When the zipper became popular in the 1930s, my grandmother once told me, all the boys in town complained: Zippers made too much noise in the movie theater.
We have been told we live in “the hook-up era.” We have been warned that “the hook-up culture” will hurt us all. And yet, today’s kids were hardly the first to get into each other’s pants for non-procreative purposes. What changes over time is how we get to the moment of unzipping, and how we feel about the process along the way. Technology is always in the mix, whatever the outcome. These days, technology just seems to come and go more quickly.
Created in 2012, the location-based app Tinder has suddenly emerged as the dating app du jour. It now logs over 850 million swipes per day around the world. The average user is 27.
Tinder’s main appeal is simplicity. For a full explanation, please consult this gif:
You swipe left if you don’t like people, and right if you do. If there’s a match, you can either chat or “keep playing.” That’s it.
From the start, the app’s application was ambiguous to users and onlookers alike: Was Tinder a hot-or-not phone game? Was it a hook-up app—like Grindr for straight people? But really, everyone uses Tinder for their own ends, and the app has quickly become ubiquitous, whether people are searching for casual sex or a wife. Commentators have tried to process Tinder’s effect on modern dating, saying it’s the dating app that solved online dating for women, or revived dating culture, or turned dating into a lottery.
The harder question to ask is: how does this make us feel? Is desire a problem that technology can solve? Does Tinder really help us find what we’re looking for? And what happens when looking for a partner becomes more like playing a game? There are no universal answers, only data points.
We set out to find stories from all across the Tinderverse. In the end, we picked ten people from across the sexual spectrum whose experiences were each representative of something larger.
This is the story of Tinder, an oral history of dating in our time, as told by ten denizens of the Tinderverse: the Lothario, the adman out for ass, the adwoman out for ass, the secret romantic, the over-thinker, the career woman, the Grindr veteran, the femme, the Mormon, and the virgin.
Part I: Game On
ALEXANDER, The Virgin (unemployed, 25, Chicago, got on this year): I got beat up really, really bad my first week of middle school. Have you seen the fourth season of The Wire? My school was like that. I was a 260-pound, 13-year-old white boy with glasses who wasn’t especially socially competent and had a learning disability. I would have been picked on anywhere. After that I just kept gaining weight. I reached a peak of, like, 310 pounds. We moved to a suburb because my parents are rich, and, you know: things got better. I lost weight, but I’d never kissed a girl by that point.
GREG, The Adman Out for Ass (29, Manhattan, got on in 2013): I was early to Tinder. I heard about it off of a listserv of guys who were mostly in my frat. Just like, ‘So and so banged this chick off Tinder, I banged this chick off Tinder.’
RACHEL, The Femme (social worker, queer, 27, Brooklyn, got on in 2013): I heard about it from my coworker who is very much part of this girly, fratty world. I thought Tinder was for early 20s, party animal, trust fund kids. I didn’t think my people would be on it. I remember when it felt like there were no queer folks on it at all, and now there are tons.
ALEXANDER, The Virgin: In college, I was in a Tolstoy lit class with a girl who was a prototype of a manic pixie dream girl. I did a semester abroad in Istanbul, and we started having Skype sex. I still had never kissed a girl. But then she slept with someone else and stopped talking to me. The last thing she said to me was basically like, “You’re never going to experience any kind of physical affection. You’re not worth it.” After that, I saw myself through her eyes. I assumed that most other girls thought the same way she did.
NICOLE, The Over-Thinker (pre-med, 27, Brooklyn): I broke up with my boyfriend around Thanksgiving. I just went into this tailspin about being single going into medical school and never having a partner ever again. So I got on pretty much every dating app.
MOLLY, The Mormon (digital media, divorced, Salt Lake City, 28): In Salt Lake City almost every profile will say whether you’re Mormon or not, or Mormon-friendly or not.
ALEXANDER, The Virgin: The 40-Year-Old Virgin is pretty accurate. Steve Carrell actually interviewed a lot of adult virgins. There’s the anxiety about being a virgin, and then there’s kind of like the meta-anxiety.
MIRANDA, The Career Woman (comedian, 30, LA): I’m not interested in having a relationship where I have to see the person every day—or even three times a week—unless it’s late at night when I’m done with my shit.
GREG, The Adman out for Ass: I’m trying to up my quality into the top-tier of girls. For a while, if a girl wanted to have sex with me, I was like, ‘Thank you, Jesus, it’s finally happened. YES.’ I’m past that at this point in my scumbag odyssey, in my skirt-chasing journey of personal growth. Now, I’m trying to get with hot-ass girls.
KATHERINE, The Adwoman Out for Ass (advertising, 28, Brooklyn): I was looking for stupid hot dudes, preferably ones that wouldn’t want to be in a relationship with me. I found them in droves on Tinder.
