Last Monday, on the night of the blizzard that talked a big talk but then never came, I was batting around an idea, one of many that had to do with the dating app Tinder, with my colleague Sam.
"What if I asked guys out for drinks to see how many say yes?"
At that point, Governor Cuomo was halting public transport at 11 p.m. and snow panic was rampant. The joke was that haha, men sure are thirsty; even if they didn't come out to meet me during a citywide weather emergency, they'd certainly entertain the idea. Haha, silly men. Haha, what fools.
I sent off a few messages to random men that read "Hey want to get a drink tonight?" In response, I received a number of "sures," as well as a few questions, like "Isn't it supposed to storm tonight?" and "I'm stuck in Tribeca, where are you going to be?"
I quickly lost interest in the game. By the fifth or sixth message, I started feeling guilty at being flippant and dishonest and decided to stop. Pretending to want to go out with men just to have them respond that they honestly would be willing to meet up, despite the shutdown of the city's transit services and a possibly impending blizzard, brought me no joy. I closed Tinder and went out with my friends instead.
On Monday, Sam published the details behind a different kind of Tinder stunt, one that could only be crafted by a man (it was assigned, over Sam's protests, by Gawker editor-in-chief Max Read), but one that was the perfect fit for the dating app du jour. Sam relayed a story of a friend telling him that the greatest line to use when opening a Tinder dialogue with a woman is "There she is"—and then proceeded to, for the sake of journalism use "there she is" on more than a dozen Tinder matches in pick-up attempt assembly line.
This idea is flawed for a number of reasons. The first is that Sam didn't actually have success in any of the exchanges in which he used the line, success on Tinder being defined as going out with someone, not just getting them to respond to you (he mostly gave up after getting an initial response). The second being that it puts all the onus on the woman to embrace this brand of fuckery as something cute and worth entertaining.
Nevertheless, Sam argued, with confidence, that "There she is" is a lightyears better greeting than "Hey." He's not wrong. He may be throwing limp word-spaghetti at a wall, but he's not wrong.
After reading Sam's ode to "There she is," the deletion of Tinder seemed to me a foregone conclusion. "The Only Tinder Opening Line You Need" was actually an ode to The Last Tinder Opening Line You'll Ever Use. Tinder, one of the biggest timesucks on my phone (I tend to use it on weeknights, high, and in groups of my friends, probably three or four times a week) in its current zeitgeisty incarnation, is stupid and harmful because it only makes romantic human connection harder.
Here is a recent sampling of messages that men have sent me on Tinder:
Hey, how is your weekend starting?
What is your tune?
Guitar? How long have you been playing? :)
Any interest in a threesome with me and another girl? No pressure :)
Tell me something interesting
You look like trouble ;)
[three days later]
Any clues on how to get your attention?
While my levels of interaction and action on Tinder vary depending on my current social commitments, interest in sex, or otherwise, this sample shows a spectrum of the kind of messages I receive. From the unthreateningly friendly to the outward sexual proposal to comments on my photos and—my favorite—the table turner: No, you tell ME something interesting, pal.
Fairly frequently men will message me about my bio, which is a cheap callout to an episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia about online dating:
The messages I get and the messages I write (and even the stupid pranks that my colleagues and I dream up) are aligned with what Tinder demands of its users: not much. In fact, Tinder could be considered a perfect app in how precisely expectations are met from user performance. Several reviews of the app point to it being a perfect remedy for boredom, while many others explore its inability to filter matches. This Apple app store review of Tinder seems to nail it perfectly: "I've met a decent amount of people on this app, it works pretty well."
It works pretty well, yes. Sure. While Tinder's initial goal was more in line with Grindr—quick match-ups explicitly for sex—it's become so successful as a straightforward casual dating service that I've found that most of my friends ditched the clunkier OkCupid for it: Communication was faster, there were no quizzes to take or questions to answer, and, importantly, you can see how many friends you and your Tinder matches have in common. Tinder unseated OkCupid as the murky hookup-cum-dating app of my generation because it's the one people my age deserve: lazy, flaky, and frivolous.
But this all comes at a cost. Not until I used the app for a year did I begin to process the effects Tinder was having on my ability to find men attractive or desirable. Tinder is fun and lighthearted until it no longer is. I had told a female friend in a serious relationship that I'd "reached the end of Tinder," and she responded with shock. When I described what I meant—that I'd swiped right on everyone I liked already and was left with the Sisyphean task of swiping left until eternity—her boyfriend told me that he'd had that experience, too. I switched over to female-only Tinder in response and immediately felt revived by the prospect of future attractive and available mates. Tinder had bludgeoned my brain, stripping all the fun out of seeking chemical attraction in real life and in real places. I could swipe, laugh, send screencaps of goofy profiles to my friends, and not take any of it seriously.
But why would I do that if I was actually interested in meeting a future partner?
