Photo and illustration: Jess Tsang

There’s an app for that

In Features /

The social media generation is reinventing online dating with a new, more efficient trend — app dating. Enter Tinder, a quick and easy way many Ryerson students are evaluating potential partners. Arielle Piat-Sauve reports

Gina Wicentowich took the elevator down to the lobby of her apartment building feeling a mix of excitement and nerves, but a good kind of nervousness. She spotted her date through the glass door and smiled. He waited for her inside, nicely dressed and looking like a true gentleman. Having just moved to Toronto to pursue her master’s, she was excited to meet new people and branch out of her comfort zone.

Her date opened the door for her as they walked out onto the busy street, feeling the cool fall air. He knew she was new to the city and thought it would be a nice pre-date activity to walk around the neighbourhood. Wicentowich was impressed, this guy exuded confidence and had a plan.

The romantic evening continued at a trendy seafood restaurant, where the conversation flowed and they got to know one another. They talked about life in the big city, their career goals, and other typical first-date banter. He seemed like the total package: attractive, smart and polite. Wicentowich, admittedly, went into the date without expectations other than to have a good time and see what happens.

At any other time, they might have met at a bar on a Friday night, in class, or even in line at Starbucks. But this is the world of online dating — they met on an app called Tinder.

Tinder is the latest online dating app that has everyone talking. First released a little over a year ago, Tinder’s co-founders Sean Rad and Justin Mateen say the app has already generated 50 recorded engagements and over 75 million matches. The smartphone app recently gained increased media attention and pop culture references, making this the latest trend in Generation Y’s digitized dating culture.

Tinder is free and connects directly through your Facebook account to select between one and five pictures for your Tinder profile. The app also displays your name, age and proximity to other Tinder users. Tinder operates on a “hot or not” basis, making this app feel a lot more like a game than an actual dating or hookup experience.

If you like someone’s picture, swipe to the right. Maybe not? Swipe to the left and the game continues. If both individuals like each other’s pictures, then that’s a Tinder match, and the app automatically opens up a conversation box on the right-hand-side.

The millennial generation is seeing social media reshape the way they interact and communicate with each other and this also extends to the dating realm. An increasingly large number of university students gravitate towards social media apps like Tinder because it allows you to keep anonymity while also giving you the power and control to decide who you want to talk to.

Many university students justify hooking up being the new dating norm because everyone is on a constant time crunch. Kayla Kuefler, a first-year student, believes that our expectations around dating are completely different than that of our parents’ generation, and that guys are now more likely to expect to hook up just after meeting someone. Kuefler thinks technology is to blame for limiting the possibility of traditional dating. People don’t take the time to get to know one another because they are increasingly preoccupied with their phones and computers.

“You never hear the cute stories anymore about people meeting at a coffee shop,” she says. “Everyone is so obsessed that they are not looking for a conversation, instead they are on Instagram or Twitter to fill their time.”

Since the beginning of the semester, Kuefler noticed that many of her close girlfriends turned to Tinder, mostly for fun and to possibly meet new guys. She personally has yet to use the app because her understanding is that it is primarily used for hooking up, and she is not interested in the disposable nature of that kind of relationship. She did admit to browsing through her friend’s Tinder, something many people have tried in a social setting. Browsing through your friend’s Tinder at a party, swiping and liking, creating matches, is part of a new social dynamic.

Kuefler was turned off by the creepy messages she received on her friend’s account from matches, most of whom asked straight up when and where they could meet to hook up.

Jen Kirsch, a Toronto-based sex and relationship expert for CosmoTV’s Love Trap and columnist at ELLE Canada, views Tinder in the same light.

“To me, Tinder is like Grindr [a gay, hook-up app]. You log on, see if someone is in your area, and hook up,” she says. “It is no longer about going out for dinner and drinks, or having a good conversation. It is about ‘when can you meet me,’ ‘how far are you’ and all via social media.”

Kirsch is still a strong believer of traditional online paid dating sites where in these instances both parties are usually looking for a more serious type of commitment or relationship. However, she understands the appeal apps like Tinder have and she is all for having fun with them, as long as both parties are up front about their intentions from the get-go — whether that is to go on a date or to hook up.

