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Happily ever after. Can a new mobile app help you find your match?
“Creepy girls finish last.” This would be me. Ms Creepy. It’s been four hours since I “matched” with some guy on Tinder, the GPS-based hook-up app, and I’m being told off – by the app – because I still haven’t talked to him.
Let’s call Tinder Guy “Drew”.
I haven’t talked to Drew because I’ve been too busy fielding texts from eight other men I’ve already matched with (plus another four who, like Drew, are also not talking to me and are presumably getting the same gender-adjusted passive aggressive messages telling them how they are losing at life).
Two of the men have already asked to make contact on Whatsapp. My phone is buzzing every five minutes with a new colour-coded communication: orange for Tinder, green for Whatsapp. It’s unrelenting. This is just the first 24 hours.
Let’s back up a little and talk about the app, before we talk about my torrid excursion into online dating (is it dating?).
Tinder launched in late 2012 (initially only for iOS; it’s now also available on Android). It was developed by Los Angeles-based Internet company InterActiveCorp or IAC, which already owned a whole bunch of other online dating sites (they also own properties like Vimeo and about.com). IAC saw a gap for a youth-friendly mobile dating application that would allow single (or otherwise available) people to window shop for like-minded bodies /souls in their area – kind of like Grindr, the popular GPS-based app that allows “gay, bi and curious guys” to locate and meet up with other men who are close by.
Research from IAC’s dating sites showed that people wanted online platforms that could make flirting fun, but would take some of the sting out of rejection or unrequited affection – and limit abuse or misuse, including the tendency towards social media stalking. To do this, they kept things extremely simple.
The only way to log on to Tinder is through your Facebook account (none of your interactions from Tinder are shared on Facebook, but your “likes” and friends will show up on your Tinder profile together with up to five photos from existing Facebook albums).
Tinder uses Facebook to determine your first name and your age – you can’t change these. The only data you can set independently is your gender, the distance you want to search (based on your own GPS-sourced location; up to 160 kilometres away), the age range you want to look at, and whether you’d like to see men or women. You can also add a short bio and change your photos (providing you choose from what’s already on Facebook). That’s it.
Information about other users is equally limited: all you’ll get to see is a first name, their age, up to five of their photos and a short bio.
How it works is seductively simple: if you see a profile you like, you swipe to the right. Find one that doesn’t pique your interest? Swipe left. If the person you “liked” (right swipe or you can click on a heart icon) likes you back, it’s a match – and then you are able to start talking to each other through the app. If you don’t mutually like each other’s profiles, you can’t make contact. And you’ll only get notified about matches, not rejections.
Chatting on the app is suitably basic. None of your details are shared, and you can only send text messages (short-circuiting unpredictable cock-shot tendencies) or URL links. Tinder indicates when you were last active, but doesn’t show when you are actually online – which is a bit of a relief for anyone who’s ever had to endure seeing your crush “online” on Chat or WhatsApp, but patently not talking to you.
Despite (or because of) its lack of bells and whistles, Tinder is surprisingly addictive. By the first quarter of this year, there were over six million monthly active users globally (up from four million at the end of 2013). The company says there have even been marriage proposals.
The only proposition I’d had so far was to have sex standing up.
“See that box down there? Type some-thing witty into it.”
My Tinder account was a bit of a mess. To start with, I’m not on Facebook. I killed my personal profile four years ago, but I had a dummy account I’d set up linked to an idea for a fiction story I wanted to write, under the name of Vleisboek Tokoloshe (it’s a long story). To make matters worse, I’d set myself up as a male, and added 10 years to my real age, so I had to retrieve my long-forgotten Facebook password and quickly fix things. I uploaded some photos, too, hoping a cute profile pic would be enough to “sell” me. A 37-year-old woman named Vleisboek.
I don’t know if the funny name encouraged or discouraged certain types of men (“Hello, Meat Book!”). Certainly, I was getting enough responses to quickly realise the whole “cougar” thing was pretty popular online. Most of my matches were significantly younger than me – although I was aware of tacitly encouraging that in the way I selected men. I took secret pride in the fact that I was able to match with men in their twenties and fifties.
I’d made a sort of “rule” at the start, that I wouldn’t initiate any of the conversations on Tinder. Maybe it’s old-fashioned, but I expected the guys to make the opening gambit.
One of my first matches was with a man 13 years younger than me. The youngster was quick off the mark and started off with an upbeat but neutral “hey” (thrilling, I know). Going on his first name I figured he was Israeli (so am I), and I cannily replied “shalom”. Much excitement ensued. I tried to type back in Hebrew (I failed dismally). I switched back to English and asked what he did. He said he worked in sales. This part is pretty funny.
Me: “Tell me what you sell”
Me: “Oh no. Tell me you’re not selling Dead Sea cosmetics :)”
Him: “Hahaha I know… And I do.”