LUKE, The Secret Romantic (non-profit world, 30, New Orleans): Sex would be great. Meeting a friend would be great. But I’d say I’m secretly hoping to find a relationship through Tinder.
ALEXANDER, The Virgin: Elliot Rodger, the USCB shooter, was a 22-year-old virgin who had this idea that girls owed him sex. For me, I just felt like I didn’t deserve it. I was really terrified that I was gonna be 30-years-old and have no close friendships emotionally with girls, let alone have a family or a girlfriend.
MIRANDA, The Career Woman: Sometimes when I try to hook up with someone from Tinder and they want to go out and do something first, I’m annoyed. I never knew I was this person until I was this person.
ALEXANDER, The Virgin: A friend was on Tinder, and we joked about it. I thought it would be funny if I got on, because my Facebook profile picture was a Photoshopped picture of Vladimir Putin making out with himself. That was in February.
RACHEL, The Femme: Usually I swipe just women. Once in a while I get bored and add men if I feel like the game has stalled.
PETER, The Grindr Veteran (law school grad, gay, 28, DC): Tinder has been mostly just window-shopping for me.
ALEXANDER, The Virgin: My 26th birthday is next month, and I just want it over with before then.
GREG, The Adman out for Ass: Tinder contributes to the bottom line. It’s another revenue stream if you’re in Get Sex Corp. If you’re a brick and mortar business, wouldn’t you have an online presence?
MIRANDA, The Career Woman: It feels like a game, like my own personal fuck game.
Part II: Strategy
Like most games, Tinder is played in groups. Phones are passed around at parties and bars; screenshots circulate among friends. Before Tinder, everybody just complained about how miserable it is to date as an X person in Y city. Everyone has always hated courtship. Tinder takes the despair of finding someone down a notch. But this has given rise to a whole new set of anxieties. (How much Tindering is too much? How good is your Tinder game?)
This sort of play is not exactly new. Before WWII, dating was treated as a “competitive game,” Margaret Mead noted. The goal was to go on lots of dates, to be popular. As observed by historian Beth Bailey, it wasn’t until the years after WWII when young people, wanting stability in uncertain times, started “going steady”—a simulation of marriage.
The rules of the courtship game have changed over time. In the late 19th century, women took the lead, inviting men to “call” on them at home. It was considered wildly improper for men to attempt a call uninvited. Men entered the domestic sphere, where the women of the house orchestrated the entertainment, perhaps serving cakes or playing the piano. With the rise of public leisure culture in the early 20th century, the power of initiation shifted from women to men. Instead, men invited women “out”— into their sphere. So began dating as we know it.
From one era to the next, gamesmanship has always been a part of courtship. Tinder’s putting it in overdrive.
MICK, The Lothario (business school grad, 28, Chicago): I started outsourcing the swiping part. I hired a University of Chicago undergrad. I give her my phone and have her swipe for three hours while I’m in class for $25. I picked a girl because they have better taste than men and would be less likely to sabotage my matches. I don’t have any preferences as far as race or look.
NICOLE, The Over-Thinker: I don’t initiate chats on Tinder. There was all this research about race on OKCupid, and how black women send the most unanswered messages. I was sending a lot of OKCupid messages and not hearing back. Most of my Tinder matches are white men, but I don’t know who is actually interested in dating a black woman. I’ll match with an Italian man from Bay Ridge, and I just think, ‘You don’t actually want to go out with me. There is no way.’ I just let people come to me rather than extending myself constantly.
ALEXANDER, The Virgin: Eventually, I redid my profile. I deleted the picture of Vladimir Putin making out with himself. I chose an actual picture of myself and wrote a snarky profile description. I started connecting with girls that were cute and interesting and funny.
GREG, The Adman out for Ass: I try to become Facebook friends with Tinder matches as soon as possible so I can see more than 4 or 5 carefully picked, angled pictures that look nothing like them. I look around on Facebook, try and case the joint a bit. If she’s a super liberal arts, academia, feminist, hardcore person—I will at least keep that in mind.
LUKE, The Secret Romantic: I’m 5’7, 150 pounds. I tend to look for people who I assume are smaller than me. I feel awful saying that but I guess that’s the number-one criteria. I look through their pictures for ones that show them in proximity to other people or things—like railings. Most railings are generally the same height.
RACHEL, The Femme: I tend to swipe right for people with tattoos, short hair, and often clothing that’s more masculine or suggestive of androgyny.
GREG, The Adman out for Ass: I try to be funny and sexual and assert dominance. You want to get into a sexual frame, which is to some extent a dominant frame. I’m like, ‘Let’s meet here at this time.’
ALEXANDER, The Virgin: Just the idea that this person would look at me and my interests and say, ‘You know what? In this hypothetical world, maybe we could have sex.’—that was really liberating. That was really, really intensely, powerfully liberating.
MOLLY, The Mormon: My rules for a Tinder date are the Mormon rules: just kissing. But I break them a lot.
