‘You’re just a fart magnet I guess’
Platonic matchmaking on Tinder
Part I: Abstract & Introduction
The assignment, as presented, was to choose a social media platform and break the social norms associated with it. Originally, I set out to infiltrate Grindr, a social media platform primarily used by gay men in search of hookups. After receiving little to no response after revealing myself as a girl looking for friends, I decided to seek friendship on Tinder, used mostly by people of any sexual orientation looking for hookups. My yearning for friendship on this new site was met with more extreme reactions, both positive and negative.
Part II: Methods
When I set up my Grindr profile, I included minimal information outside of age, did not add pictures, and did not include my real name.
Grindr users show up as small picture tiles on your home page, allowing you to simply click and message anyone you are interested in. I approached people of all different ages and profile types. After chatting with several people, eventually revealing myself as a female was met with largely indifferent responses.
Once I switched to Tinder, I set up my profile and started liking people by swiping right on their picture. As opposed to Grindr, Tinder users show up one at a time and you have the option to check out their full profile, then “like” them or “nope” them.
To keep the results unbiased, I liked everyone and ended up with a variety of people among my matches. As people started messaging me, I responded and tried to lead the conversation in a direction which would eventually allow me to mention that I was only looking for friends.
I used Tinder’s description, “Tinder is how people meet,” to feign ignorance to the hookup norm on the site.
Part III: Results
I first took to Grindr in attempts to explore the social media norms that existed on the platform. Unfortunately, after days of minimal to no responses from my experiment’s unsuspecting participants, I decided I had to pick a different platform.
Club Flatline: Jason, Sport Guy, and Say Hi!
These three were entirely unfazed by my gender and gave me nothing to go off of. They usually just stopped answering, but gave me little material, especially when I was expecting a grand reaction. Where was the emotion, the anger? Where was the pity for a naive straight girl who accidentally stumbled upon a gay hookup site? Where was my Cycle 4 of America’s Next Top Model Tyra Banks-esque outrage over my misuse the site and waste of their time?
These things were nowhere to be found in the world of Grindr and I was starting to get nervous that I had picked the wrong social platform. I needed to head to the App Store.
After my unfortunate responses and reactions, or lack thereof, on Grindr, I decided to set my sights to Tinder instead. I downloaded the app, clicked on the flame icon and got to Tinder-ing. I set up my profile using Facebook, added a few pictures of myself, and included a small biography detailing the more important parts of my life, like wine and cheese.
I changed my search results to include men and women ages 18–55+, and included people up to 100 miles away because friendship has no bounds, so neither should my search results.
We found friends in a hopeless place:
Clifon, Jaijee, and Enis were some of the first people I interacted with on Tinder. I was still trying to hone my approach method and these boys were great first subjects. They helped me figure out the angle with which to go about the experiment and were surprisingly welcoming of the idea of making friends on Tinder, asking mundane questions about my day and what I do for fun. It was comparable to what I imagine standing around a water cooler in an office building, making small talk with strangers, must feel like. They seemed awfully sweet and just about as naive as I was pretending to be.
Eyes on the prize:
Connor was, shockingly enough, the first and only hyper-sexualized response I got to my plea for friendship. I have come to understand, through friends’ sharing of screenshots and other conversations I had on Tinder (which didn’t even make it to the “let’s be friends” line), it is not unheard of for the first thing sent in a conversation to be a graphic, sexually explicit message, which is completely unwarranted. After three rapid fire pick-up lines, Connor rose to the hormonal challenge and sent one of the more unfortunate messages I was subjected to throughout the experiment. He even checked in a day later to see if my lack of response was some sort of grave oversight on my part. A modern-day Romeo.
About halfway through the experiment, I decided to pretend I had a boyfriend. The invention of the boyfriend character warranted more extreme reactions and more easily explain why I was looking for friends. Because I was more easily able to relate things back to the boyfriend character than I was to just explaining I was looking for friends, I was able to gather more responses for the experiment.
