Lifestyle

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Love me Tinder

Tanya Sweeney asks if the app is the holy grail of dating, a fad that will soon fizzle out or a sign of everything that's wrong with romance in the modern age

Is the Tinder app the holy grail of dating?
Justin Mateen and Sean Rad

In this day and age, courtship looks set to go the obsolete way of teasmaids, faxes and pansticks. Some day, we'll tell our children how generations past would meet for dinner, dances and real-life dates as a way of connecting. We'll wistfully reminisce about chemistry and sparks ... y'know, the good stuff before technology took over.

Well... we'll tell our children if we ever manage to connect long enough to have them.

Smartphone apps offer a variety of services at the click of a finger: taxis, meditation guides, even hangover services. And now it's possible to mainline right into Ireland's burgeoning hook-up culture.

Launched just 18 months ago, Tinder has been a gamechanger. Simply put, it's the holy grail of dating – Paradise Found for singletons.

It goes a little something like this: users scroll through pictures of singles in their locality, endorsing them with either a thumbs-up or a hands-down 'no way'.

Save for a few pictures – taken from the person's Facebook account – there is little information given on potential suitors. One is informed of mutual friends and interests on Facebook, while users can also create a tagline (think: 'those kids in my pictures aren't my own').

The fluff that is the absolute scourge of online dating is done away with, allowing users to concentrate on the visuals.

On the surface, Tinder appears like good, clean, harmless fun. The app is 'played' much like Candy Crush Saga, giving it an easy-come-easy-go quality.

This casual, game-playing aspect means users don't feel they're publicly declaring their hand, or telegraphing the idea that they're online, looking for love. "I may as well be on it as not," says one friend.

She's not alone: since its launch date, Tinder has seen as many as 1 million users join in the US alone within a three-week period. In Ireland, it is thought that around 275,000 Irish people – about 6pc of the population – are already on Tinder, and the user base is growing by 1pc a month.

"We saw a huge spike in Irish users in February last year, and again in July, for some reason," reveals 27-year-old Justin Mateen, who co-founded Tinder with his friend Sean Rad.

In Ireland and elsewhere, the 18-24 age group accounts for 52pc of users (7pc of users are in the 13-17 age group, 32pc are in the 24-34 age group, 6.5pc are in the 35-44 bracket, while 1.5pc are in the 45-54 age group).

Already, Tinder HQ is being notified of 10 million matches and "at least" one Tinder marriage a day, "and they're only the ones that we know about".

Credit where it's due: Mateen and Rad strategically targeted a certain type of person during testing. Young and trendy folks, essentially, who would baulk at the idea of online dating. Once dynamic young gunslingers were involved, the rest of the online dating-averse world followed in hot pursuit.

"Early adopters were highly social, were looked up to in their peer group, and were people who'd think they didn't need a dating platform," explains Mateen. "I'd never used online dating personally before Tinder. I thought it was too weird. I realised there was an opportunity for Tinder to come in and be a useful product for people like that."

Much as its name suggests, Tinder exists to act as a kindle for a potential 'spark'. In other words, Rad and Mateen merely offered the technology needed to grease the wheels between two people; it was up to the users to do the rest beyond that.

"I think we've made the process of meeting people more efficient," says Mateen. "The goal is to make things happen offline when you're comfortable. The trick is to be engaging and fun and let your personality shine. In a way, it's like meeting someone in a coffee shop. If you connect with them, you'll have a lot more to say."

"As humans, we have the desire to meet new people, and in the past this meant doing it physically," he says. "Think of a missed opportunity, like walking down the street. Tinder brings that moment back to life.

"With Tinder, you know the person is interested, so you start the conversation with a heightened sense of confidence. It emulates how humans interact."

Even so, for many Tinder users, a connection on the app doesn't necessarily lead to a connection proper. A few precursory texts are exchanged before things quickly fizzle out, according to Lisa Winning, co-author of 'He Texted: The Ultimate Guide To Decoding Guys'.

"We have so many emails from young women – around five a day – saying that they're on Tinder, yet they're wondering why the guy hasn't pursued them for a date," she says. "What most women don't realise is that if a guy is chatting to you, he's chatting to 10 other women for sure. I think it's because technology isn't just casual ... it's a lot less polite."

This appears to be the problem: Tinder doesn't strictly kill romance. Post-millennial singles – overwhelmed with choice and the prospect of perfection around the corner – do.

Mateen maintains that Tinder's reliance on the visual isn't necessarily a hindrance to romance: "As humans, we're highly visual," he says. "When you walk into a coffee shop or party, the first thing you notice is the physical.

"After that, you look for commonalities. Whether you want to engage with that person is up to you, but the spark is very visual."

Yet according to matchmaker Avril Mulcahy (avrilmulcahy.com), this reliance on the visual means prospective daters are often reduced to an inanimate 2D thumbnail, making it all too easy to reject people.

