By Jenny Noyes
“My most memorable Tinder date?” Kate Iselin gestures as if to say get ready. “It was a gentleman who invited me to lunch, took me to the food court at Martin Place and showed me a photo of his penis. Soft.”
It’s not the fondest memory Iselin – a writer and former sex worker – has of her experiences on the app. But the negative and the bizarre do have a tendency to stick with you.
Horror stories aside, Iselin, 28, is overwhelmingly positive about the impact apps like Tinder have had on the contemporary dating experience. And she’s not alone.
Despite a steady stream of articles about Tinder “killing romance”, making people depressed, or putting them in danger, the app and others like it are as popular as ever (even if some users are loathe to admit it).
Iselin herself has recently returned to 30 Dates of Tinder, a blogging project she’d abandoned a year ago due to “personal stuff” including a relationship. The concept is fairly self-explanatory: she goes on 30 random dates, and writes about them. Now halfway through, she’s accepted every date request received – “provided the date location was safe and they didn’t seem like a closet serial killer,” she says.
Clearly, there’s an appetite for reading stories about Tinder – and part of that is a fascination with what can happen when virtual strangers attempt to light a flame.
But as dating via Tinder increasingly becomes the norm, it’s less about the novelty of using a phone app to date people off the internet. Four years since Tinder launched, Iselin says she’s returning to her project with “a slightly more serious goal”. It’s now more about answering an age-old question than exploring a curious new technology: “To prove that love exists.”
Of course, the proof is already out there among the growing number of successful, lasting relationships launched via Tinder or its myriad competitors. These apps aren’t just facilitating one-night stands. People are finding lasting love in such significant numbers it is no longer considered “weird” to have a partner found online.
Fairfax Media columnist Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen has met almost all of the people she’s dated, in her 28 years, online. Whereas five to 10 years ago there was a stigma attached to meeting people via the internet, it is now “completely normalised” among Gen-Y.
“Most people I know in relationships that have started in the last few years have met their significant others on Tinder,” she says.
Eliza Berlage, 26, met her boyfriend of 10 months on Tinder. She says it’s really a numbers game. “You could go to so many bars, libraries, music festivals, house parties, and still have as much luck … just swiping it lucky and giving it a chance and seeing how it goes.”
With numbers comes choice. And according to Iselin, it’s the choice these apps offer that makes them truly revolutionary – especially for women, minorities, and people whose preferences lie outside the norm.
Although there are some who feel nostalgic for the pre-Tinder dating scene, Iselin reckons women have never had it better; and she doesn’t see us ever going back.
“I know a lot of people say, ‘I would never use Tinder because I want to meet the love of my life the old-fashioned way’. But when we talk about old-fashioned times, we’re talking about a time when women in particular did not have a lot of choice in meeting partners.”
The same goes for people who may be otherwise constrained from exploring their sexuality ‘the old-fashioned way’, says Senthorun Raj, Grindr enthusiast and academic in law and gender studies.
“For people who are busy, those who have social, mental, or physical mobility issues, or individuals who are worried about ‘outing’ their sexual or gender identity in public spaces, dating apps can be a more comfortable way to chat, socialise, and become intimate than meeting people at clubs or bars,” he says. “For same-sex-attracted and gender-non-conforming people especially, these apps can be lifelines to connect with others dealing with similar experiences.”
What’s more, they have the ability to make connections “with people who we would never encounter in the places or circles we normally frequent,” he adds.
Of course, it’s not all rainbows, love-hearts and wink emojis for women, racial minorities or LGBT people. Prejudice and harassment is a real issue – but Raj says it would be a mistake to suggest apps like Grindr and Tinder have unleashed it.
“While Grindr does not cause these stereotypes, apps do make it easier in some ways to express harmful racial, age, and other ‘preferences’ because of anonymity or because the lack of ‘in-person’ interaction makes you feel like what you say or do online is … subject to less critical scrutiny.”
Nguyen says rape threats and racist, sexist comments are things she’s personally had to deal with just as much offline as on dating apps and social media.
“There’s such a big moral panic when it comes to online dating and safety, and it’s valid but we also need to remember that women face this everywhere. It really comes down to better education in schools about consent and respectful connections, and also the apps ensuring that they take reports of violence seriously.”
Sex and relationships expert Cyndi Darnell agrees that while mobile dating apps have revolutionised the sexual choices available and the ease with which users can access them, ultimately better education is needed to improve the human interaction side of things.
“We’re still operating on a very, very, very limited consent framework in terms of discussions around sex and pleasure … and yet our technology is far more advanced than that,” she says.
“There’s no app for getting over awkwardness. There’s no app for managing sexual anxiety. That’s the thing we need to remember: just because there is more access to sex, it doesn’t mean the quality of the sex has improved. We mustn’t confuse quantity with quality.”
Then again, there’s quality to be found – especially if you’re willing to put in the effort. “I’ve been on excellent dates and I have friends who’ve ended up in the most magical relationships,” says Iselin, who’s confident she’ll achieve her goal in one way or another by the end of her 30 dates.
“We are the generation now going to Tinder weddings. There are Tinder babies. I think that’s really exciting, and that gives me faith.”
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