A relationship of substance really can develop out of literally skimming the surface of your phone—but how?
Dear Women of Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, and the Rest of Generation Swipe,
I’m Alex, 31. Location, Nashville. I like guacamole, Korean food, Ben Folds, that Aziz Ansari show on Netflix, and sharing a laugh like we’re in our own private movie in this crazy, crazy world.
My pictures? They feature me smiling with friends (he has friends!), posed with my tennis rackets (he moves!), leaning on a novelty telephone booth and looking at something off camera (he looks at things!), and smiling solo (he’s into smiling!).
In the last thirty-seven seconds, I’ve peeked at the pictures of thirty-one women and been asked to make thirty-one decisions. Yay or nay, Alex? Do you think she’s cute? No? How about her? You approve? Great, but how about her? Or her? And her? So it goes, like the stubborn beat of windshield wipers: Swipe, swipe, swipe.
“That thing is so vast, yet it has only a centimeter of depth,” said the writer Wells Tower of the Internet in 2009. Even though Tower was speaking of the Internet generally, he may as well have been talking about the eventual rise of swipe culture. There’s no better demonstration of vastness versus depth than spending a few minutes on Tinder and its brother and sister apps. After all, you can look at one profile from top to bottom in mere seconds, but you can swipe forever. For me, what started off as recreation has become compulsion. A long line at the cafeteria at work? Start swiping! Your mom calling you? Put her on speaker so you can log in and check if your match wrote you back. (Sorry, mom.) Nothing new on Tinder? Check Bumble. It’s quiet? Try Hinge. Who needs depth when there’s always a new picture? When there’s always a new possibility?
But then there’s this: a relationship of substance can develop out of literally skimming the surface of your phone. One of my friends met his fiancé on Tinder, and another met his fiancé on Hinge. Did these things happen by accident? Or was there some magical commitment antenna that sprang into action atop my friends’ heads, honing in on someone who was not just a swipe, but a life partner? In other words, did an ill-advised twitch of a finger just eliminate my future wife from those thirty-one women who flashed through my phone in thirty-seven seconds?
How is this real life?
Forgive me, Women of Generation Swipe. I’ve ended up in a monologue here, fixated on how I process this unreal reality. Me, me, me. It’s not so different than swipe, swipe, swipe. I know you’ve done the same. You’ve burned through minutes, maybe hours on these things.
Some of you are looking for a date, some for a hook-up, and some for nothing more than a laugh or two at a bad pick-up line. I can’t always guess your intentions. My own are often confused. Does the flattering buzz of a match still flatter if there’s no conversation afterwards? Or if the conversation withers? I’m looking for someone substantial, is what I tell my friends, but if I can’t find a meaningful match, I’m okay with settling for in-the-meantime fun. What I can’t do, however, is burrow into my brain to see how these calculations and justifications cohere in the split-second decision it takes to brush my finger across a screen. If I’m honest with myself, the calculus is painfully uncomplicated: She hot? Swipe right!
Some of my swipes have led to dates, but most have languished in the Wi-Fi ether, hovering like dreams deferred. The cliché that there are plenty of fish in the sea finds credence in these apps, but if there are indeed plenty of fish, that means I’m just one of many, many fish myself. And I don’t know where I’m swimming.
Writing of a fellow motorcycle rider in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig says that, “I thought maybe in this endless grass and wind she would see a thing that sometimes comes when monotony and boredom are accepted. It’s here, but I have no names for it.” These never-ending slideshows that define the dating app experience don’t leave room for the zen beyond monotony and boredom; the pleasure centers in our brains are continually rewarded until they go numb. I sense that, through every swipe, I’m missing out on the growth that can come from silence, from sitting by myself, alone, from feeling, just feeling, and not responding to bright shiny options.
I could trash Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge. I could get back to those unread books on my shelf. (I haven’t finished Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.) I could call an old friend. I could start meditating. I could focus solely on meeting a woman in Real Life ™, but I’d be lying if I said my Swipe Life hasn’t blurred into Real Life.
The siren call is seductive. Don’t you feel the same way? The next swipe we make might be a joke, but the one after that might change our lives. If it won’t, maybe the swipe after that will do the trick.
Photo: Getty Images