The profiles went live, and then the hits came in. They came, and they kept coming. It was exhilarating and flattering. You can’t see who has matched you, you have to pay for that, so after a couple of weeks of this, where I seemingly racked up somewhere in the region of 80 or so positive swipes across the apps, my nerves got the better of me and I paid up so that I could see who was hitting me up. This is tempting, this is the business model, you pay to see rather than leaving it to chance. It’s actually very freeing once you’re used to it and the subscriptions run out and you’re back to chance. Paying is a mug’s game. I don’t know why I get nervous about it, because I’m a grown man, I have gained and lost so much, the stakes for social failure are by now very low. I should not fear dating as I do. What’s the worst that could happen?
Actually, I might try it, just to see what happens. What’s terrifying is the idea that if someone thought ‘Oh! Ideal! A soft-minded recluse!’ and took me up on it. I mean, look what happened the last time. I can only buy so many houses.Me, on Twitter: https://twitter.com/kevteljeur/status/1080991783528660993
So, the apps: Tinder, the 800-pound Gorilla in the dating game. It’s simple. It’s like a deck of cards and you swipe left for no, right for yes. You swipe through your deck until there are no more people to swipe, and there are always more people to swipe on because it is Tinder and everyone is on Tinder. You have your phone-screen-shaped profile image, your name, your age, maybe your profile text of up to 500 characters, maybe a stream of your most recent Instagram images, maybe your absolute most favouritest Spotify track. You set your settings, geographical distance and age range, and that’s it, get swiping, yes, no, yes, no.
Bumble, the simpler, friendlier, less demanding Tinder. That’s it. That’s the pitch. Tinder, in yellow, with a bee and more hand-holding, some more prompting on how to get it right, because you were on Tinder before and it wasn’t a good experience for you. And that’s fair, because Tinder can be rough. It is rough.
Badoo, which is, I don’t know, Bebo Reloaded? It’s like being flung into a massive barrel of women, some of whom are very attractive but you can’t communicate with any of them, that love shopping, laughing, Conor McGregor and terrible UK TV programmes, and meanwhile there is an array what may be DIY porn live-streaming from darkened living rooms in Russia. It’s sort of somewhere between a social networking app, a dating app, and seedy organised lurking. If you did manage to get a date through Badoo then it could well be with Agnieszka in a shipping container off the M1, and it’ll quickly evolve into an impromptu organ donation session with Boban and Gregor, and you’ll wake up a day later dressed in a bin-liner, weighting a bit less, and a set of hastily-made stitches across your midriff. Maybe not, but that’s the vibe. It is very popular, I can’t deny it, a lot with people from Eastern Europe and a number of backgrounds. Badoo lets you upload, should you wish it, a lot of profile images. A very lot. And that’s exactly what some people do.
Hinge. This app is placed on the moral high ground. These are the good guys, trying to equip you with a well-designed, highly structured app that you’ll delete and never use again because it is going to get you so relationshipped so hard that that you’ll never, ever look back! The barrier to entry is a little higher, and it is a bit more… managed than the other apps, a bit more structured, so they keep the quality up. It also sets up ‘Ideal matches’, which the app is very enthusiastic about. However, you invariably end up feeling a little like you’re being set up for matches by a veru enthusiastic, well-intentioned friend who just wants you to be happy and is flinging everything your way. So I might end up with my ideal match being Korgax, who is twenty, enjoys recreational dental work and blunt instrument death matches in darkened mud-pits and chain-smokes, and there is nothing whatsoever in my profile to suggest that this is in any way a good match. And there’s a lot there to suggest that it isn’t a good match. Hinge doesn’t care. Hinge just wants me to be happy with someone. Anyone.
There is Happn, too, which is very like Tinder, but very focused on where you have been. It generates the list of swipable matches by looking at where you have all been; perhaps, if you go to the same places, then you have a reason to get together. Look! You both buy things in shops! You will surely want to make the sex together. A terrible lovechild of Tinder and Strava? It is clearly popular with Brazilians and people who apparently want threesomes or foursomes or affairs, and it somehow encourages some truly terrible profile pictures. I had also mentioned Zoosk. I didn’t get it. I still don’t get it. Is it a dating app? Possibly.