MICK, The Lothario: I get a match, and then I send them a message that says ‘Hey, whatever their name is’ with a winky, smiley face. The second message is gonna be either ‘you’re cute’ or ‘you’re sexy.’
MOLLY, The Mormon: I’ve seen guys on Tinder say they’re looking for NCMO [“NICK-mo”]. It means Non-Committal Make-Out. It’s the Mormon equivalent of a one-night stand.
MICK, The Lothario: The next thing I write is, ‘Do you like seafood? I wanna cook you stir-fry.’ The first girl I tried it to, I convinced her in 28 words to come over to my apartment the next night. That was an eye-opener.
MOLLY, The Mormon: NCMO’s big at Brigham Young University. Everybody’s doing it.
MICK, The Lothario: Cooking a girl dinner sets you apart. She can justify coming over to some stranger’s apartment more than if I just said, “Come over and we’ll have some drinks.”
MOLLY, The Mormon: … Like, everybody.
MICK, The Lothario: I buy Trader Joe’s shrimp that’s frozen and de-veined and peeled. Many people have never cooked seafood, so it’s more impressive than chicken. You’ll need to stir it occasionally, which has the psychological advantage of walking away from the girl—because you care more about shrimp stir-fry than what she’s saying—which subconsciously makes the girl more interested in you. I’d say that the total investment is probably, on average, thirty bucks per date.
MOLLY, The Mormon: I’ve done a NCMO or two. Or more. If it’s a good Mormon guy who sticks to the rules, they’re like, ‘Hey do you wanna meet up and have some NCMO?’ Then you meet up, and you make out, and you go your separate ways.
MICK, The Lothario: Early on, when I was more of a Tinder amateur, there were a couple times when a girl had a pretty face but no body pics. She showed up and she was fat. I’ll continue to cook, because I need to eat. I’ll be cordial about it, but I just won’t make a move.
MOLLY, The Mormon: Sometimes NCMOs go a little farther than a NCMO. You gotta be careful. Usually it’s just making out. Maybe it’ll go a little bit farther like clothes-on touching and grinding, but nothing too crazy.
MICK, The Lothario: Also during the cooking process I can educate the girl about wine pairings. She shouldn’t drink red wine with seafood, and you’d be surprised how many girls don’t know that. My goal is to finish a bottle of white wine while cooking. After we finish eating we’ll take shots of Rumpleminze—which tastes like Mentos—because many girls would be self-conscious about having shrimp stir-fry breath and wouldn’t want to make out with you.
GREG, The Adman out for Ass: Sex doesn’t just happen. I didn’t get it until I was like 22, when my college girlfriend was on a semester abroad, and we were taking a break and I read The Game by Neil Strauss. That was life changing.
NICOLE, The Over-Thinker: I’m supposed to be studying for the MCAT. But Tinder is great because I don’t have to actually be actively dating. I feel like I am doing some work toward finding someone, but really, I am just playing on my phone.
LUKE, The Secret Romantic: I think it’s ideal to connect with a girl who’s friends with a friend. You both swipe right, and then the next time you’re in the same room, you can be like, ‘Oh hey, Tinder match.’ And it’s kind of a jokey thing. But then it’s also like, ‘You think I’m attractive, I think you’re attractive…’
GREG, The Adman out for Ass: There has to be a date game plan, otherwise you’re a guy who’s like, ‘I live in Queens, and we met on the Lower East Side, and we kind of awkwardly hugged outside of the subway, and I don’t understand why my life’s so horrible and I’m miserable and alone.’
MICK, The Lothario: I keep my living room uncomfortably cold on purpose. When we get into my bedroom, there’s only one chair, which I sit on first. As I’m sitting down, I try to get her to sit on my lap facing me. If she does, then I guarantee game over. If she balks, the only other place she can sit is the bed. Later on, I hand her the wine glasses—another opportunity to sit down next to her on the bed. If she balks again, then I’ll just buy some time and pretend like I’m tired, and she’ll leave.
MOLLY, The Mormon: Recently I ended up having sex on a Tinder date. I wanted to dial back again, so I stopped messaging guys who weren’t Mormon. I had no self-control, so why should they, if they didn’t have a religious reason for it?
MICK, The Lothario: If I invite a girl over for stir-fry, even though there’s only a 30 percent chance she’ll say yes, there’s an 80 percent chance I’ll score. You’re looking at 24 percent overall.
NICOLE, The Over-Thinker: I do start to feel guilty about Tinder because I literally kill hours on it.
MICK, The Lothario: On a typical date, there are so many opportunities to screw up your chances. In business school we call them bottlenecks: the more time people have, the more it affects the decision. Stir-fry removes that variable. I���ve applied a lot of the concepts from my MBA, especially what I learned from operations class, which focuses on maximizing the efficiency of a manufacturing plant.
