A screen pops up on my phone. ‘It’s a match!’, it excitedly informs me. A certain David and I can now start chatting, dating, planning our life together and deciding how to name our babies – nothing stands in our way to live happily ever after. But after a few polite introductions back and forth, our conversation quickly falls quiet. This has happened to me a lot since I’ve started using Tinder a few weeks ago: matches turn into chats, chats turn into awkward silences, awkward silences turn into a growing belief that this just isn’t working. Not really, in any case, because I have to admit that I do enjoy using Tinder. But even though swiping your way through an endless stream of potential lovers can be a fun way to spend your Sunday afternoon, I find it difficult to believe that it can lead to a serious relationship.
Surely there’s no such thing as love at first swipe. Or is there? And what about those much-heard claims that love is dead and Tinder is to blame for it? The founder of dating app Hinge even wrote that the swiping interface is ‘designed to keep you single’. Could Tinder really be ruining our chance at finding love rather than increasing it? These are precisely the questions that social psychologist Tila Pronk, who specializes in human relationships, is trying to answer in a new line of research. “It’s still very much work in progress, but we suspect that using dating apps like Tinder could indeed lower your chances of finding love.”
‘Shopping for love’
Together with professor Jaap Denissen, Pronk recently built a Tinder simulator to study the psychological effects of the app’s swiping interface. “Maybe we’re just old-fashioned, but rejecting or accepting a potential match on the basis of a photograph seemed very strange to us. It’s almost like you’re shopping in an online store like Zalando, but for a partner instead of a pair of shoes. We were curious to see what that does to you, to look at other people in such a superficial, almost artificial way”, Pronk explains.
Pronk and Denissen developed a Tinder simulation task that looks a lot like the real thing. “Subjects are shown a series of pictures of potential matches, which they can either accept by tapping the heart icon, or reject by clicking on a red cross”, Pronk says. “Some people tend to press the heart icon more easily than other people. Women are generally a lot pickier than men, but there are also considerable differences between people of the same gender. In our study, we want to examine whether someone’s personality traits can predict their inclination to reject or accept others. But we are also very curious to find out how using Tinder, or performing a Tinder simulation task, affects people. Do they feel more, or less connected to other people? Do they feel worse, or better about themselves? Does it affect their estimation of finding real, lasting love?”
On Tinder, rejecting someone is easy. Just one swipe to the left and it’s done – no explanation needed. Don’t like someone’s nose? Not a problem, people have been left-swiped for less. Throughout my own short-lived dating app experience, I’ve probably rejected more men than during my entire pre-Tinder life. According to Pronk, that’s not all that surprising. “When you’re presented with an endless stream of potential partners, one after the other after the other, you easily become picky”, she says. “Not only do your options seem to be unlimited, but most people also look a lot better in their Tinder pictures than they do in real life. With an infinite pool of seemingly beautiful people to choose from, why would you settle for someone average?”
Although Pronk emphasizes that the study is still in full swing and it’s too early to draw any conclusions, there are some indications that Tinder could complicate your love life rather than making it easier. “Our preliminary results show that when subjects perform the Tinder task, they quickly become more critical. As the task proceeds, they seem to become less likely to press the heart button and more likely to reject the potential matches they are presented with. And it also seems that the more people you reject, the less satisfied you are with the potential matches you did accept”, she explains. “Possibly, using Tinder can create unrealistic expectations and make you more prone to reject others. We call this a ‘rejection mindset’. We’re currently trying to find out if such a rejection mindset exists, and if it can be fostered by performing a Tinder task. If so, then, ironically, by using Tinder you might actually sabotage your chances at romantic success.”
Whether Tinder is destroying romance or not, its popularity cannot be disputed. Millions of people across the world are logging into Tinder every day. And we’ve all heard the success stories proving Tinder love exists. Personally, I’ve seen it with my own eyes: two of my friends met on Tinder a few years ago, and they now have a house and a cat together. How do you explain that? Perhaps reports of Tinder swiping out romance are a bit exaggerated.
“Nowadays, a lot of new relationships spring from Tinder”, Pronk says. “So you can see that it works. It’s no longer just a hook-up app, it really brings people together. But on the other hand, if we zoom out a bit, we also see that there are currently more singles than ever before in western countries. That’s interesting. If a widely-used and super efficient dating app like Tinder would really work, then wouldn’t you expect to see a drop in the number of singles?”
If you’re looking for love, creating a Tinder account might not be the way to go. After all, it seems that there is a possibility it could turn you into an overly picky, impossible-to-satisfy, left-swiping monster. So should we all stop using Tinder before it’s too late? Tila Pronk doesn’t think so. “Our hypothesis could very well turn out be untrue. I’m open to any outcome, and I’m definitely not against Tinder”, she says. Pronk currently has a partner – whom she met the old-fashioned way – but she would actually be open to using Tinder herself. “I hope I won’t need to, of course, but I definitely wouldn’t be opposed to using Tinder if I would be single.”
The fact that Tinder revolves around appearance and physical attraction is not necessarily a bad thing, Pronk adds. “Many dating websites will ask you all sorts of questions in order to match you to a compatible partner. But scientifically, there is absolutely zero support for such matching techniques”, she explains. “We know that physical attraction is one of the most important factors in predicting whether you like someone romantically or not. People don’t like hearing that, because they want to believe that looks don’t matter, but they do. Unlike dating sites, Tinder gets that. It simply shows you the pictures of potential matches, and leaves the rest up to you.”
Although a dating apocalypse doesn’t seem imminent, I’ve deleted my Tinder account pending Pronk’s results. To be honest, I’m not even that scared of Tinderization. I just don’t like being on Tinder that much. It’s awkward, strange, and often disappointing. But then again, so is dating in the real world.
Technology has changed the way we date, but it hasn’t necessarily made it any easier. Despite all of our knowledge and our cleverly built dating apps, finding love has remained an awkward, strange, and often disappointing ordeal. For most of us, the road to love is bumpy. It always has been, and it always will be. Sort of romantic, isn’t it?