“I love traveling, reading, and my family and friends are my world. I’m also 420 friendly. Oh, and the baby in the picture is my niece, not mine (insert flirty emoji).”
Lines like these can describe millions of people while still not saying much about who they really are. This is the concise-yet-calculated image we project on dating apps. These lines, together with well-crafted selfies, decide how we are immediately perceived by the online dating world.
I have been using dating apps since I got divorced seven years ago. I met my ex-husband the old-school way at a café on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It was snowing outside and I was freshly unpacked from Colombia. The whole scene was that of a romantic comedy. He saw me staring at the snowflakes coming down and a question led to a conversation which led to him asking me out.
When I got divorced and was ready to date again, I naïvely thought that going out and a flirty conversation would land me a date. I couldn’t have been more wrong. After seven years of marriage, the dating landscape had changed so much that I just wasn’t finding the same kinds of connections in public spaces. Reluctantly, I resorted to online dating, a platform stigmatized by my pre-Internet generation for how disconnected it seemed from reality. Back then, as far as I knew, online dating was reserved for the socially awkward who only felt comfortable approaching people from behind a screen. To this day, I still hesitate to confess I meet my dates online. But when I walk around campus and see how younger students use Tinder so naturally, I realize how much things have changed in just a few years.
This new world of dating apps is a peculiar one. People post pictures and write short blurbs stating what they are looking for and what they are offering. It seems as cold and as distant as buying clothes from a catalogue. You have to learn to read between the lines to detect what people are really about, or learn how to interpret pictures. For instance, a guy showing only muscles is most likely offering his physique rather than his intellect.
One of the things I hear from users across generations and personally have experienced often is people’s disappointment after they meet their match in person. “You don’t look like the pictures at all.” Just like a profile can’t tell you much about a person’s personality, a picture can’t really say much about how a person carries themselves, about their gestures, or about other features reserved for live interaction. A picture is a fleeting moment of a person’s life—you have to take the risk and meet them in person to unveil the truth.
What are the odds that you really have much in common with a person you meet online who works in a completely different field, or who grew up on a completely different continent? Of course, there are a few lucky ones who have found their soulmates this way. But perhaps without the option of outsourcing your dating services to apps, you would notice the people around you at work, in school, or at your local stores more, and instead take the time to get to know them. Are we getting so used to online dating that we are forgetting to find connections with the people already around us? I think we are.
When I started using Tinder, I felt that people didn’t really stick to one person and go on the necessary couple of dates to assess real compatibility. People online can go on as many first dates as they can arrange with the swipe of a finger. Having the option of finding people so easily makes dating so effortless that people don’t feel the need to work to go beyond the exciting—or disastrous—surface. With so many options to choose from, it’s easy to feel that there has to be someone better out there and that there’s no reason to stop meeting new people.
This kind of instant gratification was unbeknown to me when I was newly single and unaware of the online dating craze. I would go to public places and flirt the old-fashioned way. That used to work before. Now, people’s eyes are lit not by flirtatiousness but by their phone’s light. Their future true love could be right in front of their eyes while they carefully edit a text or interpret one.
For me, it still feels strange to meet people online. I feel like they all come from Planet Tinder, a world of millions of men who like to travel and read. I’m sure these men have more to offer than just cheesy pickup lines and their biceps. Perhaps if they tried to make more connections offline they would have the opportunity to expose a more genuine side of themselves and avoid a generic and superficial advertisement. It will just depend on the intention and dedication to reveal it.
The author is a seventh grade Spanish teacher and a psychology major at the School of General Studies. She likes talking about controversial topics, especially with regards to social interaction and dating. In her free time, she likes to dance salsa and meet new people.