NICOLE, The Over-Thinker: When I start to feel super guilty I delete Tinder for a day or two.
MICK, The Lothario: I typically like to have sex five or six days a week. I would maybe have sex with a girl from six to eight PM, and then go cook some stir-fry with someone else at nine. I’ll, like, walk downstairs with her, walk around the block, and go back up. I’ll shower, open the windows, turn on the fan, spray some Axe deodorant on the bed so that it removes the smell, spray some on my balls. All the tricks of the trade.
NICOLE, The Over-Thinker: I just re-downloaded it today.
MICK, The Lothario: If you’re not really into a girl, if you can sense that she’s clingy, then being good in bed is gonna come back to haunt you.
MOLLY, The Mormon: If you really like him you can say, ‘Let’s do this again. Let’s NCMO again.’ Kind of like friends with benefits.
MICK, The Lothario: Sometimes I’ll be bad in bed on purpose. I just half-ass it and plan the rest of my week while I’m banging her.
MOLLY, The Mormon: NCMO can be a noun and a verb. It’s very versatile.
MICK, The Lothario: SSFDs are ‘shrimp stir-fry dates.’ You can use it as a verb, too. You can say, ‘Oh, I shrimp stir-fried her.’
Part III: Swiping Left; Dealbreakers
A lot of dating is about reading the codes of class and education level. Taste in everything from food to music to clothing, observed the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, develops within the context of a class sensibility. What we do on Tinder is an extension of what we’re doing all the time: picking up on codes and positioning people within a social order. Swiping left—judging others—provides the illusion of power. It feels good to make a Tinder match, but it feels great to be better than that schmuck.
KATHERINE, The Adwoman out for Ass: [swiping] Brian, 32, currently living in Hoboken. He works in Midtown; he loves the city. Alright cool, you’re from Jersey. Next picture is him at a Sun Devils game at ASU. That’s him at some backyard BBQ. He just kind of looks like a meathead. He’s not for me. X. Nope. [Swipes left.]
LUKE, The Secret Romantic: Within my social world, I think the worst thing you can be as a guy is a bro and the worst thing you can be as a woman is basic—as in a ‘basic bitch.’
NICOLE, The Over-Thinker: [swiping] This is just a stupid photograph. I would say a good 50 percent of people I reject—you have to put a little effort into the photo.
LUKE, The Secret Romantic: Basic is just being into whatever is popular at the present moment: music festivals, wine, whiskey, running 5ks, charity, raising money with social media campaigns, popular TV series, getting really passionate about current social issues mostly because they’re current social issues.
MIRANDA, The Career Woman: If I can see your cell phone in your photo, like you’ve taken it in a mirror—you don’t even know how to take a cell phone picture? Get outta here.
MOLLY, The Mormon: If they put a lot of emoticons. If they put an inspirational quote.
LUKE, The Secret Romantic: A woman who’s basic would probably just repeat the tropes of Tinder pictures: going out with the gang, their dog, their family, or doing an activity like shooting a gun.
MIRANDA, The Career Woman: No babies.
KATHERINE, The Adwoman out for Ass: [swiping] This guy has a podcast. I can’t date someone who has a podcast.
MOLLY, The Mormon: No bro-douche-frat guys.
MICK, The Lothario: It doesn’t matter how pretty a girl is. If she doesn’t have any body photos on Tinder, I just assume she’s fat.
MOLLY, The Mormon: A bro is a guy who thinks he is more attractive than he really is. A douche is a bro who really just doesn’t give a crap and thinks he can treat women however he wants.
MICK, The Lothario: Recently, I realized I had too many shirtless photos. I noticed a lot of girls on OKCupid specifically say ‘no shirtless selfies.’ Two of my four Tinder photos were shirtless. Luckily, they were also travel photos. All girls romanticize traveling. I’m gonna add one of me in a suit and tie, just to make it seem like I’m less of a bro, so I can hit all my angles.
MIRANDA, The Career Woman: No pictures of you as a groomsman. You went to a wedding once and that’s the only time you wore a suit? Get outta here. No cosplay, obviously. No museums, like ooh you look at art, thank you for showing me.
MOLLY, The Mormon: No pictures at the gym, shirtless pics at the mirror, on a motorcycle, at a sporting event, holding a gun, or pictures of them with girls in bikinis.
MICK, The Lothario: A bro or a douchebag: they’re guys who many girls hate. But many girls secretly have sex with them and just don’t tell their friends.
PETER, The Grindr Veteran: Any message that’s like “DTF?” It’s like, nope.
MIRANDA, The Career Woman: No Burning Man.
KATHERINE, The Adwoman out for Ass: [swiping] This guy has a newsboy cap on in this picture. Is anything more of a boner killer than a newsboy cap?
LUKE, The Secret Romantic: You in a third world country holding a child with dark skin is not gonna attract me.
NICOLE, The Over-Thinker: [swiping] Here is a big hairy man dressed as Wonder Woman and he is with a bunch of other guys. And he did Santa Con so that tells me this will not even possibly ever work out.
PETER, The Grindr Veteran: Sometimes people do, like, a big lead up to it where they’re like, ‘How’s your evening?’ ‘It’s fine I’m about to go to bed.’ And then, ‘Want some company??’ Oh my god, no! Worst line ever, stop it.
MIRANDA, The Career Woman: No pictures of you performing. No photos of you on set. Photos of you holding a boom mic? No thank you. That’s probably an LA thing.
KATHERINE, The Adwoman out for Ass: [swiping] That guy has gay face.
PETER, The Grindr Veteran: I think anybody who is publicly disclosing—as they should, as they absolutely must do—if you are HIV positive. Chances are it is not happening.
MOLLY, The Mormon: If they don’t put a description at all—not even a ‘hey, swipe right!’—then it feels like they’re not trying.
NICOLE, The Over-Thinker: [swiping] There is a point where too many shared interests are a turn-off, or I think this person is just an asshole. If you like the New York Review of Books and n+1 and Harpers or any stupid literary magazine, it’s like I know this person in real life and they are just impossible.
MIRANDA, The Career Woman: No head-shots.
KATHERINE, The Adwoman out for Ass: [swiping] This guy’s too white. He’s blonde and kind of cute, and he seems aware of the fact that he looks like a Christian missionary (profile says: “This is not an ad for Christian Mingle. 5’10”). But I don’t know, this homosocial pic, this v-neck…
MOLLY, The Mormon: If they’re smoking, or drinking, or smoking weed.
NICOLE, The Over-Thinker: [swiping] If he’s in a start-up, that’s a dealbreaker. That work requires a level of arrogance that I am not willing to deal with.
RACHEL, The Femme: I’m very specific in what I want from someone on OKCupid. I know this isn’t fair, like this is just about using the questions to narrow down people who are from a similar background. But I’m disappointed when people don’t know what “wherefore art thou Romeo?” means. They think it means ‘where’ instead of ‘why.’
NICOLE, The Over-Thinker: [swiping] This guy’s profile says, ‘When you have big dreams it is imperative to have a woman with vision.’ Anyone who references what kind of woman they want—maybe I don’t want to be a woman who fits a guy’s ‘about me.’
PETER, The Grindr Veteran: I don’t think a headless torso is a dealbreaker, but it tends to be like, ‘Do you wanna come over? Can I come over? Let’s just do this now and then forget about it.’
MICK, The Lothario: If a girl is a trash heap—like if she has a boob tattoo—I’m probably not gonna date her. But I will have sex with her.
KATHERINE, The Adwoman out for Ass: [swiping rapidly] It’s empowering because guys do this to women all the time. Now I get to do it to guys! It makes me feel better.
RACHEL, The Femme: On OKCupid I scour the profiles. On Tinder, the dealbreaker is just me not being attracted to someone.
GREG, The Adman out for Ass: All women have is dealbreakers. You just need to get through the fucking Mission Impossible-style lasers of their dealbreakers to get in there.
Part IV: Swiping Right; Winning
ALEXANDER, The Virgin: I was Tindering one day in a café in Evanston. I walked out and there was this cute gay guy jogging by who winked at me. It was this moment of realizing that I’d lost some weight, that I was well-dressed. I wasn’t this 310-pound monument to human awkwardness that I was at 13. I just wasn’t that person anymore.
MOLLY, The Mormon: I just recently met a Mormon guy off Tinder. He was the only guy where I went straight over to his house. He told me he was a really good Mormon and read the scriptures every night. He texted me, ‘I go to church every week, and personally I’ve never gone farther than kissing a girl.’ I was like ‘Yep, this one, I like this one.’
KATHERINE, The Adwoman out for Ass: One thing I really like about Tinder encounters is going into other people’s apartments. It’s fantastic. Men are disgusting. Men don’t clean; men live in places where the doorknob comes off in your hand. The bathrooms are terrible. It’s almost confirmation that we’re not gonna date. Ever.
MOLLY, The Mormon: We met up and ended up kissing and he stopped it there. We did other things, like, he played his guitar for me, and we played video games. It was just a really nice date.
GREG, The Adman out for Ass: So my profile says, “Hoping to meet a nice Halloween costume model.” Some girls get it and love it. That’s a huge sign we’re gonna get along. It’s like, ‘I’m looking to meet someone hot, but I’m also funny and cool about it.’ I’m an awesome version of a douchebag.
When I’m messaging with a girl, I try to escalate it and make the conversation sexual as soon as possible. The way I like to do that is with a fun, goofy hypothetical joke that involves a role-play scenario. Here’s an unusually successful, non-representative Tinder sample.
