Posted on the sidewalk patio of Blondie’s Bar on Valencia Street, Hailey and Alex are hard to miss. They are attractive women in their early-twenties wearing wigs that look like pop rocks.
“It’s a social experiment,” said Alex, her brown eyes sparkling with intent. She points to a female passerby wearing a laptop backpack and headphones — her eyes glued to her smartphone. “Look at her, she’s totally plugged in.”
“We’ve been sitting here for maybe 30 minutes with these ridiculous wigs on, totally open to anyone that walks by to give us the slightest bit of recognition,” said Hailey. “But everyone is so tuned into their own world that they don’t even want to take three seconds to make an honest, genuine, human connection.”
While Tindering in the Mission District remains as popular as anywhere else since the app launched in 2012 by a group of young entrepreneurs out of Los Angeles – a dozen or so interviews here also indicated that in a neighborhood with some of the savviest tech users around, the whole experience is less than satisfying.
As the young women try to navigate their 20s in a society driven by technology, Hailey and Alex take issue with the interpersonal skills and dating habits of their peers — sometimes referred to as Generation Tinder.
“I would never use Tinder,” Alex cringes, her pink wig sliding onto her brow.
Though Alex may never have ‘Tindered,’ there is no need to explain the app’s concept. Notoriously popular for facilitating hook-ups and sometimes initiating relationships by capitalizing on mutual attraction — a swipe to the right on a profile picture indicates interest, while a swipe to the left guarantees that nothing will happen.
Users generally spend just a few seconds sizing up their potential dates before swiping.
It’s a game of “hot or not,” Alex said with disgust. “Tinder gives you the ability to be denied impersonally because you don’t have to face the humiliation of being rejected face-to-face.”
That rejection, the young anthropologist argues, is exactly what is needed to grow emotionally.
Research conducted by the company shows that Tinder users log into the app 11 times per day, on average.
“It’s dating ADHD,” Hailey, a hairdresser, chimes in. “They want to find that ‘next best thing’ when really, what they have in front of them, could be something really true and amazing.”
“It makes our generation extremely non-committal.”
Tinder: A Modern Love Story?
That same night at a crowded bar called El Rio, Damien is drinking a beer alone. He has not felt the urge to check his Tinder account lately, but will probably use the app soon.
The 23-year-old is in the cryptocurrency industry, and relocated to San Francisco for a job just three weeks ago. He believes that Tinder and other dating apps can be used purposefully and are extremely fun.
“We have a lot of demand on our time, and there is a certain element to dividing your labor throughout the day,” he said. “These apps just make it so much easier to go out and see where the pool of your prospective love or friend interest is.”
Damien has a zero-expectations policy when it comes to Tinder dating — a rule he applies to life in general. “The whole novelty of these applications is that it brings what would or would not be daily interactions and crossings of paths to the digital world, which makes them so quick and instant. Mostly what you get, it’s just play time really.”
Damien has had a few hook-ups on Tinder, but is more eager to tell the success story of his best friend, who recently met her husband using the app — the couple married after just six months of dating.
“Without Tinder, they would have never met,” said Damien. “Offline, you typically meet someone by going to a bar, to a yoga class, at school, work or through friends. It’s relatively the same in as far as having to strike up conversations and paying attention to what the other person is talking about. On Tinder, you are still screening people when they act like total idiots.”
Convenience Versus Longevity
For many people, communication on Tinder does not break surface level — but if there is an interest, only a few hours of committed back-and-forth messaging could be enough to learn a person’s story. The ease with which one can Tinder — at work, while out with friends or even when on another date, can be addictive.
“The convenience is actually a very important factor in why it’s attractive,” said Omar, a 32-year-old consultant. “I think it’s a good thing. You can be on a bus while meeting people and setting up a date.”
“Everyone is so busy and there’s so much happening constantly. So for a lot of people, this makes sense,” said Phil, an educator who moved to the city a year ago. “We use apps to have our food delivered, for commuting, for everything and anything — so why not use an app to get a date?”
Whether it’s morally right or not, the 25-year-old argues, is a conversation to be had with oneself. Still, there’s something about that convenience that makes him uneasy.
