years.
You’ve Been Using Dating Apps Wrong
Evan Marc Katz
Dating apps were designed to create fast introductions to single people near you—but like most things designed to improve our lives, they've come with serious unintended consequences. By removing longer written profiles and replacing emailing with texting to remove "friction" from the dating process, apps like Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge have turned online dating into a slot machine.
In the past, a man would approach a woman, make conversation, and ask for her number at the end of the night. Now that same guy can swipe right on 500 women, 50 will swipe back, and pretty much everyone will be left disappointed.
Instead of mindlessly swiping and texting, you should be more deliberate about your use of these apps. Here's what I tell all my clients:
1. Choose one, big, mainstream site or app that provides the most profile information, so you’re not just choosing based on looks. I prefer Match, OkCupid, and, if you have to be on an app, Hinge.
2. Limit your usage to a half-hour a day. Swiping and texting dozens of people at once only leads to confusion and ghosting.
3. Write longer messages to your matches—think emails, not texts—to establish a connection. The more information you exchange over a few days, the more likely you are to differentiate yourself, and the more likely you both are to be excited to take the next step.
4. The next step is a phone call or FaceTime. It is NOT texting. Texting is the most ubiquitous form of communication. It is also the worst. If you text twice and meet a stranger immediately to see if there's chemistry, you have no one to blame except yourself for your bad date. You're not doing any screening.
We're not going to get rid of dating apps. But we can use them as a high-volume introduction medium, as opposed to a casino game, to simulate the kind of “real-life” dating that people enjoyed in the pre-Tinder era.
Evan Marc Katz is a dating coach for women and the founder of Love U.
Why Tinder is Fire
Dr. Jordan B. Peterson
As a clinical psychologist, I practiced for many decades before the rise of electronic mate acquisition. In my practice, I was privy to the extreme isolation and loneliness of many people, particularly men. For many, dating apps meant new vistas of opportunity: to post a self-description, to share a dream, and to find at least the possibility of some social contact, no matter how minimal. Online dating worked for many of the people I worked with.
So what’s the problem with apps like Tinder?
Well, perhaps you aren’t able to connect with anyone, and are experiencing continual rejection both online and off. The problem there is obvious. But let’s say, instead, that you’re hyper-successful. As a man, this provides you with too-easy access to a string of willing sexual partners. You become what you practice, and if you practice subordinating the exceptional emotional complexities of the full range of human intimacy to the demands of instantaneous and shallowly connected pleasure, eventually, you will be flirting with psychopathy.
Let me explain. If you treat others as if they exist only for your pleasure, then you learn to be callous and exploitative, and that attitude will inevitably color even your perception of yourself. Dating sites, especially those devoted only to hooking up, are very effective enablers of the forms of predatory behavior clinically characteristic of Dark Triad personalities: Machiavellian, narcissistic and, in the extreme, psychopathic. Individuals with such proclivities ape the competence and genuine attractiveness that might characterize a truly productive and generous partner in order to capitalize on the narrowly hedonistic opportunities that Tinder makes manifest.
Women might find that the most desirable men are unwilling to commit, given their endless options. You may do your best to delude yourself that, given your youth (for example), such considerations don’t matter. But life is shorter than the young often think, and opportunities are more fleeting and exhaustible—particularly on the mating front—than even the successful might imagine.
I think it’s a mistake to issue a blanket condemnation of the whole sphere of internet dating. Love must find its difficult way, even in the internet world. The key is to look for partners in venues devoted to helping people establish long-term relationships, and avoid the shallower dating sites that enable predatory behavior.
Jordan Peterson is the author, most recently, of Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life.