Wedding, party of one:
Evan was a very hopeful fellow. After we matched, he mistakenly assumed we were married, which offered me a perfect and immediate opportunity to mention my fake boyfriend (Thank you for that, Evan). He was disgusted and was surprised I hadn’t “gotten bored” of my boyfriend yet, after two years. His distaste for my relationship and his mourning of what could have been were both amusing and confusing. He didn’t take any time to figure out why I was on Tinder while I had a boyfriend and, assuming he thought I was cheating, he didn’t yet at me for cheating or continue to flirt with me . A simple “haha” was the last message exchanged before our great romance went out with a fizzle rather than a bang.
A free love sympathizer with Sherlock Holmes intuition:
Kevin was a standout from the beginning. He started off strong by dealing out the most ridiculous back-handed compliment a girl could ever receive: “You look like the kind of girl a guy could fart around.” This was not based on personality, this was based on four pictures of my face. From those four pictures and a few lines about wine and cheese, this man decided that he and the rest of his gender would feel comfortable releasing their bodily gases in my presence. It was hard to object to such a remark, and he presented it so positively, I caught myself saying thank you before I could really comprehend the words he had just strung together. As I made a mental note to do some serious soul-searching later to find out why I appreciated to being called a fart magnet, our conversation continued. He was curious as to why I was on Tinder while in a relationship, but never felt the need to guilt trip me or call me names like some other users. He was supportive and understood that relationships are different for everyone and encouraged me to “do your thing girl”. I appreciated his reactions and was ready to stop answering when I got his formal announcement that he was calling my bluff. He told me I “don’t look stupid” (He’s pretty intuitive by just looking at pictures), and there was no way my story was true. I had to admit defeat and explain the class and project to him, which he seemed genuinely interested in.
Emotional roller coaster:
Chris was pretty amusing, and one my favorite interactions. This roller coaster conversation started off positive. Chris was pretty forward, giving compliments and asking if I was looking for bae, but then the conversation took a sharp turn when I told him I have a boyfriend. This news was met with shock and “disappointment”. Then, Chris explained the hookup culture of Tinder, and why it was weird to be on it while in a relationship. He decided to ended our conversation on a high note, attempting to squeeze one last unsuccessfully flirty comment before he was released to the wild to scour the internet in search of his bae.
Douglas, a 41-year-old man who tried to reprimand me for mentioning wine in my bio, was surprisingly condescending and sarcastic while explaining Tinder’s intended use. When I mentioned that my boyfriend, Douglas called me “sneaky and fickle” and assumed I was cheating on my non-existent partner. He then met my feigned concern and lack of understanding with prying questions and guilt trips. When he finally explained the app’s intended use and the idea of “swiping right” to someone, he was overly blunt and didn’t forget to add a The entire interaction left me feeling strangely insulted and like a parent had just yelled at me. If Douglas doesn’t already have kids, I’d be surprised. The passive aggressive parental guilt is strong in this one.
Part IV: Analysis & Conclusion
Both apps I used, Grindr and Tinder, are primarily hookup sites. This is shown not only by the reactions and conversations I had on the apps, but also the way they are set up. The most important information on your profile is your name, age, and proximity to other users. Besides your picture, this is the first information they obtain from your profile and can affect wether they swipe you, right or left. On Grindr, age and photo is the only information to be gained on the homepage, paired with a picture. The minimal details offered on both sites’ homepages are indicators that people using the apps are not looking to make friends or simply chat with each other, but just need to know the basic information which allows them to decide if they want to meet you or not.
By using these apps for a purpose other than hooking up, i.e. making friends, I made people, including myself, uncomfortable. I found it difficult to work the idea of friendship into my conversations, when there was an unspoken agreement in place that both parties were using the apps for hookup purposes. Grindr was especially difficult in this regard, because the site is for men, it was harder to bring up the fact that I am a woman. I found that I had to kind of blurt it out and squeeze it in whenever I could, playing into gender stereotypes such as “us girls are so dramatic.”
On Tinder, it was easy to play dumb and pretend I had no idea what the app was used for, and it was even easier to use my imaginary boyfriend character to confuse other users and trick them into explaining why they were on the site.
This project forced me to identify, explore, and examine the social media norms which I would normally overlook and accept without a second thought. It helped me realize how following and breaking these norms effects people and how they interact. Society, and especially social media, is filled with norms we don’t usually recognize, but should pay attention to, as they give clues to how we relate to others and how the future of communication will continue to evolve.