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Tinder: Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places



Matthew Beard - published on 03/24/15 - updated on 06/08/17

The heart as a consumer good

"Tinder is how people meet. It’s like real life, but better." So reads the slogan of one of the world’s most populated and powerful apps.

Ostensibly designed to allow people to meet, Tinder is — in both design and practice — a dating app designed to encourage, develop, and foster romantic relationships.

Naturally, people use Tinder for a number of different purposes: some use it for sex, others as a spurious distraction. For many, Tinder simply represents a real and convenient pathway to a romantic relationship. But are these people looking for love in the wrong place?

The official number of users on Tinder isn’t public knowledge, but estimates place it somewhere between 10 and 50 million people who swipe left or right through over 1 billion profiles a day. The app also boasts better user engagement than either Facebook or Instagram.

This shouldn’t be remotely surprising. Facebook is usually used to keep in touch with friends and family, to be involved in their lives. Instagram seems more about projecting a visual narrative of one’s life while consuming the narratives of others. Tinder is (for many, at least), about love, and social imperatives tell us that the successful pursuit of love is an intrinsic element of – or even synonymous with – living a fulfilled and happy life.

Keeping in touch with friends and family, or knowing which artisan cafe served their avocado on spelt this morning is certainly important, but it is unsurprising that finding the person with whom one becomes "one tree and not two," as Louis de Bernieres describes in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, would occupy more of one’s time.

On Tinder, the quest for love is made more efficient. Single men and women don’t need to waste time in half-hour conversations only to learn their interlocutor is taken, gay, straight, incompatible, or about to join the Peace Corps. Still, it seems to me — admittedly, a married man who has never used Tinder — that something is lost in the efficiency of Tinder; something that goes beyond an accidental change in the way our society practices romance, and strikes at the heart of love itself.

Think about the process involved in "falling in love" on Tinder. It begins, like so many others, with attraction. A photo and a short description are presented to be judged: attractive or unattractive? Left or right? After that initial judgement, if both people are interested, short messages are exchanged with the possibility of a meet-up where, presumably, true love can flourish. If the relationship stays in the space of the chat, it cannot generate erotic or romantic love – these require an interaction with the embodied person.

However, by the time the physical meeting between the two potential lovers has occurred, Tinder has already set a dynamic that is directly opposed to the generation of love — safety. On Tinder, anonymity and distance protect a user from being vulnerable to the Other, and empowers them to control the conditions under which they will reveal themselves. Photos are carefully selected, descriptions crafted, and on these conditions individuals are chosen or rejected as lovers.

C.S. Lewis describes love as a condition defined in part by its vulnerability: "love anything and your heart will possibly be broken." This modern love, by comparison, denies that vulnerability by allowing the initial judgements to take place from a safe distance.Alain Badiou calls this "safety first" love:

"love comprehensively insured against all risks: you will have love, but will have assessed the prospective relationship so thoroughly, will have selected your partner so carefully by searching online – by obtaining, of course, a photo, details of his or her tastes, date of birth, horoscope sign, etc. – and putting it all in the mix you can tell yourself: ‘This is a risk-free option!’"

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