Anikó Dóra Tóth’s Right Swipe Stories: An Anthropological Study of Tinder

I have never used Tinder. Never even toyed with the initial steps of creating a profile. And it’s not because I missed the generation that it took by storm–millennials–so much as I possess an unshakeable mistrust of this notion of “love” being just one swipe away. The lack of tactility, effort and emotion involved in Tinder and offshoots like it are what have kept and will continue to keep me away. That being said, I’m probably fucked. Most definitely doomed to die alone, as it feels like a scant .5% of the population relies on the meet-cute as a means for finding their one true love in the present epoch.

That being said, it’s always eye-opening for me on a personal level to read about how the other 99.5% lives. Which is why a compendium of narratives centered around use of the app is, to use an obvious word choice, relevant. Enter Anikó Dóra Tóth, who even explains the straightforward app for the complete novice as follows: “If you like someone, you swipe right. If you don’t, swipe left.” This simple breakdown at the beginning of chapter one, “Tinder Dictionary,” is stark in its implications. Though meant to be a mere recap to the Tinder ingénu(e) of how the illustrious app works, its detached, round up the cattle nature is apparent in the cut and dried explanation of the way one is meant to use it.

What’s more, for as modern and empowering as Tinder is supposed to be–for women especially–it seems as though all the old rules of conventional dating still apply. As one user reveals in the chapter “I Could Have Watched Game of Thrones Earlier,” “You can call me old-fashioned, but I prefer it when the guy takes the first step. Yes, even on a dating app, which is barely better than a meat market. But my principle is that I have to chase after a guy in the beginning, then he’ll never appreciate and respect me later in the relationship, if by some miracle it even turns into a relationship.”

When people become viewed like products, easily forgettable like the ones you might search for while online shopping, the chance for a genuine connection grows ever fainter. And when taking into account the sheer volume of people one might “see,” it’s no wonder some of them might not be remembered later, when they “crop up” yet again. Hence our Game of Thrones enthusiast’s explanation of forgetting about a guy she’d already chatted with in the past: “Maybe he’d uploaded new photos or my memory had just deleted him because I was chatting with too many other guys. This is really what Tinder is all about, after all. You swipe right almost mindlessly, hoping that something will happen. Let those who don’t do this cast the first stone. It’s just the way this app works, you have to keep several irons in the fire.” But then, what about the saying, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”? Where is the sense of paying focus to the one literally in front of you?

Many of the stories recount using the app for the purpose of an “ego boosting,” a need to regain confidence after a failed relationship. At the same time, however, it’s more than likely the case that a hollow meeting followed by some potentially even hollower sex isn’t going to serve as much of a boost to anything other than your crippling sense of nihilism.

As for the rampant spread of the app in other countries where tactility has always been congenital, easy–or at least much easier for Europeans than those oh so personal space-oriented Americans–it seems as though a place like Hungary might be better off sans a tool they’ve never needed as much as a convenience-oriented U.S. denizen (you don’t want to be like us, at least in this regard, as you already know). And yes, the problem, in large part, with the existence of Tinder is that it breeds a sort of false, nit-picking selectivity, as is the case in the chapter, “Frequent Comings and Goings,” in which our storyteller explains that there are times when he won’t swipe right if the girl hasn’t spelled something correctly. Then again, there are others when the desperation to spend time with someone will outweigh his usual fastidiousness.

The average “gestation period” for healing in most of the cases for people using Tinder also feels, to this old school dame, shockingly brief. As is the case in “Lukewarm Dates, Lukewarm Heaven,” wherein the narrator explains, “I gave myself a few months to heal then I got back in the game.” While, sure, it’s “healthy,” as they say, to move on from a relationship when you know there’s no chance for reconciliation, it’s almost asking to be disappointed when one recovers from the emotional wreckage via a barrage of bodies that mean nothing to him.

Just because Tinder is pervasive, an accepted way of life now, doesn’t mean some aren’t a bit bashful about it, like N in “Stressful Moving In Together.” Recounting how he found himself using the app, N states, “To be honest, I felt a little embarrassed that I needed the help of the internet to get a girl so for a while I was really stressed that somebody would find out. These bad feelings were balanced by the fact that I knew I could meet people online that I couldn’t meet in the offline world because, more than likely, we didn’t frequent the same places.” Fair enough–why not broaden the playing field to increase your chance of meeting “the one?” The only problem is, in increasing the ratio of possible partners in your dating pool, you’re also substantially increasing the ratio for more than possible riffraff. And by the end of the tale, one gets the sense that though N is that odious word, content, perhaps he’s settled, insisting, “…we’ve gotten used to each other and we’ve learned to tolerate each other’s stupid little things.” It’s not quite filled with the bombast we were formerly indoctrinated to come to expect. As this demarcates one of the chapters that allows each person in the couple to tell the story from their perspective (like Tóth comments in her foreword, “I believe relationships are just like coins: two-sided, so in the case of couples who are still together, I present their stories from both points of view”), we soon learn where D’s mind was at throughout the courtship phase, remarking, “I don’t have any illusions, I don’t believe in everlasting love and fairy tales ending with happily ever after.” For those of us who still want so badly to adhere to this suddenly ripped apart notion that was, for so long, the crux of how we were told to track the trajectory of our lives, Tinder remains a hard sell.

But maybe it’s cliche–overly jaded even–to write Tinder off as the fast food industry of dating. These dalliances clearly mean something to people–after all, they’ve taken the time to rehash all the gory details in a book. They’re encounters that, like everything else of the twenty-first century, are accelerated. An elapsed time version of dating for those born in an era when attention spans are at an all-time low and tangible affection at a premium. Accordingly, Tinder, from an anthropological standpoint, has altered many a person’s concept of self-worth. Like SZA says, “I get so lonely, I forget what I’m worth.” Tinder, often times, can make this forgetfulness all too real, even if it does occasionally yield a “positive result.”

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