Post script: When she got back to town, she ended up coming over after a yoga class, and we did have a bunch of really quality sex. I’ve seen her maybe twice since then, and she texted me as recently as a week or two ago, but I was busy.
ALEXANDER, The Virgin: My birthday is coming up soon. I just met someone off OKCupid. I had to repress happy tears when we were making out in a train station as we were saying goodbye. She said it was the best first date she’d ever been on. It’s happening really, really soon.
Part V: Keeping Score
In the early days of Tinder, some argued it was the dating app that made sense for women to use. The double opt-in—you can only start Tinder messaging with someone if you’ve both swiped right—cuts back on the flood of unwanted messages straight women usually get while internet dating.
It then came as a shock to many—although not those familiar with the misogyny of Silicon Valley’s brogrammer culture—when, earlier this summer, Tinder co-founder Whitney Wolfe filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against co-founders Sean Rad and Justin Mateen. Wolfe says Mateen called her a “whore,” wrote her text messages that referenced “middle age Muslim pigs,” and sought to erase her place in the company’s history. According to Wolfe, Mateen said that having a female co-founder would make Tinder “seem like a joke.” When Wolfe approached Tinder CEO Rad, she says, he told her she was being “dramatic” and would be fired if she couldn’t make nice. (Yesterday, Gawker reported that Mateen stepped down.)
Wolf was conspicuously absent from the story of Tinder, as told by Rad and Mateen in countless articles. Yet, Wolfe was the marketing mastermind who got women on Tinder in the first place: she visited chapters of her sorority at colleges around the country, convinced them to join, and then went to the corresponding fraternities.
Tinder’s backstory sucks. Sometimes the Tinderverse does, too.
MIRANDA, The Career Woman: I was telling a friend about this guy I’m hooking up with. I started talking about his giant penis, and his propensity for dick pics. She was like, the guy with the giant dick who’s in a band who sends dick pics? I met him on Tinder, and he’s been sending me dick pics for months.’ And we held up our phones, and we had the same dick pics from him.
PETER, The Grindr Veteran: Grindr is just the land of headless torso pictures. I think it’s a little seedy. It’s much more gratuitous than Tinder.
ALEXANDER, The Virgin: When I was 24, I got to third base. It wasn’t fun at all. It was a random girl at a party. I was very drunk; she was a little less drunk. Then I lied and told my friends that I’d lost my virginity. After that, I just kind of hid it.
LUKE, The Secret Romantic: One night stands tend to be sexually unfulfilling. I still do it, obviously. But they tend to be often more disappointing and expensive than they’re worth. It can hit $100 pretty easily. Food for two, drinks for two. Brunch for two. And a taxi-ride home.
MIRANDA, The Career Woman: They are like, Instagram-y dick pics with filters and interesting perspectives. Sepia-toned dick pics.
RACHEL, The Femme: I went out with a woman on Tinder who I thought was super hot. She turned out to be someone who, if I had seen her on OKCupid, I wouldn’t have gone out with. Lesbian-identified and not very political. She was part of this very, very mainstream marriage-equality world that I’m not very excited about. So she was nice, but it was boring.
MIRANDA, The Career Woman: He makes dick videos. I’ve never had a dick video before.
PETER, The Grindr Veteran: These apps allow you to present yourself in a certain way, without any consequences. You can reinvent yourself. Frequently, I’ll see people on Grindr that I also see on Tinder or OKCupid. The difference between the personas is like night and day.
I remember one very distinctly. He was about 28, and on Tinder he had written that he wasn’t that into hooking up these days. He was looking for conversation and something meaningful. And then I found him on Grindr. He was this super sexual and lascivious person, like, ‘I’m really into leather and the bondage scene.’ He had created two different versions of himself.
ALEXANDER, The Virgin: I don’t think things are going to work with the girl from OKCupid. I underestimated how nervous the prospect of happiness made me. I think she picked up on that somehow. I think I’m going to end up losing it to a friend. This process is draining.
PETER, The Grindr Veteran: I wonder sometimes if dating apps are making sexual intimacy less intimate. You can sever your sexual self from your emotional self.
MIRANDA, The Career Woman: Just the other day he sent me a dick pic that he’d already sent me before, like a week ago. I was like, ‘Dick pic rerun, bro.’
Part VI: The Long Game
In Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, Samuel R. Delaney mourns the closure of New York’s porn theaters, where men of all sorts had casual sex and formed lasting friendly bonds. The sex came first. Later, they’d get to talking and would learn who was a truck driver or homeless or a professor. Delaney argues that a vibrant, democratic society needs interclass sex and relationships to fight “the networking notion that the only ‘safe’ friends we can ever have must be met through school, work, or preselected special interest groups.”
Tinder is not exactly a darkened movie theater. But people definitely hook up across class lines. In fact, for some Tinderers, that’s the short-game appeal: readily available casual sex outside your network. Whether Tinderers will actually date outside their class is a different matter.