While the 'game' aspect has lured in singletons previously cynical about online dating, Tinder is regarded by many others as little more than a form of entertainment.

"On Tinder, it's all about the packaging, and there's no room for things like values or shared interests," she says. "People have become addicted to choice and that's had a huge effect on relationships in Ireland. If things don't work out, we simply think, 'well, divorce is an option'.

"Clicking on Tinder is an easy way out. It's a massive problem."

Experts have recently highlighted another rather disturbing development: the advent of the 'Tinder tourist'. Happily married singer Lily Allen recently tweeted: "Just discovered Tinder *waves goodbye to life*", heralding an influx of attached folk who join Tinder to see 'how the other half live'. Naturally, this spells complication for anyone actually looking for romance.

Rena Maycock of Intro Matchmaking (intro.ie) also suggests that relationships born on Tinder start on the back-foot: "If you manage to get some success on Tinder, what happens when the relationship hits the six-month hump? There's this propensity towards feeling, 'I can go back to the relationship shop and pick up another one'. And if it's not going too well, what's to stop a woman wondering if her partner is back on Tinder?"

Of the psychological knock-on effects of Tinder, she adds: "It may feel like a 'victimless' thing to do, but some women start to develop an emotional connection very quickly with men they're chatting to.

"It can be very disappointing to realise the man you're talking to is simply having a flirt online before going to bed with his wife. And, if you're not winning at the 'hot or not' side of the game, it'll be a bruise, no matter what."

Whatever users' intentions are on Tinder, smartphone dating has led to an unwelcome 'all texting, no sexing' scenario. The death of dating is nigh, in other words.

New research from the UK's National Survey of Sexual Attitudes shows people are having 20pc less sex now than 10 years ago. The frequency of sex has fallen over the past decade to an average of just under five times a month for both men and women – from just over six times per month 10 years ago.

"People spend hours chatting and then forget to go on the date," says Mulcahy. "That's supposed to be the end goal. If you just chat, you miss out on the different levels of attraction – physical, sexual and intellectual."

While most of Maycock's clients will never have been on a traditional date, more than half will have already tried – and tired of – online dating.

"They've become concerned about privacy, and don't like the idea of virtually standing in a shop window," she says. "We've had men come in who have met 40 women, and not one is interesting to him.

"Those men are a symptom of what's wrong with online dating. They've given up on everyone as they are gearing up for the date just around the corner. Tinder is an extreme version of that."

And so the question looms large: are we having better Twitter and text relationships than sex lives with our significant others (or potential plus-ones) than in real life?

If sex is indeed the sweet amber nectar of life, why do we seem to favour poking, LOLing, liking and retweeting with one lazy swipe of the finger?

Maybe 'lazy' is the keyword here. In a world where convenience is less a boon and more the rule, it stands to reason that this would extend to our sex lives.

We are getting the validation and ego massage from social networking that sex is supposed to provide. Think about it: sexting and 'email-only' correspondence provides plenty of thrills with none of the blowback.

It's all the fun of the fair, without any sort of bedroom-related performance anxiety. A digitised fling minimises rejection, and allows people to make a hasty exit.

When it comes to formal dating, Irish singletons have long had to paddle upstream. "It's more acceptable to get drunk in a bar and wake up next to someone whose name you can't remember than it is to go online," says Mulcahy.

"We have definitely lost our way a little bit. But we're still quite traditional – divorce is so new in this country that we've forgotten what we really want in this 'me, me, me' society."

Ireland's generation of twenty- and thirty-something singletons are particularly vulnerable. Whatever about our bravado around Ireland's hookup culture, we are mainly romantic traditionalists at heart.

"We've been conditioned through our parents, and many of us have grown up in families where maybe the parents didn't stay together for the right reasons," says Mulcahy. "We've developed a real distaste for that, but I think we've gone to the other extreme."

Adds Maycock: "Gone are the days of the humble Irish contentment in the 1980s. Now we love ourselves a bit more and have big expectations from life."

In the not-too-distant future, Mateen has big plans for Tinder; one of these is moving it away from its 'dating' modus operandi.

"It was our dream to create a product that would become a cultural phenomenon, and we're well on our way," he says. "We want to make it much more than just a dating platform, and we will add on features that will allow you to do more than just text others. You will interact with people in a way that will be lightweight and fun."

"It's really exciting for Tinder," adds Winning. "The reason it's so clever is that it has taken something embarrassing and made it the norm, which is quite extraordinary. The way Tinder is growing now, they can do almost anything from here, on a global scale."

In the meantime, Mulcahy and Maycock are confident that Irish people looking for a significant other will revert to a more traditional approach.

"I don't really see Tinder lasting long-term," says Maycock. "Speed dating in Ireland died a death, and the same thing will happen here when older guys get a handle on it and start to pester younger girls."

Adds Mulcahy: "Matchmaking may have a smaller pool of people to choose from, but given that it puts two people for whom it's the right time for a relationship together, it certainly gets results."

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