What Tinder Tells You About Yourself

I’m not a luddite. Hell, I was the first guy to make a career as an online dating coach. But advances in technology have led us down the inexorable path of instant gratification. Online dating, we’ve deemed, is too slow, too inefficient. Profiles? Blech. Emailing back and forth? Waste of time. Let’s just cut to the chase and meet as quickly as possible to see if there’s chemistry. Enter Tinder.

Now, I’ve already written my thoughts about this ubiquitous app, and since then, I may have softened. Not in terms of my disdain for dating this way – it’s still horribly impersonal, sped up, and based on little more than attraction – but in terms of my acceptance of it. The genie isn’t going back in the bottle. Better learn how to talk to the genie.

Advances in technology have led us down the inexorable path of instant gratification. Let’s just cut to the chase and meet as quickly as possible to see if there’s chemistry.

Well, Anne-Helen Petersen did a masterful dissection of Tinder – not only its broad appeal (like a free bar where you don’t have to actually talk to people), but how it reveals something about our subconscious preferences. Online dating does the same thing, but not as instantaneously as Tinder, where really all you have to judge someone is a photo. And judge we do. According to Petersen, “Essentially, we’re constantly inventing narratives about the people who surround us — where he works, what he loves, whether our family would like him. And more than other dating services, which offer up comprehensive match dossiers, Tinder appears to encourage these narratives and crystallize the extrapolation process and package it into a five-second, low-stakes decision.

Tindering thus mimics the relationship of checking someone out on the street, in the classroom, or on the subway, but with the added tactile pleasure of physically swiping the rejects out of your field of vision (and your life). That’s the real difference between Tinder and sites like OkCupid, Match, eHarmony, and J-Date: The end game on those sites is an actual date (and a lot of times marriage!); the end game on Tinder is the web version of a low-stakes bar conversation, which may or may not lead to a date or relationship.”

Petersen goes on to use a friend as an example of how quickly and easily we judge, and the faulty assumptions we’re all prone to making. “A 5-foot-7 male was “too short.” A 39-year-old guy was decidedly “too old” for Katie’s 33 years. Another is bald; she decides him “too” much so. But other swipes relied upon more a more vague, albeit immediate, calculus. To be “too douchey” is to have a bad goatee, a shiny shirt, an unfortunate facial expression, or a certain type of sunglasses. “Too ew” could be any blend of traits that, to white, straight, middle-class Katie, read as repugnant.

But some judgments are too secret — and shameful — to say out loud, or even admit to ourselves. Katie never said “too not-white,” “too poor,” or “too uneducated.” We cloak those judgments in language that generally circles the issue: “Nothing in common,” “he wouldn’t like me,” “I can’t see us together.” Those statements aren’t necessarily lies, but they’re also not always full truths either — and often rely on overarching assumptions about what differences in race, class, education, and religion dictate not only in a relationship, but any interaction, romantic or otherwise.”

The genie isn’t going back in the bottle. Better learn how to talk to the genie.

I went through this with Lori Gottlieb when she was writing “Marry Him”. A man in the suburban San Fernando Valley must be “boring.” A guy who likes Grateful Dead music must be a pot-smoking slacker. And so on. None of these are inherently true; they are just convenient assumptions we make to quickly disqualify people.

Anyway, the author makes a very compelling case that the subconscious thing that allows us to reject some people and swipe right on others is none other than class, moreso than race. Says Petersen, “Tinder is by no means the cause of this decline. It simply encourages and quietly normalizes the assumptions that undergird it. The Tinderspeak of “we’d have nothing in common,” taken to its natural extension, bolsters and reifies the idea of “two Americas” with distinct values and worldviews, two discrete factions with little impetus to support that which doesn’t necessarily personally affect us or our class…Ultimately, this admittedly un-randomized sample seems to suggest that the raw idea of attraction — that knee-jerk “thinking from the genitals” decision — has less to do with our unmentionable parts and much more to do with a combination of our deepest subconscious biases and with our most overt and uncharitable personal politics. And if that’s the case, it’s no doubt the reason why Tinder is so popular, addictive, and ultimately insidious.”

Click here to read the whole piece and please, share your thoughts on Tinder (and subconscious classism) below: