When I first started this quest, there was one app I was hearing about above all others. Literally any time I brought up my “journey to healthy adult friendships via social media,” this was the chief advice: Get a Tinder account.
According to the Irish Independent, 150,000 Irish people use Tinder. Among my age group, it is more popular than OkCupid and Plentyoffish (although the Irish lesbians etc. I know have sworn by Plentyoffish as much more effective and active than OkCupid, a literal switcheroo from the American experience). Tinder has been accused of being the shallowest app of all time while also praised for solving a “problem of humanity.” Most of the women I know who use Tinder for dating say they wish it would die off already so some other, slightly less mediocre app would rise up and take its place. Once I was done with Tinder, I too wanted to be the one to pour the gasoline and drop the match. I’m sure there’s a deep and mournful irony there.
Tinder is considered a dating app. “Dating app” is a term that is very roughly applied in this case, like calling a chipmunk a “furry thing.” It’s technically correct, and no one can say that it isn’t a “furry thing,” but there’s a much more accurate term out there and it’s not “furry thing”.
Tinder was modeled off of Grindr. Grindr is an app designed specifically for gay men and the very specific world of gay male hookup culture. It is not really a dating app. It is an app for finding sex partners in your immediate area as soon as possible. That’s why it sorts based on location and proximity, and that’s why it’s based on appearance as opposed to, say, in depth questions about how many kids the users want and whether or not they believe in the death penalty. Using Grindr, which could not have been more specific to an already highly specific culture and community, as a model for your “straight people + friends” dating app is one of the most hapless decisions I have seen in startup world. I have Feelings with a capital F about this. I have ranted many a time about Tinder and the way it a) commandeered something quintessentially gay from gay culture and b) poorly applied that gay standard to a very not-gay audience with the flakiest possible results. I’m not saying this was the wrong move because of cultural appropriation or whatever. I’m saying this was the wrong move because you can’t take an apple with a complex history, complex social rules and really fucking specific needs and say oh, I bet I could grow a fucking orange that way. That ain’t how you get oranges, buddy!
And yet here I was, using Tinder to make friends. Maybe the logical place to start is at the bottom. Maybe I just want to get to the end of this series and be able to say, like Saint Drake, that though I started from the dredges of Tinder, I am here. Maybe here will be a very good place.
Tinder is not a very good place for making friends. Why everyone I encountered seemed to think this remains baffling. For those of you who recommended Tinder wholeheartedly, I no longer trust your advice on anything. I don’t think I even trust your broccoli salad recipe anymore. Like, this recipe calls for pine nuts, but I can’t tell if you want me to put pine nuts in there because they’re supposed to be there or because you want to set me up for utter failure.
Every step of creating a Tinder profile reminded me of why this was a horrible idea.
First of all, I need to connect to my Facebook profile. This is because Tinder likes to tell you when you have shared interests with another person. These interests are generated from your Facebook likes. I don’t even know what my Facebook likes are. Considering I have had this profile since I was a senior in high school, I assume some of these likes include “It rough!! ;) ;)” and “The Numa Numa Song”. I also seem to have gotten some randomly generated spam likes for baby formula. That’s good — I need a best friend with as healthy an interest in baby formula as I have.
Choosing profile pictures? My thought process went something like this: Great, now I gotta figure out which one of my photos make me look like a great person to befriend. Can’t choose all my hot profile pics, because that looks childish and conceited. Okay, maybe one hot pic. Let’s be honest, no one is gonna read the damn profile. They are gonna look through my pics and swipe right or left. Might as well look like I took a shower. This picture is a year old, is that okay? I was befriendable a year ago. Ugh, why am I doing this? This is such a shitty idea. I’m using the picture with my guns out. I’m doing it, damn it. Is that gonna make the gym bros befriend me? I hate gym bros. Oh my god, Kate, no gym bro is ever gonna swipe on you. Gym bros are not here to make friends, Kate. They’re here to smash. Get your shit together, Kate. Is four pictures too many? It would be weird to only have one picture. I have a lot of angles. I’m a multifaceted person, and I’m probably easier to befriend if I have multiple facets. This is already the most stressful thing I’ve done today.
My policy was to swipe right on everyone. This policy was changed slightly when my partner was over my shoulder and noticed her horrible ex on the app — I did swipe left on that one. Later she noticed someone who she sort of knew but who she knew hated her ex — swiped right. The enemy of my enemy is my (potential) friend.
I was set to girls only. I know, I know. I will be totally real with y’all: I am not interested in befriending whatever dudes are using Tinder. How many dudes on Tinder you think are there to platonically befriend a lesbian? Given their record as a group, I am much more content to befriend them in person over a period of time that allows me to find out whether or not they make shitty jokes about minorities and believe in the concept of friendzoning.
