by Maxine Kozak, Storyteller for RU Student Life
Dating sucks. Arguably, it always has, but even more so today, in the age of the online persona and Tinder. Humans are complex and social media only complicates the issue. Historian Moria Weigel explains the difficulties of dating throughout history in her book, Labor of Love and identifies something new about our current era. “Dating has always been work,” she says. “But what’s ironic is that more of the work now is not actually around the interaction you have with a person, it’s around the selection process, and the process of self-presentation”.
On one hand, social media allows us to control our identities, at least online. We curate ourselves, carefully selecting words and photos that express ourselves as we want to be seen. It can also create global opportunities for individuals. Through social media, we can easily interact with people from all over the world. This abundance of choice makes it easier to connect with new people with similar interests.
However, unlimited options and complete control comes at a price. There is this notion of “selling yourself” online and so we only show the best parts of ourselves. I’d argue that while there is a sort of re-creation of the self through the Internet, it is a shallow projection of our full being. People are multidimensional, but you wouldn’t know it by checking our Instagrams. This leads us to idealize one another, putting our “social media crushes” on pedestals without really knowing who they are.
Tinder has its own set of complications. For one, your mere presence on the app comes with certain expectations and assumptions. You’ll get super forward messages right off the bat (albeit, mostly from men) because it’s assumed that if you’re on Tinder, you’re there to have sex. And on the off chance they don’t actually say anything suggestive, they’ll probably expect sex if you hang out. While most people are understanding when you don’t meet their expectations, this is not always the case. The notion of assumed consent on Tinder is extremely problematic.
How are we supposed to respond to these expectations and assumptions that we can’t/don’t want to meet? Most of the time, I just don’t answer. You know what they say: if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Why should I spend my time and energy educating someone I probably wouldn’t connect with anyway?
I guess there’s the flip side: if you don’t say anything, how do these people know that what they are doing is wrong? At the same time, I’m sure there’s lots of people that are cool with super forward messages, especially if they’re also looking to meet casual sex partners.
In that sense, suggestive messages could be a good thing. It’s a quick, surefire way to weed out people who don’t have the same intentions as you. Still, even if you send a forward message and get a positive response, assumed consent remains a problem. In fact, maybe even more so than before because you can’t assume that someone wants to have sex with you in the moment because they said so online. People change their minds, consent is an ongoing thing.
The elements of choice and control also come into play on Tinder. When you’re talking to many different people on Tinder, there is no incentive to dedicate too much time to any one individual. If you lose one person, it’s not a big deal because you have a hundred others at your disposal. Weigel explains, “the whole way these apps are structured makes it so it sort of seems foolish to sink too much time into any one person you get in front of you if it doesn’t seem exactly right.”
Author of The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin, explains that people can be categorized as “satisficers” and “maximizers” (or a mix of both). Satisficers are quick decision-makers, gravitating towards the first option that meets their standards. In contrast, maximizers must examine every option to guarantee that they are making the best possible choice. Even if they find something (or someone) that meets their standards, they are reluctant to settle, hyper aware of the possibility that they could find a better option.
Arguably, the interconnected nature of social media and online dating has turned most of us into strict maximizers. Swiping through a seemingly unlimited pool of potential partners, the cycle becomes inevitable. Swipe, match, have a conversation or two until FOMO kicks in. Swipe again, match. Repeat.
However, if there’s always someone else, there’s never really anyone. In psychologist Barry Schwartz’s book, The Paradox of Choice, he explains that satisficers tend to be happier than maximizers. This is because maximizers naturally spend more time and energy reaching a decision and experience more anxiety about whether or not they are making the best choice.
It is important to note that satisficers are not superior to maximizers (or vice versa). In fact, both ideologies can be damaging when practiced in excess. Like anything else, a healthy balance is necessary.
Often, people reminisce about the ‘good old days’ before the Internet when people met organically and went on formal dates. However, it is important to note that the ‘good old days’ did not exist for members of the LGBTQ+ community. If we met someone we were interested in, it was difficult to tell if feelings were reciprocated. Until recent years, simply asking was out of the question, for fear of being deemed predatory. Tinder might be all we know.
And Tinder isn’t so great for members of the LGBTQ+ community and people of colour. There is a history of user discrimination that ranges from minorities getting fewer matches to trans people actually getting reported and having their accounts suspended.
Last year, YouTuber Kat Blaque brought attention to the issue with a Twitter thread. She wrote, “at this point, it’s very very very hard for me to not believe that I am either being targeted by transphobic trolls or being banned because I’m trans”, explaining how Tinder had deleted every account she created.
When asked about her experience on the app, a second year Creative Industries student explained, “I always get the same message: straight couples wanting to have a threesome,”
“I don’t even really mind, I’ll just ignore it,” she continued, “I guess it’s really the messages that assume I’m promiscuous just because I’m bisexual that get to me.”
“Not that there’s anything wrong with being promiscuous, I’m not slut-shaming anyone,” she added. “I just don’t think anything should be assumed about me because of my online appearance or because of what I identify as, you know?”
The moral of the story: Tinder is the easiest way to meet people and yet, despite its popularity, it still sucks (especially for members of the LGBTQ+ community and any minority, really). Why??? And more importantly, what can be done to correct the imbalance?
People have argued that separate apps for gay and straight people are in order, but isn’t there a better way? Like, maybe Tinder actually educating its users? You know that little popup that asks you to rate the app and provide feedback? Those same popups could easily also educate users about the dangers of assumed consent on dating apps and how offensive and damaging stereotyping can be.
At the same time, ideologies are deeply rooted in culture, in society norms. The problem can’t be completely solved with a simple popup, but it’s a start. Change happens in waves, with lots of people doing lots of little things. So, Tinder and us users, can we start with this one little thing — accountability?