Rihanna is having a moment. She has a number one hit single, “Work,” with the infinitely meme-able Drake; her eighth studio album, “Anti,” is number three on the Billboard 200; and, in 48 hours, she acquired almost 80 matches on Tinder in the one-mile radius around Yale.
A recent survey of 295 Yale students showed that 55 percent had used a dating app while on campus, and 96 percent of those had downloaded Tinder. We, two naive reporters, assumed that because so many Yalies use Tinder, finding people willing to share their experiences and thoughts about the app would be a cinch. We reached out to a wide cross-section of undergraduate users. Unfortunately, as soon as we started to ask questions, many potential interviewees stopped responding to calls and stood us up at meetings. Meeting people the old-fashioned way wasn’t working anymore. So, like hundreds of Yalies, we turned to Tinder.
We decided to create a deliberately fake-looking account so as not to catfish any gullible “Tinderfellas,” the colloquial name for men using Tinder. First, we established a fake Facebook profile, filled with photos lifted from Rihanna’s Instagram account, carefully striking a balance among candids, selfies and swimsuit pictures — as any real Tinder user might. We included the bio “Not your bad girl RiRi” and swiped right for every guy that attended Yale.
Within a matter of hours, the account had dozens of matches and a smattering of messages ranging from “LOL hi” to “it’s late, cum over.” Of the 77 matches made within the two days we had the account, 15 Yalies messaged us first, six responded to our query for an interview, three were willing to talk about Tinder and one person showed up for an interview. After interviewing numerous other Tinder users, we discovered our success rate was pretty good: one of the 77 matches led to a satisfying meetup. But not even Rihanna could get a second date.
A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO SWIPING
When explaining why they downloaded Tinder, many used words like “ridiculous” or “funny” to describe their first impressions of the app. Jacob Middlekauff ’19, a production and design staffer for the News, said he “wasn’t really serious” about Tinder when he first downloaded it during his senior year of high school; it was simply a tool to see guys who lived near him.
Phoebe Petrovic ’18, however, downloaded Tinder a year-and-a-half ago to find friends. Her family had just moved to Cleveland and she didn’t know anyone in town.
“That’s exclusively what I used it for,” she said. “Meals, coffee and meeting people to walk around the art museum. It was great, because I was so desperate to meet people and not hang out with my parents.”
Still, she acknowledged that most of her matches expected more than friendship. Our survey confirmed that friendship was not the first priority for swipers: only 16 percent of Tinder users said they used the app as a way to meet new friends.
Still, regardless of whether they are making new friends, several users we spoke with highlighted that they use the app primarily as a social activity to do with others, rather than by themselves. Caroline Tisdale ’18, a staff illustrator for the News, said she downloaded the app only because she felt as though all of her friends had it.
Friends also swipe and review each other’s matches together. Groups of friends or suitemates download the app simultaneously in order to compare matches, brainstorm conversation-starters and discover which of their other friends are on Tinder.
Sarah Yoo ’18 swipes right for any friend she sees on the app, and often invites them over for “a huge Tinder party — all swiping together in the same room, showing each other who we find attractive.” However, Yoo added, when members of her six-girl suite matched with the same person and he only messaged some of them, the atmosphere could get mildly competitive.
And even though most of the people we interviewed emphasized the frivolity involved in their use, they all also revealed that they had devoted serious attention to crafting their own profile. There is a common formula for many Yale Tinder users: three or four attractive photos and a brief, witty personal description.
Yoo described the stereotypical Yale man on Tinder: preppy and well-coiffed, standing in front of Commons, wearing a collared shirt or repping a “Y” sweater. (It must be working: according to Tinder, male Yalies received the sixth-most right swipes of any college campus in 2015.)
Two women we interviewed expressed concern about appearing too “slutty” in their profiles. Yoo opted to remove a suggestive bio, worrying that it would invite unwanted advances.
According to Kwasi Enin ’18, the ideal Tinder photo involves an activity: “something fun, like bungee jumping, or something really artsy, or something athletic.”
In order to maximize their number of matches, users create profiles based on what they believe other Tinderers will swipe right for. One user, who requested to remain anonymous, knows exactly the type of guy he will attract with each of his photos — he has a library of over 1,700 matches.