Apps like Tinder blur the lines that usually separate traditional dating from online dating. Tinder is the latest trend, meaning it is socially acceptable to use in public. Just because you participate in this app dating fad doesn’t mean you aren’t a social person going to bars and meeting new people. Kirsch agrees that when it comes to Tinder, there’s no loss to having an account.

“You are either on it or you are not. It doesn’t mean that you are not going out mingling and doing your Thursday night thing, meeting new people,” she says. “But Tinder creates the opportunity to meet even more people.”

Creating opportunities to meet new people was especially attractive for Wicentowich and one of the reasons why she joined Tinder. Wicentowich, who is also the culture editor for the Edmonton-based blog The Wanderer Online, recently shared her enthusiasm about Tinder publicly. She believes Tinder’s anonymity and user-friendly functionality is a huge selling point for new users.

“It is not as intimidating as going on a dating site and sorting through all the profiles,” she says. “It lets me have complete control.”

Wicentowich encourages girls to be up-front when speaking to guys on Tinder and to separate the guys who are looking for a quick hook up from those looking to date. Her technique seems to be working so far and she survived four different Tinder dates, all of which were positive experiences.

Like many, Wicentowich understands some of the challenges the younger generation faces in communicating effectively, and how this affects their dating behaviour.

“It is easy to hide behind a façade of social media, and not really face being lonely and learning to do things on our own,” she says. “I think our generation has the fear of missing out, and maybe as a generation we are not communicating the way we should.”

Daniel Furlano, a first-year student, recognizes that many of his male friends are on Tinder looking for their next hook up and they are open about it. There is less stigma associated with online dating nowadays, but people are still reluctant to create a full profile broadcasting their single status for the world to see.

Furlano assumes apps like Tinder remove stigma because most people view it as a game, where you have nothing to lose. From a guy’s perspective, he finds it eliminates the initial fear of rejection you get when you approach someone at a bar. Guys, or girls for that matter, may be more inclined to strike up a conversation with someone on Tinder because they know that the other person finds them attractive.

Although Furlano is entertained by watching and hearing about his friends’ experiences on Tinder, he still plans on continuing to try to meet girls the old fashioned way.

“I don’t have anything against online or app dating, I understand the appeal of it, but I just like to meet someone in person for the first time,” he says. “I feel like you develop a different first impression of them.”

Like most social media apps or sites, Tinder works to boost your self-confidence. Receiving messages from complete strangers who you find attractive and also find you attractive is a definite ego boost.

This may sound like a very self-centred approach to dating, but many Tinder users explain that this feeling can also be transferred to enhance your confidence in the real world. You may be at a bar perusing your Tinder while waiting for your drink, receive a match, and suddenly feel more confident to flirt with the guy or girl across the room.

Tinder, like social media in general, provides you with the opportunity to get to know someone before you actually meet, something inconceivable to previous generations. You can learn a lot about the other person by scanning their social media activity, and this practice has become increasingly common.

University of Toronto Postdoctoral Fellow Amy Muise focuses her research on Facebook’s influence on dating and relationships. Through theories of impression management, she studies how social media plays a critical role in building relationships and how sites like Facebook can actually increase individuals’ senses of insecurity and jealousy.

“If someone is dating or interested in them, they are going to take some time perusing their profile. We have a natural curiosity about people, especially those whom we are interested in romantically,” she says. “I think it is important to be aware of some of the negative consequences and that access to information does often lack context and can trigger feelings of jealousy.”

As more and more people use Tinder, the original intention behind the app may be evolving. People continue to use the app for quick hook-ups but a growing number are coming out and admitting to actually meeting someone they connect with and start dating through Tinder.

Wicentowich did notice her friends and classmates jumped on the Tinder bandwagon. Although she doesn’t plan on pursuing anything more than a friendship with her Tinder date for now, she feels the app taught her keep her standards high, both offline and online.

“You do not have to be their booty call,” she says. “Keep your standards high, because all the guys that I went on dates with took me to very nice restaurants, paid and acted very chivalrous and gentleman-like.”

Maybe chivalry isn’t dead after all.

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