That’s what happened for me when I met my girlfriend Lauren.
Before we matched, I had been on Tinder for several months and OkCupid for even longer. The latter had become a little stale — it was frustrating to find a seemingly good match, send a message, then get radio silence. Sure, it can seem superficial to pick a potential partner by looking at a few pictures is, as Northwestern University psychology professor Eli J. Finkel noted in the New York Times last February, but that’s what makes Tinder effective.
“Most [singles] want to have fun, meet interesting people, feel sexual attraction and, at some point, settle into a serious relationship,” he wrote. “And all of that begins with a quick and dirty assessment of rapport and chemistry that occurs when people first meet face to face.”
On Tinder, the instinctual reaction of the swipe is the same quick and dirty assessment of whether you find someone attractive. And if physical attraction is absent, it doesn’t matter how many interests you have in common with someone or whether you like the same movies.
I went into online dating with an open mind and found that Tinder’s reputation as the Grindr — a hookup app used by gay men — for straight people ultimately proved false. Some women wrote in their bios — yes, there are words on Tinder, and yes, I read them — that they were checking out Tinder because they were curious. Others explicitly said they were looking for more than a hookup.
There was the girl who was only interested in fooling around (though that didn’t pan out for the two of us). Twice I took the train from Baltimore to Washington, D.C., to go out with a woman; neither date resulted in much of a spark and we parted ways. There was the girl I met for drinks, only to discover she had dated a friend of mine. There was the girl I had three incredible dates with before she broke it off. Then there was Lauren.
Oh, and there were lots of bots. So many bots.
What’s true in almost all these cases is that, when my match and I met up in person, we went on a typical first date. Tinder didn’t magically turn us into ravenous, sex-crazed people attacking each other at first glance. But we knew with a fair degree of certainty that, if nothing else, we were attracted to each other — and that definitely helps.
Once that first date is reached, there are plenty of ways a match could not work out or someone can get hurt. That happens any time you put yourself out there, whether you met the person at a bar, through a friend or online. As articles on Slate and the Hairpin have pointed out, the jerks interviewed for the Vanity Fair story would most likely still be jerks if Tinder never existed. Technology merely enables them to act like terrible people. That same technology enables people whose intentions are good.
My relationship with Lauren progressed in a way that’s downright traditional. For our first date, we had drinks at a bar and had a great conversation about living in Baltimore, what we do for fun, our careers, what it’s like to be in our early 30s and so much more. I walked her to her car and we kissed. On our second date, we went to the Baltimore Museum of Art and an art fair in a nearby neighborhood. The all-important third date was dinner and a concert. We soon realized we were into each other and began spending a lot of time together.
Months later, we have a great connection built on what you might find in any durable relationship: fun, goals, shared interests, flexibility, compromise, communication, and, yes, attraction. We eventually discovered that our social circles overlapped; there was a good chance we had been at the same bar or show at the same time. But we ended up meeting only because we both swiped right.