“There’s a picture where my arms look really big, so maybe someone’s into that, but there’s a picture that I look really gay in, so maybe someone is looking for a twinkier guy,” he said.
In addition to uploading their most attractive pictures, the people we interviewed repeatedly expressed the need to include a weird or off-kilter joke in their biography section. Enin said the best bios are “weird or funny [because] you can put off people you may find boring or attract someone who’s into that. It’s like a filtering process.”
But our interviewees didn’t give their matches the same close attention they gave their own profiles.
Enin walked us through his swiping strategy: With each new profile, he glances at the first image and, within three-quarters of a second, has swiped left or right. Enin may be an especially efficient Tinder user, but every single person interviewed said they most considered how attractive a potential match is when swiping.
He, and several other sources, noted that if scrolling to the second picture is necessary — because it’s a group photo or you can’t really tell what the person looks like — it’s a safe bet just to swipe left and move on.
But others assumed potential matches spent more time perusing profiles than they did. Enin explained that while he may not pore over each Tinder profile, he assumes women “look at the profile more than they just swipe,” which is why he invested time writing his personal description. But Yoo said, in her opinion, a profile’s bio is secondary to its pictures.
Multiple people described a boost of confidence from matching with another user. Seventy-two percent of people surveyed said one of the reasons they downloaded Tinder was to see who and how many people are attracted to them. Once users run out of matches or become disinterested, many decide to delete the app. Still, many of them have trouble shaking the “addictive” app — as four interviewees described it — and re-download Tinder later.
Stephan Sveshnikov ’18 has deleted and re-downloaded Tinder multiple times.
“It was a rush — swiping never seemed to get old,” Sveshnikov said. “There was always the potential that something could happen.” But Sveshnikov hasn’t had the app since October. He affirms that Tinder is not for everyone.
“Yo, you wanna get coffee?”
Once you’ve gotten a match, though, your work is far from over: matching enables chatting, also known as messaging. Matching is the stage, however, when many Yalies give up. 65 percent of survey respondents claimed to “Almost never” or “Rarely” message their matches — with 35 percent in the “Never” category. Those we interviewed described the murky etiquette behind who should chat first, and what tone to strike.
Last semester, Ashia Ajani ’19 found herself in an odd predicament when it came to messaging: she matched with many people, but few would initiate contact. The problem was compounded, she said, by her own reluctance to reach out. Others found themselves in the same conundrum.
Middlekauff laid out his conditions for messaging first: “really attractive” or “prior acquaintances.” Most guys he has matched with, he said, do not fall in those categories.
Some women described aggressive or graphic messages they had received, although harassment was not a major concern for most. 95 percent of respondents said they “never” or “rarely” felt harassed on Tinder.
Ajani describes herself in her bio as “queer and disappointed;” she sets her preferences to seeking men and women. She recalled the gender differences she noted in her early days of Tindering: many of the messages from men were “fetishistic and gross,” and they led her to only respond to girls.
A more positive environment seems to prevail at Yale, where Delgado says she has experienced “definitely zero harassment” — a change, she said, from Tindering in other locales.
Interviewees complained more about formulaic messages than inappropriate ones. Another student said she has received the message “Yo, you wanna get coffee?” many times.
Enin admitted that he favors a direct approach to expressing his interest in a match; he often messages first, and often receives no reply. One of his favorite pickup lines is: “Honeymoon in Honolulu?”
Ajani’s floormates, including Melina Delgado ’19, expressed strong feelings about messaging etiquette. Ajani said she was most likely to meet up with matches who proved engaging conversationalists.
Ajani’s feeling toward men who can’t keep a conversation going? “Hm.”
MEET YOUR MATCH
The first date Middlekauff ever went on was set up through the app. Ajani was also an early adopter, and went on multiple Tinder dates in high school. She may have gone on more, she says, but safety was a limiting factor: she always insisted on meeting in a busy public place, rather than travelling to a private residence or getting picked up.
At Yale, many students find Tinder useful not just for meeting strangers, but for reconnecting with past acquaintances. Petrovic called the app a “catalyzing force.” Without it, nothing romantic would have developed with acquaintances she had made in other, decidedly un-sexy contexts. According to her, and eight other men and women we sourced, Tinder has made the people Yalies know only through Shakespeare sections or club meetings accessible for romance in an all-new way.