Tinder seems to both play to and manipulate the single men and women who occupy today's precarious dating landscape. By making the process so casual and disconnected, it recognizes that nontraditional relationships and sexual encounters are the norm today. But by allowing us to play into our desire for a simple, no-frills path to hookups and dating, the swipe-right culture makes you start to feel like everyone looks and is the same. Tinder gives us what we think we want, but without the spark or intrigue, or any of the human effort that normally goes into sex and dating.
A recent conversation I had with a female friend revealed that both of us would rather have kids than a spouse. Later, we discovered that out of our circle of female friends, several others felt the same. Not necessarily because it was "practical," (I was raised by a single mother so I'm aware of how furious this would make her) but because the likelihood of finding an adult man who would fulfill our reasonable needs seemed so preposterous and unlikely. Between Tinder (a bag of worms), bars (I don't really drink), colleagues ("There she is"), and pure happenstance (?), physically giving birth to a child seems like more of a surefire positive life choice than endlessly searching for a partner to whom I can relate.
Last Wednesday, my colleagues at Deadspin, a music blog for dads, published a guide called "How to Hit On Girls In The Club (Or Not)." Conveniently, I had been out dancing with a girlfriend only two weeks prior, so the advice writer Lily Benson doled out felt like hungover reverberations from my brain. "Don't lurk" would have been useful; "Say hi and introduce yourself" would have, too. What I wouldn't have expected is that "Hands off, Handsy" would have meant more to me than just pushing away men trying to grind.
While my friend and I danced, a man and his bros approached us with some benign comment about joining us. My girlfriend and I had decided that we just wanted to spend the night dancing with each other. She politely responded to the man, who was about six-foot-five, "No, thank you. We aren't interested." The group of men stalked away and we kept moving.
An hour or so later, the very tall man walked behind me and whether my fault or his, bumped into my back and spilled beer on himself. I turned around to apologize, but before I could say anything he had raised his fist above his head toward me and said, "I would sock you if you weren't so pretty." I was shocked into stillness and grabbed my friend to move to a different part of the room. I'm embarrassed to say that I didn't attempt to have him kicked out.
I am not by any stretch saying this behavior is normal, nor do I encounter treatment like this every time I go out. But instances like these—of which every single woman you speak to has droves and droves to contribute—color the way I interact with men and find the ability to trust their gender in both public, private, and digital spheres. Tinder was very early on criticized for being a superficial simplification of dating, but ultimately, I don't think its image-focused setup is the app's greatest offense. Its enormous flaw is in the way it has further trivialized the communication between potential sexual partners. Its interface is an exact replica of the iPhone text message format, which removes another layer of seriousness because it suggests to us that we already know these people. We're live-texting them like we would our own friends. In a world where very few spaces are safe and comfortable for women, this minimization of the dating process can feel frightening, unwelcome, and most of all, disheartening. Tinder feels like one more arena where men feel entitled to accessing women simply because, on the app, women get to judge men's images as ruthlessly as men judge us every single day.
If Tinder has been successful in helping people reach sexual satisfaction, I applaud it. If certain interactions have borne lasting relationships, even better. But when we are living in a time where guides have been written to aid men to greater Tinder success alongside guides that explain how to interact with women in the real world, the middle ground isn't in a simple "There she is." While there is no prescriptive method for how any man should talk to any woman, Tinder's brand of hastening and streamlining the process of dating until it is crushed into glib or tawdry one-liners sent off to a dozen blank women is not really the best place to start, not even if your editor thinks it's funny. If men don't know how to talk to women already, Tinder sure as hell can't save them.
Last month, I got an email from my grandchild-obsessed mother with the subject "This sounded different!" Inside was a link to an app called Hinge and, before even clicking, I knew exactly what it was. Another dating app with a trends-well-with-millenials name and a marketing campaign featuring bland attractive white people having a blast at a rooftop bar or on a beach in Nantucket, huddled around a bonfire.
I deleted the email instinctively but dug it out of the trash again today, armed with nine parts curiosity and one part hope. I followed the link to Hinge's site and found images and words that I would never use to describe my dating life:
"Keep it real."
[Photo of an Audrina Patridge lookalike in a bikini having fun on a beach with two yelling bros]
Hinge was apparently supposed to be the answer to my Tinder woes by creating the possibility to "Meet real people, through your real friends, in real life." Sure.
But real people, real friends, and real life are worlds more complex than everything these apps (and their infinite cousins) attempt to imitate. When "real life" is peppered with men at bars raising their fists to you; or male friends slinging pick-up lines that will never work before your eyes; or the knowledge that no space is purely safe for a woman to just be, we can't rely on robotic dating apps to sort and harmonize our relationships with men. But it's not totally the apps' fault: we have to wonder what's wrong with the men.
[Illustration by Tara Jacoby]