And the profiles! Tinder and the other apps are first and foremost visual selection tools. It’s the easy way, and we are first and foremost visual creatures. We all, whether we realise it or not, have some degree of vanity. We often like to think that we’re younger and better looking than we really are (even if we offset it by being modest). On the other hand, some of us age more quickly and less gracefully than others through no fault of our own, because of the genetic lottery, or hard lives. Some of us partake of long-distance endurance sports that strip every last gram of skin fat from us. Some of us… Didn’t enter in an honest birthdate when we set our accounts up, and it can be a little obvious, and we are talking about up to a decade, not a year or so (this is the business of people stretching their age, even openly, to game the system and get some hits in). Some of us didn’t go to the trouble of taking a profile photo, opting instead to choose one or more photos from the previous ten to fifteen years, possibly blotting out past spouses and friends from the photos, instead of taking a more recent, specific photo, or perhaps using a screen grab of a photo of ourselves in another app; in effect, a photo of a photo. This is surprisingly common. Or photos of groups of people, so identifying the profile owner becomes a sort of weird ‘Where’s Wally’, where you have to try and find if the same person is in all the photos.
I’m being judgemental here. I know that. But this is the basis of the system, in the same way that if you were going for a date, or to a place where you were hoping to meet someone to share your life with, you wouldn’t show up in the dirty tracksuit you were wearing while digging for potatoes earlier, looking like you had in fact been digging for potatoes, what of it. You’d probably think about what looks good and presents you in the best possible light. You wouldn’t, for example, send along a billboard with an inspirational quote on it in lieu of actually showing up yourself, and yet this is exactly what some people do on Tinder. Or a single, very bad photo. I was mystified, but my brother explained that this is a general concept about what people themselves see as adequate in any circumstance, the level of quality in taking an action that’s good enough, and for a photo of themselves, that will do (which is almost a statement in itself). And I don’t swipe on the best photos, I swipe on profiles that look like they represent a decent, smart person that would be fun to hang out with (and let’s face it, is also reasonably physically attractive), not someone with professionally-taken photos of them standing imperiously on the prow of a yacht. Yes, they exist. Women standing imperiously on the prow of a yacht.
There are a lot of car selfies. People are in their cars a lot, and this is where the selfies happen. In the car. Maybe just sitting casually, maybe really very made-up, maybe very pouty, but the car is the personal space. And I imagine that for some, that is the only personal space, for one reason or another. We spend quite a bit of time in our cars.
I observed that there are a lot of dogs. A really considerable number of dogs. For some women, a dog is where it is at and I can understand that, especially if you’re single and you need a companion, or a few companions, who are trustworthy and loyal and will back you up in all circumstances, because – and I say this as a man – dogs are probably more reliable. I’m not a huge fan of dogs, they’re fine, I’ve looked after dogs for people but I’ve never owned a dog, I’d be a bit wary of the hair, and the licking, and the slobbering, and the enthusiasm, and the poo, and also there would be the whole pack thing, I would be the new dog, joining the pack at the bottom of the ladder. I’d have to fit in, to work my way up, to earn the respect of the other dogs, to learn the ways of the pack, to show that I can also be trained and be obedient, to be a very good boy, to enthusiastically eat the same biscuits as the rest of the pack, to lick my balls in private, to earn the right to my own basket. Finally I would have to fight and beat the strongest, biggest dog to earn my place near the head of the table, to hopefully elevate myself beyond the dog biscuits and eat the human food, to become human again. Maybe even to do the sex. I mean, this could take forever, there would be no Harrison Ford to guide me and also, I could be eaten. By the other dogs.
Maybe what I need instead of dating, is a cat. I can see why so many of the women on Tinder have a dog. They can’t have sex with the dog but when we all get to a certain age, it’s probably academic anyway, and the dog can go on walks with them and watch Twitter with them.Me, on Twitter: https://twitter.com/kevteljeur/status/1235150493321777152
The profile texts, if they exist, don’t often give much away. I don’t know what Man Tinder (or the other services) look like, but for the female profiles, it’s mostly about who they are looking for, and a set of warnings about what they are not (and they are sometimes a bit passive-aggressive). They are not looking for One Night Stands, or Hook Ups. This is fine, neither am I. But the tone is sometimes so forceful that it’s almost intimidating. Am I going to get frisked and searched on the date? Will there be a background check? Ihre papieren, bitte? At the same time, it makes you wonder about past experiences, and what people are doing to have caused this (I imagine that the problem skews heavily towards males being bad actors in these apps). And the travel and the walking and having a laugh. Everyone on dating apps loves travel and walking and having a laugh, and why not, these are universal constants, we all love travel and walking and having a laugh. Well, apart from one guy, who likes feeding birds, making pancakes and stochastic sock-washing algorithms as a strategy to use randomisation to minimise sock wear.
