Ten years of Tinder: a thousand ways to reject and be rejected in an endless loop

Five things that have changed since the dating app launched in 2012

OpenAI / Dall·E

We’re celebrating a decade on the dating network that has us hooked on swiping left (I’m interested) or right (I’m not interested) on our peers. Time has shown us that we all lie: men about their height and salary, women about their age. We have discovered that men give more than twice as many “likes” than women. Above all, we have verified that, no matter how many times we delete the application, we end up returning to it, captive to the swipe.

1. The revolution of finding a partner via app

Since its launch, Tinder has been downloaded 400 million times. It has taken over the love lives of our time. “Tinder is one of two big changes that have altered human mating in the last four million years,” says Justin García of the Kinsey Institute for Research on Sex, Gender and Reproduction. “The first took place between 10,000 and 15,000 years ago, when agriculture made us sedentary and marriage was established as a cultural contract. The second came with dating apps on phones with geolocation included —Tinder allows you to find people in a ratio of between 2 and 160 kilometers—, which have turned the search for a sexual partner into a process similar to that of ordering food or booking a cheap flight.”

The information on dating profiles should not be completely trusted: Dan Slater assures in his book Love in the Time of Algorithms that men usually give themselves five centimeters more in height, and women remove five kilos of weight and five years of age. Anthropologist Helen Fisher further adds that men are prone to lying about the money they earn.

2. It has its own codes

Tinder claims to have facilitated more than eight billion connections, though it does not specify whether that figure refers to digital interactions, encounters in the physical world or both. The duration and quality of each connection is “a lottery,” according to the participants in Kathleen A. Bogle’s study Hooking Up: Sex, Dating and Relationships on Campus, as quoted by the sociologist Eva Illouz in her book The End of Love: A Sociology of Negative Relations (Katz, 2020). “Bogle shows a striking confusion about the purpose of casual encounters, in which women (and men) frequently state that relationships can go in many different directions … There is even disagreement on the definition of it, as some define hooking up as only kissing, whereas others would view it as having sex that oral sex that excludes intercourse, while still others define it as a way to browse for relationships.” This uncertainty has been resolved with the expression, “I’m going on a Tinder date.”

3. The algorithm is neither fair nor neutral

The application’s algorithm establishes a ranking of attractiveness that determines the visibility of the profiles and the chances of making a match. The more likes, the higher the Elo Score, the classification created in 1960 by Alfred Elo for chess competitions, which inspired the developers of Tinder. When you receive a like from a very popular user, you earn more points in the ranking. Tinder’s algorithm is complex and very much alive. Its founder, Sean Rad, acknowledged to Fast Company that it took two and a half months to develop. The result is a separate score for each person based on their attractiveness and desirability. With this information, Tinder will make more or less similar candidates more visible. On average, a woman likes 14% of the profiles she sees, while a man likes 46% of the candidates shown to him.

4. There are a thousand ways to reject and be rejected, and they have a new vocabulary

You reject (and get rejected) for futile and unexpected reasons, like bad spelling, a synthetic t-shirt, a misspelled tattoo or a photo with a panda bear. Details count. The swipe to the left –reject– is addictive. It triggers the release of dopamine, and it is one of Tinder’s great attractions. Premium subscribers can rectify their impulsive behaviors with the Rewind option, which allows them to recover a person sent to the limbo of “the Tindersphere” —a term used on the Tinder website itself. It has happened to all of us: just when we thought we were taking the blows well, hardened to rejection, one comes that plunges us into misery.

In addition, we have incorporated into our vocabulary terms that are now ubiquitous: ghosting, when the relationship is abruptly cut off without leaving a trace or giving the right to reply. Breadcrumbing, when crumbs of attention are shared to maintain contact, but without the intention of going much further. Slowfading, to describe the art of slowly disappearing, without slamming the door. Benching, to have someone on the bench, like a can of tuna in the pantry: those in that situation avoid cutting the connection to keep their hope alive. Pocketing, to define internal relationships, which work at home, but never in places where there may be witnesses or acquaintances.

5. The eternal return

We develop a love-hate relationship with Tinder, a dichotomy rehearsed every time the app is deleted and then re-downloaded until the next disappointment, or when a failure leads to new caution. Then a user may move into digisexual mode, a term that refers to those who maintain long screen conversations without ever specifying a meeting in the physical world. Sometimes you try your luck with other platforms like Bumble, but in the end you always come back. As recognized by a report by Match.com, owner of Tinder, one in six singles is addicted to the process of finding a partner, swiping right and left like someone looking for a TV show. At this point, there is no longer and more stable relationship than the one with Mr. Tinder.

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