KATHERINE, The Adwoman out for Ass: I’m meeting up with these people I would never meet otherwise. They didn’t go to the same liberal arts or Ivy League schools. They work in things like retail or insurance.
MIRANDA, The Career Woman: When you don’t share a community with someone, they don’t necessarily treat you with the same respect that you would expect from someone you meet through a friend. There’s no social pressure for them to treat you well because it’s like dating in the void. No accountability. That’s something I think I’m still learning every time, but you never really learn.
KATHERINE, The Adwoman out for Ass: Tinder compartmentalizes things really well. I’ve gotten into trouble in the past. I’ll make out with someone and he’ll be like, ‘Let’s date,’ and I’ll be like, ‘I don’t actually want to do that.’ Then I’ll have to see him at parties. A bummer. If I just want meaningless sex I have a place to go for it.
NICOLE, The Over-Thinker: Tinder makes me feel guilty. I wonder if it is me just looking for a super highly educated person with a high socioeconomic background, but I feel like I swipe left on most black men that I see on Tinder. A lot of them fall into that mismatched aesthetics thing: lots of shirtless photos, lots of sport photos. There aren’t many. Tinder is mostly white people.
KATHERINE, The Adwoman out for Ass: Can I make a shit joke? I have a place where I can shit, and it’s called Tinder.
LUKE, The Secret Romantic: My biggest concern with the women on Tinder is that they’re just kind of boring and uninspired. I’m a little disappointed.
NICOLE, The Over-Thinker: A lot of black men are trying to prove that they are educated, employed people in their “about me’s.“ This is awful because I know why they have to do this, but it’s also a huge turn-off. And here’s where it starts to make me feel bad, because it’s a class thing.
LUKE, The Secret Romantic: I think I am a relationship person. My ideal person is a very driven, hardworking woman who isn’t necessarily great at laughing and enjoying life. They’re always more successful than me. I work very well with type-A personalities. This is the kind of person I fall in love with. That’s probably the person I’m going to marry.
MIRANDA, The Career Woman: My dream relationship at this moment would be a monogamous, casual, sex-partner friend. It’s kind of a tall order, I know. And this is gonna make me sound like an even worse person, but he would be monogamous and I could do whatever I want. But I know that’s not a real thing.
KATHERINE, The Adwoman out for Ass: I’m actually a relationship person. I miss the excitement of being in love. It’s like being in a house where you keep opening up these doors and finding all these other rooms. What I’m looking for in a relationship is an appreciation and an understanding. And that’s not on Tinder. I know people who’ve found a boyfriend via Tinder, but that hasn’t been my experience.
RACHEL, The Femme: I’m 27 and starting to think about more serious relationships and maybe looking for a life partner. I wouldn’t go on Tinder to try to meet people for relationships, because I don’t get to know off the bat whether we agree on important stuff. Thinking back on it, all of my Tinder connections have been hook-ups, while OKCupid has yielded actual relationships.
ALEXANDER, The Virgin: I have news. I almost lost my virginity to the girl off OKCupid. Behind an OfficeMax. I didn’t have a condom, so I never got to home base. We got to mutual oral, and I was really proud of myself. It was mutually awkward. But kind of sweet. I still technically have a V card, but I feel better about literally everything in my life right now. I feel like I can accomplish things. And I just got a job.
MIRANDA, The Career Woman: It’s hard for girls because I can’t really put on my Tinder profile, like, DTF, because that’s the wrong kind of attention. And I’m not exactly DTF anyone. I want to know if the person is cool.
MOLLY, The Mormon: I wouldn’t be on Tinder if I wasn’t hoping to meet someone that I could have a very long, permanent relationship with. The hope has to be there, or I wouldn’t even go on the app.
MICK, The Lothario: Girls never have high expectations. They never expect me to want to date them. I don’t know if it’s the vibe I give off, or the lack of emoticons in my text messages, or what.
ALEXANDER, The Virgin: I turned 26. The other day, I met someone on Tinder, and we chatted for pretty much two straight days. I referenced completely obscure books in Hellenistic culture. She’d read them. Body horror movies from the 70s? She’d seen them. It was just this massive overlap of interests. We really liked each other.
MIRANDA, The Career Woman: Casual sex frees me from feeling responsible for another person. I know this sounds really fucked up, but I don’t mean it in a bad way. I mean that it’s liberating for them, too. Like, I don’t need you to ask me about my parents. We’re cool, bro. You just need to respect me and be kind.
MICK, The Lothario: I’m gonna be the director of business development for an energy risk management consulting company. There are some synergies between convincing a stranger to have sex with you and convincing a stranger to write a check for $30,000 to your company. So I think that I’ve improved the art of persuasion—of being calm and collected—in part because of shrimp stir-fry.
