A recent article that I reposted to Twitter discussed the adaptation of the infamous “Ex” (i.e. ex-girlfriend, ex-boyfriend) to the online dating sphere into what the author coined as “Orbiters.” The article analyzes the behavior of former companions on social media by using a rather interesting analogy of manner by which planets revolve around the Sun; ever drawn to it, but centrifugally and uncontrollably distant. After a break up, an Ex will often still follow, like, comment, and even DM their now uninterested former partner. The line between caring former friend, voyeur, and stalker becomes much vaguer in the digital world. So, these channels of interaction afforded by social media, especially apps like Instagram and Snapchat, are making moving on far more difficult for both parties. Furthermore, they have allowed the scorned party to torment their partner via the ability to play psychological and emotional games with these different app features.
This got me thinking a lot about digital dating in general over the past week. Diving down a bit of a rabbit hole, I started to Google the different millennial psychological constructs created by, and emphasized by, Instagram and dating apps like Tinder and Bumble. I know, this could quickly turn into an off-the-cuff trash editorial destined for People Magazine, but I will attempt to keep my findings above board and meaningful.
What I discovered, though, is that there are a lot of valid opinions, articles, and even educational studies on what has been defined as the “swipe culture.” As many readers of this post will know, Tinder is essentially speed dating, on steroids. The term “dating” is used incredibly loosely here, as the vast majority of Tinder or Bumble activity rarely leads to a date at all. Most are but a mere glimpse into another’s life story lasting only a few minutes, if not seconds.
Let’s pause for a second, and walk through the step-by-step process for selecting a suitable counterpart on Tinder. Curious, and hopefully single, person opens the app. He or she has already created a profile consisting of a meticulously edited biography that can range from a list of genuine interests to sarcastic headlines to a string of random yet relevant emojis to a simple yet direct “not here for hook-ups”, and an even more meticulously chosen selection of photos that aim to evoke one’s self-perception. This is achieved through flatteringly angled selfies (“with your phone out, gotta hit them angles” -Drake), commonly known geographic references, societally-relevant allegories, pets, tastefully revealing attire, and assortment of often more attractive anonymous friends. Then, they start to swipe.
During class we had one discussion about the future conversations we would have with our children, especially daughters, regarding internet and social media use. A point was made that much of the activity of young girls on apps like Instagram is to follow and interact with females; bloggers, fashionistas, celebrities, etc. presumably for fashion tips, fitness plans, trending news, or inspiration. Young boys, interestingly enough, also follow predominantly female handles; celebrities, fitness models, super models, their newest crush, etc. Here is the kicker, everyone seems to want to follow female handles, but for far different reasons.
I can’t help but think that this trend translates over to dating apps as well. That is to say, that the majority of men who are on Tinder or Bumble are there to peruse “looks” verses peruse “content”. The decision process, however long or short as it may be, is then first and foremost predicated on aesthetics. This thesis would reinforce my own primary findings that the average window of swipe consideration among men (me and my male friends) is as I mentioned before, is mere seconds. Whereas women are more likely to be looking for confidence, stability, intelligence, and companionship, which often requires a deeper delve into the images and cleverly-worded self-inflating biographical information, men in contract seem to be more enticed by the game of images. The game of swipes.
By anonymizing the swipe interaction; no user knows who views their profile, only who “likes” them via a swipe-right, Tinder allows its players to cast instant judgement with no repercussions. The judgement is based on a brief cognitive analysis of the other’s presentation of self. It is a presentation that in and of itself is iconographic, informed by picture trends like a car selfie, or a picture snuggling a cute dog, or sitting on a yoga mat. Understanding these trends may give the player an advantage, as identifying these clues can indicate whether the target is socially relevant, or not. Then, add in aesthetics. Given that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I won’t comment on aesthetic preferences and will only state that Tinder truncates superficial analysis into a simple “yes” or “no”.
With the majority of users being right-handed, the physical swiping motion of left or right across the screen is, too, a deliberate gamification of dating. Most swipe with their thumb. Ergonomically, when holding a phone in the right hand it is easier to push forward than to pull backwards. So, it is in fact physically easier to swipe-left (reject) than it is to swipe-right (accept). As such, rejection not only becomes more common, but its physical ease coupled with the subconscious phycological superiority complex prevalent among many young adults (a topic to be explored in another post), especially men, makes swiping left actually “more fun.” Yes, in 2019 rejecting others has officially become “fun.” I sigh in disappointment.
I’ll conclude by quoting a great poet in American History, Ice-T: “Don’t hate the player, hate the game.”