It felt very unnatural to communicate with people this way. Tinder offers you very little by way of interaction opportunities. You have two options: talk with the person in the iMessage style chat that appears when you both like each other, or meet up with them in person. Turns out that swiping right on everyone will give you a bajillion matches. Of those matches, I would say one third actually reached out and initiated a chat. Of those with whom I actually chatted, I would say one sixth proposed meeting up in person. Of those who proposed meeting up, I have met approximately zero of them. The conversation never got past, yeah, definitely, we should hang out. At the time of this article’s publication, I’ve got two people that I might meet up with at some point, maybe. What I know about them is how they look in four pictures and three of their Facebook likes.
Is this my own damn fault? Oh, for sure. I could have engaged these people in deep Tinder chats. We could have discussed shared interests and discovered new connections and texted long into the night until I knew for sure that we were going to hit it off as friends.
But Tinder fundamentally discourages this kind of connection-making. Tinder ends up like any other app you browse while waiting for the bus, and it knows it. Tinder doesn’t care what your level of commitment is, to relationships or to the app itself. If anything, it doesn’t seem to want you to take it very seriously. There’s game language scattered throughout — “play again” comes up, and if you upgrade, just like in Candy Crush, you get more matches. Grindr was for busting horniness. Tinder feels like it’s for busting boredom. In my house, my roommate sometimes asks if we want to “play Tinder” and swipe through her matches for her. After all, that same repetitive gesture, one anyone can do just as well on public transportation or a toilet, gets to be a chore. It’s something that you might have downloaded to procrastinate, but you’ll find yourself procrastinating from Tinder.
I did use Tinder to get stories from other users about how new friendships and Tinder have overlapped for them. The huge majority of people I talked to said that they didn’t come on Tinder to make friends; if they’ve made friends on Tinder, it’s because they started dating or sleeping with the person, and it didn’t work out. Most of them said that these post-date-failure friends were more on the acquaintance to “a cool person I once hooked up with” scale of friendships. No one seemed to be finding their bosom buddies on this app. Exactly two different people told me they had used Tinder to source people for their art projects, and as a result they’d met interesting people who were “interesting to be around in a platonic way.”
Only one other person I talked to said she joined Tinder to make friends. She is an American traveling in Europe, and this is one of many methods she is trying to meet up with people and socialize on the fly. I was excited to meet someone who was in a similar boat, especially a person who is my age. I asked her how the whole making friends via apps was going. She said not too good. I said it would be cool to hang out while she was in Dublin. She said she was heading to Amsterdam in the morning.
A lot of these users who I heard from also wanted to add that they’d had horrible dates on Tinder, and if I was writing an article about Tinder horror stories, they’d love to contribute. None of this surprised me.
I started this journey thinking that it would be a struggle in part because I thought that making friends is so different from dating. I see now that I was very wrong in that assumption.
My roommate Emma and I had a conversation at a pub a while ago, the same weekend I was reaching the end of my patience with Tinder. Emma feels similarly, but she has been using the app to find dates. I was going off on a cider-soaked rant about how there is no substitute to meeting a real person in a real space. This rant was directed at her disappointment in online dating, and I was attempting, again, in a haze of fermented apples, to be supportive.
Approximately, the rant went something like this: “Tinder and all that just doesn’t work for us. Because, say, see that girl up at the bar? You could go up to her and make eye contact and right off the bat, you know whether or not you have chemistry. Because you were drawn to her and she holds your gaze and you know she’s drawn to you, too, and that’s it. Like there are a lot of people here tonight who are attractive. I acknowledge that there are a few people who are hot in a way that I find hot. But that doesn’t mean that I am drawn to any of them. I am a bad example, okay, but you know what I mean. There are some hot people here tonight, right? But you’re only drawn to one or two of them. And if you talked to them tonight, or even just made eye contact with them, you’d probably know if there was something there. You will never ever get that from some online profile or even chatting online. You have to physically be there with that person.”
That was not terribly coherent, but the takeaway is that the next morning, I remembered that conversation while opening up Tinder, and realized that I needed to take my own advice. Whenever I’ve made my closest friends, it didn’t happen because of a list of shared interests or the way we both dressed. It happened because of something inexplicable. We could just tell that we’d be friends. We had friend chemistry.
I have not officially deleted Tinder from my iPad. Like I said, there are a few folks left who maybe, just maybe, I’ll meet up with in person. And if I meet up with them, I think we’ll know pretty immediately whether or not we have friend chemistry.
Tinder hasn’t got shit on friend chemistry. But maybe the next app will.