Since Tinder displays all profiles in a set radius, students have the option to explore romance outside the Yale bubble.
Most seemed open to New Haveners in theory but less inclined to pursue them in practice: most interviewees explained that their small radius primarily yielded Yale-affiliated students. 66 percent of survey respondents said they set their radius to less than five miles.
Middlekauff said his radius directly corresponded to how serious he was about talking to matches: the wider the radius, he said, the less likely he was to engage in conversation.
Enin and Petrovic specified that they had not met up with non-Yale-related New Haveners.
Ajani expressed greater willingness to meet up with women and nonbinary people who don’t go to Yale than with non-Yale men.
Female students described going on Tinder dates as entertainment — instead of watching TV, she said, you go on dates, then tell your friends about it. Funny stories abounded among our interview subjects.
Petrovic recalled the second night of this semester, chatting with a match before going to bed. She abruptly left the conversation, leaving a message unanswered, and fell asleep. The next morning, while brushing her teeth, a male floormate joined her and introduced himself. They made small talk, and she learned that he was an exchange student. Suddenly, they both pieced the details together: He looked at her and asked, “Did we match on Tinder?”
When she realized her new match was also her floormate, she decided pursuing him was out of the question.
Tisdale, on the other hand, found a relationship via the app. She said she was not using the app with the intention of dating anyone she matched with, but that it “just kind of happened.” When she and her future beau first started talking, she was inebriated and enthusiastic about the conversation. The pair kept messaging for a few days before he told her he was considering deleting the app, because he only wanted to talk to one person at a time. The two began texting, and three weeks later, she went to New York City to have lunch with him.
Things did not turn out as she hoped: as she tells it, he turned out to be “crazy.” She doesn’t blame Tinder, but she realizes she might have avoided him if she had met him before, in real life, and known his friends or past girlfriends.
“The problem is, if you talk to someone for a while before meeting them, you have these preconceived notions of who they are and whether or not you like them,” Tisdale said. “And when you actually meet them, you don’t see the person that they actually are.”
Tisdale is not the only one frustrated with the app’s limitations. One common complaint involves the feasibility of long-term relationships with matches. The app’s reputation for casual sex, according to multiple students, can create problems when one partner wants to take things more seriously.
Delgado strongly counseled her roommate against making a profile. But because the suite turned it into a social activity, it proved hard for any of her suitemates not to take part. Her suitemates would congregate and collectively discuss a specific profile, and she would feel left out. But Delgado continues to believe that Tinder is the wrong place to look for a serious relationship.
Swiping on people, Delgado explained, is a poor substitute for really getting to know them. Rahman added that relationships begun on Tinder are ill-fated, because meeting on Tinder feels like entering into a “contract of casualness” — one that is hard to renegotiate.
A separate pitfall that many confront is encountering friends on the platform. Users are forced to swipe right or left on every profile, but both options can feel wrong when the face looking up from the screen is a close platonic friend.
If Enin matches with a friend, he often doesn’t bring it up with them face-to-face, because he knows some people are shy about identifying as a user of the app. If he matches with a friend, and they seem playful in their communication, he asks himself, “Do I want to do this or not?”
Delgado’s suite uses a different approach: screenshotting a friend’s profile and sending it to them, allowing them to make light of the strange situation and confront it head on. A feature added in October allows users to “super like” profiles, a playful option that Delgado chooses for friends she’s comfortable with.
Perspectives on the app vary widely: Petrovic now thinks of it primarily as a source of humor, while Ajani said she sometimes treats it like the professional networking website LinkedIn, scanning for education background, hobbies and relevant professional activities. Enin, meanwhile, guessed that most people use it as a simple ego booster, giving them the confidence to be more forward with people in person.
Others felt more conflicted about what the app represents. Tisdale’s ambivalence about her relationship to Tinder captured the feeling of many interviewees.
“I try not to devote too much head space to it. I’m never expecting anything big to come out of it,” Tisdale said, reflecting on her continued use. “Especially here, when you run out of people so quickly. It’s not enjoyable to be on. Maybe it is just the, ‘Oh, I’m going to procrastinate now and just methodically swipe some people.’ Or maybe it is a faint hope somewhere.”