Here’s something that I couldn’t (and still can’t) get my head around. The whole idea of matching someone, and then not responding at all to messages. Why would you match someone, and then not respond to messages, while also not unmatch? Surely you swiped right on the person because you wanted to chat and maybe date them? There are a few possible theories as to what’s going on here, not that I think that any of them are ‘good’, or reasons to behave in this way. Competitive ‘collection’ of matches, in the manner of Pokémon cards or stamps, or sexy human beer bottle caps. Swiping right as an indication of appreciation, a ‘like’, you have my approval, don’t bother me. Waiting to see what the matched person does, a sort of trial by silence, will you survive or will you perish in my pit of Coventry. Or sociopathy, when they swipe right, they feel like they’ve just murdered someone, and it feels good, I murder-swiped the shit out of this guy here, and I think I might go and have a wank to that thought right now. And these are real people, not ‘bots’ or something like that, just people who are sometimes responsive after a few days, once I have worked out on my Twitter routine (a largely unresponsive, unappreciative audience, unaware of the genius amongst them, it is a situation to which am accustomed) and eventually sufficiently amused them to react. And then they go quiet again.
I can understand how people are swiping, and so they look at what they see, and swipe right (a positive). But sometimes, I can see from their profile, that it is surely a terrible match. I’m not a burly, hairy man of the hills, which is what their profile says they’re looking for. I’m clearly less Grizzly Adams, and more second-division Lex Luthor. It’s right there, front and centre, that I don’t smoke and drink rarely, so being a high-octane party animal that does enough of both is probably going to be a bad match. Or because they’re 6,398 kilometres away, so catching up for a drink and hitting up Zaytoon is not going to happen any time soon. Maybe they ran out of viable matches, and now they’re down to the end of the barrel, they find me, and they think ‘Well, he’s human, he’s breathing, he’s probably maintains a stable body temperature through endothermic body processes, he’ll do. I’ll take it. Any port in a storm.’. Maybe it was a long week and they just want the ride, and I’ll do (Ha, you have made a fatal error, my Lady!). Meanwhile, I’m thinking that it is probably going to be a disappointment for all concerned.
A bug-bear of mine, and I’ll admit that it is perhaps a niche thing, is that vaping is smoking. It is. Stop right there. Don’t put on your profile that you don’t do something, and right there in the photos, you are doing that thing. I’m not going to lie; carrying around a pocket steam-cleaner loaded with a variety of interesting and potentially noxious chemicals is, to me, a turn-off, but at least own it!
Ok, ok! Enough! You’re wondering what happened after all the colossal amounts of observing and note-taking and thinking and analysis and prevarication. More fool you, because the story at this point holds no injuries, no adventure, no murderous uncles in Audis with hurling sticks, the sex was not made. This isn’t like fifteen years ago, remember; if this story was set in the past, instead of now, it would be exciting and I might not have survived it. I just want to be honest with you. Anyway, I swiped on someone. They did not respond.
That wasn’t encouraging. I stressed. I fretted. I swiped on someone else. They did respond! We chatted, we sort of hit it off. The excitement of messages from someone! I love getting messages. We went on a date, eventually. It was ok, it was nice, but… She didn’t want to go further, and that was that. I strongly suspect that she already knew this, but since she knew that I was new to all of this, she wanted to give me a date. A charity date. That was fine though, my self-esteem is low enough that it comfortably fits into my expectations. Note to self: Stochastic sock-washing algorithms as a strategy to use randomisation to minimise sock wear is not a good date conversation topic. I mean, who would have known? Nor accountancy. The world, it seems, has moved on. Anyway, let’s not try that again. Eventually, I swiped on someone else. Got one evening of half-hearted chat from that. Another, two evenings of txt-sp33k. U know, rite? And some more from Bolivia.
Something else that changed how Tinder worked for me recently, was that I updated my age range (since I got older recently, as some of you know) and in doing so, got to understand the Tinder algorithm a little better. Interesting stuff. Who you are shown depends on a few things. The age and age ranges of both parties has to overlap to be shown to each other, as far as I can tell. But the distance is for whoever is looking; so if you have set your maximum distance to 5 km, you might see hardly anyone, but you’ll show up for someone else who has their distance set to, for example, 7,000km. I think.
Weirdly in the last week or two my Tinder has escalated (right-swipes). It suddenly jumped and accelerated as the COVID-19 restrictions started settling in. There are clearly a load of women who have gone ‘Fuck it, I’m done with Derek, let’s get some socially awkward, long-distance action with this second-division Jeff Bezos lookalike’. It’s definitely a thing. I don’t know who they are, and it jumps every few days, down and then back up, so I suspect that a few of them must be bot or ‘catfish’ accounts that are getting shut down.
So where am I now? Am I dating? I am not telling, that’s what I am doing. And we are now in the time of COVID-19, where we are isolating ourselves from other people, and physically dating is actually prohibited (no, it really is – not specifically, but hooking up isn’t an essential activity. Not really.). We have to virtually date, have long phone calls and make do with connecting on social media. It’s different, but not terrible for everyone. Hope you’re all staying in, safe and mentally well, and reach out if you need someone to talk to.