Tinder: Hate or Date?

Dating has changed a lot over the past several decades. Gone are the days of writing letters to arrange a meeting time…we can just text about it! Sites like eHarmony and Match.com have even claimed to have a formula for love—a secret matchmaking algorithm that creates lasting marriages between people who were unlikely to ever cross paths in person! Sounds a little like science-fiction right? Imagining our brains being coded as we select A, B, C, or D on a questionnaire and then matched up with other users that have similar ‘brain codes’.

Although it seems strange at times, online dating has become normalized. Back in 2005, the Pew Research Center found that 44% of Americans thought that online dating was a good way to meet people. In 2013, that number increased to 59%, and we can expect that it has increased to an even greater percentage today. According to their research, in 2013, 1 in 5 adults had used online dating—the greatest percentage being adults in the age range of 25-34. That means at a good handful of you readers might tell your grandkids someday that you and your life partner met online!

At first it seemed like online dating was a last resort for people who were desperate, anti-social or older. However, with new apps like Tinder, online dating has become extremely popular with young 20-somethings and people of all ages! An estimated 50 million people use Tinder every month, and the successful app makes more than 12 million matches per day. If you’re not familiar with the dating app, here’s the basics: Tinder suggests people for you based on your location settings, and you can either ‘like’ that person by swiping right, or ‘pass’ on that person by swiping left on your phone. If someone that you liked has swiped right for you as well, then it notifies you as a match. Unless you’ve been matched, other users can’t contact you. The app connects to your Facebook to link you up with friends of your friends or people nearby based on your location (so keep that information accurate and up to date!) You can upload a few pictures, a short profile, define your preferences and then you’re all set to swipe! (There’s actually a wikiHow for this, if you’re still not understanding how this works.)

Due to the nature of the app essentially consisting of swiping left or right based on an image, you can imagine the type of criticism that Tinder has been receiving. Many people think that it’s incredibly superficial and that our generation is doomed… resulting in nothing but hookups and fostering judgmental dating habits. As a non-user, I myself was also skeptical of the popular dating app. It was only until I read some interesting research that I changed my mind. Science shows that when we look at a picture of someone we are attracted to, our brain’s neurochemical networks are activated. Psychotherapist and author Ross A. Rosenberg writes that:

“Gazing upon a photo of someone with whom you are smitten, e.g. a Tinder photo, activates the brain’s pleasure center (tagmental ventral area), where copious amounts of dopamine, the brain’s ‘pleasure chemical,’ is released to travel down the brain’s neural ‘love circuit.’ Once it reaches the pleasure centers in the brain, primarily in the nucleus accumben, we feel a rush of desire, which then travels at lightning speed to the thinking and action parts of our brain: the prefrontal cortex. This is where we decide to swipe right or left. The little dopamine hit is the swipe, the bigger and more intoxicating one is with a match! And with a match, one experiences the full breadth of the dopamine-induced fireworks show!”

Not so superficial, is it? In fact, swiping right or left seems to be a very complex chemical reaction! Science shows us that there’s a lot behind an immediate reaction to someone’s appearance, like in a photo on Tinder. This carries on into our ‘normal lives’. If you walked into a bar tonight with the intentions of finding someone to connect with, how would you choose who to approach? You might scan the room, looking at each person until you lay eyes on someone that activates your brain’s tagmental ventral area, then strike up a conversation with them to see if you have similar interests… much like you swipe right on a Tinder profile that attracts you and message people to meet up and see if you have similar interests.

Even with the research, I still wasn’t convinced that Tinder is actually working for people. The only way to find out was to talk to real Tinder-users about their experiences. Overall, the users that I spoke to had really positive experiences with the dating app. Most everyone started using Tinder because they wanted to meet new people, especially if they lived in a small town or just moved to a new city—both types of places that can make it really difficult to meet people. The app facilitated many connections for these users, allowing them to go on dates, second dates, make new friends or simply boost their self-confidence.

Although the app’s connection to Facebook has discouraged many people from using Tinder due to privacy concerns, it seemed to be a major factor in creating user-happiness to almost every person I talked to. In fact, one might argue that its link to Facebook makes for a safer dating experience. One user commented on this, saying, “I really appreciate how your name, age and profile photos can only come from Facebook, preventing people from easily lying about things.” But what about those who lie on their Facebook? It can happen, although the lies are much more unlikely to happen on Tinder than on other dating sites. One female user said that, “sometimes guys set their gender to female so they get matched with lesbians, which is creepy. But all you have to do is swipe left and they won’t be able to message you, which is reassuring.” So it’s possible that someone is not who they seem, but that someone would have to change their Facebook profile and images, which is a lot more trouble to go through than setting up a fake profile on a dating website.

After talking to these really informative Tinder users, I have learned that the app serves as tool to connect people, and what you do with that connection is totally up to the user. Some users said they experienced being ‘matched’ with people on the app but neither person ended up initiating conversation. Some who actually talked to their matches didn’t end up meeting with them in person. Others actually met up with people, but then decided there was no real connection so they became friends. Some users have extended their network of friends, or reconnected with people from their past. And some quite simply have just enjoyed the experience of being able to choose ‘like’ or ‘not’—to have some control over finding a match.

However you do it, your Tinder experience is entirely up to you.

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How do YOU Tinder? Comment below to tell us more.

-Danielle Strandson

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