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.