“Sometimes you wonder when something comes so easy, if there are strings attached,” he added.
Outside of the dive bar Dr. Teeth’s, Phil is talking to his roommate, Janelle, who also uses Tinder and is in a three-month relationship that began with a Tinder encounter. Although things are “going great,” she’s still looking.
Janelle explains that the quantity-versus-quality aspect of Tinder makes it easier to cut ties if it doesn’t work out, because there are “plenty more fish in the Tinder Sea.” Plus, being wanted feels great, and having options cushions the ego if things don’t work out.
“They are most likely not in my circle or daily life. We may never cross paths again,” she explains, crediting the app’s superficial screening process and the high potential of meeting people outside of her day-to-day environment, for this sense of detachment.
For Ron, a 35-year-old project administrator for an architectural firm, Tinder hasn’t worked as well. “From my experience, Tinder connections have zero longevity because there comes a point when you have so many matches to keep up with, you end up developing a relationship with none. It really is a great way to meet people, but the majority of people you meet aren’t genuine with their intentions.”
Nothing Beats Off-Screen Chemistry
At Southern Pacific Brewing Company, Natalia, 30, contemplated the beginning and the end of two past relationships.
First came Kevin, whom she met randomly through friends. Roughly a year later, she started dating Max from Tinder.
“Although we met before, I didn’t notice Kevin because honestly, he wasn’t my type,” said Natalia, who was working at a restaurant in the Mission when a friend invited her to hangout at a bar closeby.
Kevin and Natalia were introduced, and she remembers liking the flow of their conversation.
“He complimented me even though I didn’t feel attractive since I did not plan on going out,” she said. “He asked me about my accent and tried to guess which country I was from.”
These simple but significant interactions, she said, are impossible to experience in a chat on Tinder. “Most people on Tinder put on their best faces, and they swipe for profiles that in their eyes are 8-10s. They don’t go for a 6-7 with personality.”
Kevin, she said, made her heart beat faster because she felt like he was interested in getting to know her as a person, not as a potential date.
With her Tinder boyfriend, Max, Natalia developed feelings over time, but did not feel that spark.
“I wasn’t swept off my feet right away, but he was a good guy and I was attracted to him,” she said. “But maybe because we met on Tinder — I felt less special.”
After half a year, her relationship with Max ended, and she never heard from him again.
“I found out he was back on the app a week after our break-up,” Natalia said. “ What I think about Tinder dating now is that people are not willing to work on a relationship because they have the option to jump from one thing to another, without trying to get too close or make the connection deeper.”
“With technology at the center of something so personal, it’s easier to cut the person off and start swiping again than to deal with your feelings.”
Missing the Connection
While nursing a drink at Blondie’s, Hailey decides to share a Tinder story.
She recalls having a crush on a guy over a span of a few years — a customer at her work who she saw somewhat regularly.
“We always had this connection, but neither of us made a move,” she said. “But every time I saw him around we’d acknowledge each other and I’d think ‘man, he’s sexy. And he’s a really cool guy.’”
Recently, Hailey was on a date when she spotted her longtime crush sitting at the same bar. As she was leaving, she noticed him swiping on Tinder.
“It was 1:30 in the morning. It flipped a switch in my mind of my perception of him,” she said. “This weird connection that we had — it made me feel like it wasn’t real. Like ‘you would have done it for anyone because you’re just Tindering on your phone trying to get it in.’”
Thirty years ago, back when people didn’t have the option to quick-swipe at a bar, Hailey wonders if their connection would have been something real.
“The fact that we are not on Tinder is almost weirder than the fact that we would be using it,” said Hailey. “Yes, it sucks that people aren’t meeting each other in real life, but cities change and we are living and everything is constantly evolving. You have to find a happy medium between current and past generations.”
“Maybe I’m a 23-year-old curmudgeon, because I don’t want to follow every social media trend or app to connect with people from my generation,” added Alex. “I’d rather have the people I meet be present and vulnerable with me. I want to see them for how they are and not for how they force me to see them — at their best angles in perfectly filtered photos.”