“The bio is really what makes it for me. Are they funny? Over six feet? Are they just gonna want me to send pictures of my feet for money?” my friend said while lying on her VINDUM IKEA rug and swiping left after left on Tinder, creating a never-ending pile of boys aged 18 to 22 within a four-mile radius who never even got a chance. She’d just convinced me to download it, and I was terrified. She’d tried time and time again to convince me that this was the best part of Tinder: You never lead anyone on, and there is nothing to lose. Little did she know—and little did I know—just how bad at “Tindering” I’d be.
Before coming to Columbia, I’d been warned just how Tinder-centric the area between 114th and 120th streets and between Riverside Drive and Morningside Park was, but I hadn’t given it much thought. Tinder was an ephemeral cloud of hookups and lewd encounters that didn’t apply to me. It was college, and I’d meet people naturally like in all the movies.
About two weeks into school, this picture-perfect fantasy of a college romance still evaded me. I downloaded Tinder to procrastinate—mainly on my Literature Humanities reading—but also in order to distract myself from the sadness of my recent breakup. I then spent the better part of an hour determining which six photos of myself perfectly translated just how laid-back, yet artistic, yet sporty, yet interesting I was. I had to find the perfect combination to get across my girl-next-door-who-also-reads vibe. I set my maximum distance to one mile and my age range to 18 to 22, all in the hope of finding a fellow Columbia student who was as socially inept as I was. I decided to leave my bio blank, mainly because I couldn’t come up with anything, but also because I convinced myself that it made me seem more “mysterious.”
At first, I loved it. My first match gave me butterflies and I’d seen him before in John Jay refilling a cup of Minute Maid® Raspberry Lemonade. I liked Minute Maid® Raspberry Lemonade. We already had something in common!
I waited and waited to see if he would make the first move and send a message. He didn’t. My second match? Similarly, nothing. I was lost. We were clearly mutually attracted to each other, and if I had learned anything from the info sessions, the Core would provide us with some stimulating common texts to discuss. We had so much to talk about! And here he was, not messaging me. And here I was, not messaging him. It was a stalemate. An acknowledged mutual attraction, and nothing more.
One of the first boys that actually messaged me was a fellow first-year from my Lit Hum class. He started with: “Hey aren’t you in my Lit Hum class?” And then we talked… about Lit Hum, and only about Lit Hum.
It was awkward and stilted, like many first conversations, but I figured it was ok and that I’d see him on Tuesday. Now we’d both have the confidence of at least knowing the other found us attractive. Yet, when Tuesday finally came around, we bumped into each other walking up the Hamilton steps. He held the door open for me and said… nothing. We walked up the stairs together as if we were purposefully trying to ignore each other. I couldn’t even understand why I felt the need to seem so overly uninterested. But I did, and apparently he did too. We got to class and went to our respective seats—and that was it.
After class, I ran to tell my friends about the incredibly strange experience I’d had, but they seemed unimpressed. Apparently this was common—expected, even. One of my friends recounted how earlier that week she’d gotten in an elevator and overheard a boy telling his friend about how he’d swiped right on her earlier that day. I then quickly realized that, every day, my friends walked by on average two to three people that they’d matched with on Tinder, but said nothing. No head nod, no awkward smile, no knowing look. Nothing. These almost-hookups were apparently an epidemic on campus.
If Tinder gained its popularity on Columbia’s campus with the validation of mutual attraction, and if the fear of rejection is what stops most people our age from going out on a limb and admitting interest in others, then why is it that I walk past at least three of my Tinder matches a day and never share more than an awkward glance? Why are we embarrassed by liking and being liked by people? Isn’t that the whole point of Tinder, using online interactions to spur in person ones?
At risk of sounding like an old person, this is what I think is wrong with technology. It allows us to be both too shy and too forward at the same time. In person, you wouldn’t stand silently staring at someone and not say anything. But at the same time, you wouldn’t (I hope) whip out your penis without at least asking if the other person wanted to see it first.
At such a competitive school like Columbia, where people harbor the constant fear of looking dumb in front of their peers, even the affirmation of a “Like” or “Super Like“ isn’t enough for us to actually start a conversation. We are so preoccupied with making sure we come across as calm, cool, and collected that we barely ever take chances. We’ve been trained our whole lives to be “right,” to be “smart,” to not make mistakes in academic settings, and it has begun to bleed into all aspects of our lives—preventing us from ever truly putting ourselves out there.
Maddy Aubey is a first-year in Columbia College who intends to major in art history, anthropology, or English… she is very indecisive.
Love, Actualized is a weekly op-ed series on love, sex, and dating at Columbia. To respond to this op-ed, or to submit to Love, Actualized, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.