At which point I started laughing out loud (I was at my hairdresser, holding my phone so I could read the screen while my hair was being washed). But the laughter made me merry and I gave him my number, when he asked, so he could Whatsapp me. He sent me screenshots of music he liked (Led Zep, Pink Floyd, Balkan Beat Box). I said I was divorced with two kids. He didn’t run away screaming. When I asked about him, he said he was “young and wild”.
And that’s kind of how I wound up going out for a drink with a Dead Sea Salesman.
I had a moment, briefly, where I thought some secret Mossad Bat Signal had gone out, because my next super-enthusiastic Tinder match was another Israeli who worked as… a Dead Sea Cosmetics salesperson. (This was the one who suggested non-reclining sex. He still sends me messages, in Hebrew, saying he misses me, even though we’ve never met.) As a precaution, I started left-swiping anyone who looked even vaguely Semitic.
In the meantime, my other matches – those who were actually talking to me – were a little more restrained, and generally amusing.
There was a man whose bio said he had a vending machine, which I mistakenly took for a joke (he really used to sell vending machines). One bloke asked if I was straight, when I commented that the women in Rio (where we had both visited) were beautiful. Most of the conversations stalled within a few exchanges.
Hello. Hi. Hello (again, with a smiley face). You have a beautiful name (in response to my real name). You’re gorgeous (apropos nothing).
I spent an intriguing and enjoyable week talking to the Clever Boy. I knew he was clever because he told me so. He said he was a polymath, and then proceeded to explain what a polymath was. I tried to chat about nuclear physics (really) but I think it got lost in translation, even though I actually like nuclear physics.
And, of course, I went on my date with Dead Sea Guy. Which, to my surprise, was a lot of fun. I’d planned to ask him about mall stalking tactics, and what he thought about the boycott of Israeli products that had caused the cosmetics company to quit South Africa. Instead, we talked about folk music and how he wished he’d been born in the Sixties. He asked about my kids. We wondered, jointly, how social media was going to change the way people met in the future. We drank a lot of whiskey and only got home at 1am.
It was the only date I went on, in a month of Tinder and 26 matches.
Maybe because I wasn’t really looking for a hook-up. I don’t know what I was looking for. I wasn’t just on Tinder “for a story”, but I was curious more than having an agenda. The buzzing on my phone went from constant to intermittent, to almost nothing.
Sometimes I’d scroll through the new list of faces on my phone just so I could clear them all and reach the zen-like radiating happiness of having Tinder tell me: “There’s no one new around you.”
Towards the end it felt a bit like playing Solitaire (in those old days, before we all had smart phones with fancy games), drawing a random set of cards and doing the same thing over and over again, whether you won or lost, as a way to pass the time.
On one level it’s fun, having all these mystery men in my phone. But it isn’t real life. And thank goodness for that. Although there’s a level of fantasy that makes Tinder quite appealing.
In one of my last conversations (I’ve yet to decide whether I’ll keep the app or not) I found myself reassuring some new match – when I mentioned my divorce – that I wasn’t exactly worried about turning into an old cat lady.
He asked if I wanted to be his cat woman and lick him.
Why I Didn’t Like You… (AND OTHER HOT TINDER TIPS)
There are hundreds of reasons why I left-swiped (trashed) most of the profile pictures I scrolled through. It may have been because: you had too much hair; you didn’t have enough hair; your sunglasses made your forehead look oddly small; your profile picture was a car; you looked like you spent too much time at gym; you looked like you never exercised; you drank bad beer; you went to the Holi We Are One festival; you posted pictures of yourself holding small animals or babies; you posted photos of yourself shooting animals; you posted your Best Man Speech photos from your best friend’s wedding; you posted photos of your own wedding; I know you; I know your girlfriend…
Choose The Right Photos
My “Likes” were almost all based on how cute I thought men looked in their pictures. If you don’t select which photos you want on your profile, the app will automatically choose random images from Facebook – which may not be your best shots. Avoid group photos (I’ve never met you; if I can’t pick you out in any of your photos I don’t know who I’m liking); scenic shots (great, you love the bushveld or you’ve been to the Taj Mahal. What do you look like?); obvious wedding photos (yours or anyone else’s; just don’t); duckface (ditto); photos with women who have obviously friendzoned you; profile pictures that reference Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, or 50 Shades of Grey (I don’t care if you’re a saint or sinner, I just want to know what you look like).
How To Talk To Women
“It’s a problem that you’re not really on Facebook,” one of my matches told me, “because then I can’t see if we have anything in common.” I suggested that we try this really old-fashioned thing called “conversation”, and that he could tell me stuff he liked, and that way we could work out if we liked the same things. Aside from the handful of men who were patently keen on heavy flirting and a possible hook-up, I found most of the men I spoke to really struggled with what, for me, used to be the currency of good flirting: banter. For this, I prescribe a solid diet of reading (books and good magazines), all five seasons of Breaking Bad – and the entire series of Deadwood and The Wire, for good measure. At least then you’ll have something interesting to talk about.
By Nechama Brodie