There’s a scene in Spaced where, prompted to discuss the contrasts of love and war, Tim concludes: “one involves a lot of physical and psychological pain and the other one’s war.” It’s particularly salient in the cyber sphere, no more so than Tinder, an app that takes the world of dating to new humiliating levels (well, for me, anyway).
There often seems to be a stigma of shame attached to Tinder, as if admitting you possess it on your phone is like being caught rifling through the Sunday Sport or, worse, listening to the new 1975 album. When I got it myself, there was a surge of guilt as it began downloading, as if I’d just entered the dark web and was already loading up my bitcoins.
A few weeks on from that initial excitement, the lack of cohesive conversation, frequent right swipes and being lulled into getting ‘super likes’ (which must be the equivalent of spouting some sexually verbose jargon from an upturned Transit) has left me feeling confused and agitated; it feels like I was given my first trip to a brothel, only to realise I was only there to read the gas meter (NB – I should point out now that I don’t think Tinder users are prostitutes).
Of course, I could be using Tinder incorrectly, and its very premise is suggestive of possible outcomes. The initial connection is contrived from photos, creating the visage of a heavily filtered cattle market in which people are wheeled out, judged on their looks (at least initially) and then consigned to different compartments. To me, I felt this method was a little redundant – one bad photo and you could miss out on a marriage. Alternatively, nice cheekbones and a fervent filter could result in a horrific conversation. Short, snappy biographies belie the fact Tinder is all about looks, but it’s certainly hard to look past the fact it can feel like stumbling into a modelling agency and realising you should be gorging on Haribo instead.
People had told me that Tinder was a portal to sexual satisfaction, where young people can compete for brief sexual whims and not worry about the consequences. Both buoyed and troubled by this, I did soon realise that my methods of conversation were perhaps more inclined to eHarmony. My first ‘match’ descended into disappointingly redundant badinage; I’d ‘swiped’ her due to her band-loving biography and indie-indebted fringe, but the back-and-forth that followed left me aggrieved. “So you’re into rock music, then?” I asked, possibly adding some sort of emoji to show I’m a ‘fun guy’. “Yeah man, I love it,” she responded. “Same here,” I replied. “So what bands are you into?”. After a few minutes, she replied: “Lots”. I waited again. Nothing. Obviously, my question was always going to be difficult to answer, but I was at least hoping for a précis of which I could cross-reference with my own. It’s been three weeks and I still don’t know if she thought Loveless was banging.
All of a sudden, I fell into the ‘Tinder trajectory’, which comprised of a match, a brief chat and then a social shutdown; basically the cyber version of a drink, a fag and a long bus ride home. I’d speak to a girl for a couple of days and then they’d disappear into the ether. It became a frequent occurrence – you’d say hello, spark up some awkward conversation and then, within 48 hours, you became last week’s PoF. Maybe I should have just asked for sex in a humorous but forthright way. Maybe I should have used more wink faces. Maybe I should have thought of a better opening gambit than “are you indie”.
It got worse, though, for plundering the streets of Birmingham became a flurry of fear as I bumped into a string of Tinder trysts. At the front of the bar, I turned around and in shock saw at least two girls who I’d matched with. In that situation, even a socially inept person like me knew an introduction of “hi, you might remember from me? Tinder? Mentioned Salinger in my bio?” or “oh, thanks for replying to me on Tinder. That’s a super like I’ll never get back” wouldn’t be right, but we still exchanged uncomfortable glances. We both knew. And it didn’t feel too good.
There were rules I discovered along the way. I felt like a slightly more aloof Louis Theroux, being ingratiated into a new world. Don’t include photos with other people (especially girls), as that can lead to confusion that you’re a). not the person you say you are and b). are a player. Don’t tense. Don’t pout. Use Snapchat filters sparingly. Oh, and in my case, don’t use a picture that’s you dressed as a floral hippy.
Flash-forward twenty years and the sweet, suburban scenes that are painted from the dabs of social media feel slightly stomach-churning. “I met your Mom on this app, son. She had a dog filter on but I gave her a chance” and “well, he sent me a photo of his man marrow, but he knew who Emma Watson was” are scary premonitions that could well come true.
For me, I’ve decided Tinder isn’t the right platform. I want love to be something serendipitous; I’d rather tell my grandchildren I met my wife by awkwardly spamming her Instagram. What can I say, I’m old-fashioned.