ALEXANDER, The Virgin: We met up for coffee. She was extremely bright, non-judgmental, funny. I wanted her to be my best friend. Apparently something in our 30-minute coffee was disappointing. She blocked me. I’m heartbroken. I uninstalled Tinder. I can’t deal with this again. This keeps happening. I’m only interested in girls I really respect intellectually, but something always goes wrong.
NICOLE, The Over-Thinker: On Tinder you’re judging people in a really fucked up, on-paper way. Is this person educated enough for me? Is this person tall enough for me? It’s really ineffective because you don’t get the chemistry aspect, which is the most important part.
GREG, The Adman out for Ass: Especially when I first started using it, Tinder inspired me to see the possibilities that are all around us. Within a few days, I was walking by work and this girl smiled at me and I smiled back at her and I felt very empowered even knowing that there’s random people everywhere that are into you. So I said hi to her and she said hi back and we went on a date and we hooked up. I’d never done that before. In a way Tinder opened the door to knowing that was possible.
MIRANDA, The Career Woman: The truth is I’m 30 and if I want to be a successful comedy writer or director or comedian, I have to keep working on it. I can’t really afford to be distracted. I don’t have time to take care of another person or even date, really. And all this comes with the caveat that if I met the right person, I think that would all change.
NICOLE, The Over-Thinker: When I think back to joining Tinder and OKCupid forever ago, my hope was that I’d finally branch out. I’d think of how cool it would be to try going out with someone totally outside my realm of experience. Somewhere in the back of my mind I still have that desire, when in fact, I’m not using it that way at all. My swiping pretty much narrows me down to dating mid-20s, white, educated, media guys.
MIRANDA, The Career Woman: I have a lot of female friends that have the same experience: you’ll have casual sex with an internet guy, and then you’ll hit him up again, and he’ll be like, ‘I’m not looking for a relationship right now.’ I’m also not looking for a relationship. I just texted you at midnight. I’m looking for dick. That can get pretty annoying sometimes. As a woman, you can never be seen as just wanting casual sex.
ALEXANDER, The Virgin: I think I’m going to move to Logan Square and have a lot of casual hookups. It’s kind of Chicago’s Williamsburg-circa-2004. I just don’t want to do internet dating again for a while. I have reached a point—unthinkable 5 months ago—where I can talk to a strange girl at a bar and have a pretty good conversation. The problem now, however, is that I have no filters online.
PETER, The Grindr Veteran: My mother always is chastising me. She doesn’t understand any of this, because she and my dad met in high school and they’ve been married for 39 years. She’s like, ‘Well why don’t you meet people when you’re out?’ Frankly, when you’re out, everyone’s on their fucking phone. The bar is mostly just a place where you can go and have a few drinks and answer your OKCupid messages or see who’s around you on Grindr or Scruff. I pretty much have lost all faith in the ability to meet people organically.
NICOLE, The Over-Thinker: I miss going to bars and scoping people out. When you go out now people are just talking about their failed Tinder shit and what they should do about this Tinder person who hasn’t responded or this Tinder person they want to message. And it’s like, ‘Guys we are wasting an opportunity here.’
GREG, The Adman out for Ass: An hour at a bar is a million times more productive than an hour on Tinder. But I’m not in a bar at work during this meeting, or sitting at my desk.
PETER (law school grad, gay, 28, DC): I could be at home comfortable not wearing pants sitting on the couch. I don’t need to get dressed up to do this. I don’t need to spend money on alcohol.
NICOLE, The Over-Thinker: I have 3 dates lined up—each is with an aspiring or working reporter or magazine editor.
GREG, The Adman out for Ass: I probably spent like three hours a day on it at the peak. It takes a lot of time to message girls. That’s why I’m kind of over online dating.
ALEXANDER, The Virgin: I still love Tinder. Only I became overly reliant on it. It’s time for me to spread my wings a bit. This is quite likely the end of my Tinder experience for a while.
Part VII: GAME OVER
The pursuit of sex is never about solely the pursuit of sex. Asking yourself, “What do I want?” comes with a related set of questions: “Who am I in the world? Where am I headed?” Desire, hope, an imagined future—everyone on Tinder has a long game. But very few Tinderers, it seems, have found whatever it is they seek.
Such a proliferation of romantic possibilities might’ve been unimaginable in the time before app dating. But these stories from the Tinderverse reveal a strange phenomenon: the more people Tinder, the more they wish to be not Tindering. Technological specificity aside, all the basic elements of courtship remain: lust, longing, conquest, pleasure, excitement, disappointment, projection, fantasy, fucked-up power shit.
We may not all be on Tinder, but we’re all playing the same game.
Molly, Nicole, Katherine, and Rachel are pseudonyms. Interviews have been condensed and edited.
Kiera Feldman has written for The Nation, The New Republic, The New York Times, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter @kierafeldman