Since its launch in 2012, Tinder—the controversial dating app—has been cause for conversation. Tinder was among one of the first apps with swiping capabilities, which allows users to swipe either right or left on a series of profile pictures from people nearby. Two users who swipe right on one another’s profiles will “match,” which gives them the ability to start a conversation.
In the below excerpt of The Happiness Effect, author Donna Freitas reflects on her interviews with university students who shared their experiences on Tinder.
In an online survey, students were asked to name all of the social media platforms they use on a regular basis. Of the students who answered this question, only 9% said they use Tinder regularly.
Because Tinder uses GPS, you can pretty much limit your choices to people on campus. And that’s what the few students who use it do. They use it to flirt. Say there’s a cute guy in your physics class but you’ve never actually met him? Maybe he shows up on Tinder when you’re playing around on it some Friday night with your friends. This allows you to swipe right on his photo—and hope that maybe he’s already done the same on your photo). Either way, voila: once you swipe right, you’ve let him know you might be interested.
Maybe nothing happens from there—maybe he never responds, maybe he does but you never actually talk to him in person. Or maybe next time you see him you actually have a conversation because you’ve established a connection on Tinder. Tinder can provide an opening to talk to someone you’ve always thought was attractive. Students certainly find it incredibly difficult to establish that opening—actually going up to someone on campus you already find attractive and saying hello, in person, boggles their minds. Of course, once a connection is established on Tinder, if it leads to anything it will likely be a hookup, not a date. Hookup culture dominates campuses. Dating (at least of the more traditional sort) is nearly nonexistent, even if students would prefer that not to be the case. It’s definitely true that college students don’t know how to date anymore. But it’s also true that most college students would like to date if they could. Tinder can help alleviate their fears and anxieties around that initial meeting (though it doesn’t always function this way).
But what I want to emphasize here is that the reputation Tinder has in the media, and the fears stoked by alarmists—that Tinder simply facilitates sex between strangers—does not seem to apply on college campuses. For those who do occasionally use Tinder to find hookups, it’s almost always hookups with other students. Moreover, for college students, hookups are a broad category—they can be anything from kissing (and it is often just kissing) to sex. So even if a student uses Tinder to spark a hookup, that hookup may simply lead to an evening of making out with another student.
The same dread that college students feel about online dating–the sense that meeting someone with whom you have no prior real life connection is reckless—applies to Tinder as well. Students may indeed want to have sex and hook up, but they do not want to have sex and hook up with anonymous strangers. They want to have sex and hook up with that hot guy from American lit, or that hot girl from chemistry class. Even if they have no prior formal introduction or relationship with that person, the very fact that this person is a known quantity—they attend your college, you have a class with them, maybe even some of your friends know this person or know the friends of this person—changes the dynamic entirely. For better or for worse (and I would say for better overall), this makes the person with whom you are flirting and with whom you might like to meet up “safer.” They are “safer” in the eyes of students because you are going to see them again in class, because you can get a sense of their reputation from others before anything happens between you, because you likely already know where they live or can find out easily if you don’t, and because you will have further access to them if need be since they live and go to school on your campus and are bound by its rules and authorities. Granted, this is not a guarantee that a hookup will turn out well, and it’s certainly not a guarantee against sexual assault. But, despite fears expressed in the media, students almost never use Tinder to meet total strangers.
Tinder, for those who are on it, is simply a useful tool for showing interest, possibly for flirting, and definitely for a quick ego boost if someone needs one. Is Tinder a part of hookup culture on campus? Definitely. It depends upon the campus, since Tinder is more popular on some campuses than others. And hookup culture was dominant on college campuses long before Tinder was invented. Hookups happen regardless of apps and social media, so while social media may play a role in hookup culture, it certainly didn’t create hookup culture. And if social media were to disappear tomorrow, the effect on hookup culture would be pretty much nonexistent.
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