Up in smoke: Lessons from Tinder

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I am not in the market for a relationship or a hookup or anything else. I’ve been burned, twisted, chilled and disturbed by the grind and the hell of relationships – or rather by the ruptured “trust” experienced with the people in my life, particularly in the last few years, and feel more than ever that the only important relationship is the one I have with myself. I realized as this year winds to its close that I have actually neglected the real relationship with myself and have focused on all the wrong things, distracting things, because I did not want to face various things. And it’s time for that to stop.

That said, comfortably ensconced in this insular, individual cocoon, I had become curious about different dating platforms after reading a lot of articles about the on-demand nature of dating apps like Tinder and sites like OkCupid, so I decided to do a limited-run test of some of my suppositions.

Nothing scientific or controlled about my trial. I have no controls for geography or generation (I’m old, and assume most people who match with me are also older or have ulterior motives – but that’s my hangup, which is also something I cannot account for in this uncontrolled trial) … really for anything. I only wanted to test whether Tinder especially was an instant hookup tool. As in, someone messages you and immediately tries to hook up and/or gives you very little information about him/herself. From everything I had read, and this may only apply to the target youth/millennial demographic, it is like an online smorgasbord of impersonal and reactive potential hookups that shift quickly into meeting and hooking up and then… who knows? (I have read other articles that indicate that it is not being used only or primarily for semi-anonymous hookups… but I guess it does not matter where reality is.) My curiosity drove me to check it out for myself.

A few weeks ago, then, I set up a profile, had a few very brief exchanges with people in the UK, Sweden, Norway and a few others in Europe. Most led nowhere, but also did not lead to any kind of lurid discussion or casual suggestions. I got a lot of info about people’s ugly divorces, concert-going plans, music tastes, career aspirations and business, people’s children and just normal person stuff. I have gotten to know one person outside of the app, which has been really surprising and cool, but unexpected and probably anomalous. I met no one in reality/in-person and had no desire to do so, other than the one, anomalous case (and deleted the profile recently when I went to the US and started getting all these “super like” notifications out of nowhere once my geography had changed).

The funny thing is, though, that I was hanging around with my brother, and he explained “how men use Tinder” and promptly swiped “right” on every single girl that popped up and explained the odds game and how he can always disconnect with someone if he does not like them after they’ve matched with him. So yeah in that sense, which I naively had not even considered, it can be a cynical numbers game. I found that I was the opposite. I swiped “left” on almost every single person I saw (again, this might be motivated by the fact that I had no desire to meet anyone). To me, the “accept everyone and go from there” approach seems ludicrous (especially since I am a wee bit of an antisocial hermit and workaholic who doesn’t have the time for this kind of time-wasting nonsense), but I can see how it could work in at least someone’s favor.

My curiosity is satisfied, even if I did not learn anything valuable. “Love is a bourgeois construct.”

The changing workscape: Why is virtual work stigmatized while internet dating no longer is?

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Does “flexibility stigma” exist?

Apparently so; it exists when it comes to work.

A similar kind of stigma used to exist when it came to online/internet dating. A CNN article highlights the fact that fewer than one percent of Americans were using the internet to meet dates in 1992 – and by 2009, almost a quarter of couples were meeting online. The Guardian reports, based on a University of Rochester study, that online dating is the second most common way Americans start relationships today.

My guess is the numbers may even be higher than what the CNN article reports; the stigma is virtually gone, but I think people probably still underreport their online-love exploration.

Online dating became broadly experimental, then accepted, and then mainstream. People (almost) proudly talk about how they met on OkCupid or Match.com or whatever the flavor-of-the-month or niche dating site is. The process has moved a lot like the bell curve of technology adoption. Online dating started with innovators and early adopters – I imagine that those who adopted early were tech-oriented people but also possibly the kind of people who would benefit from the barriers and anonymity of online interaction. (Hey, not taking any shots – I am a wee bit techie, a wee bit nerdy and a wee bit shy myself.)  Eventually a wider audience could see the benefits of doing a bit of pre-date vetting, getting to know people a bit better before meeting and being exposed to a broader array of people than one could meet in everyday life – particularly if they are busy people tired of trying to make some kind of connection with drunk people in bars. (Of course that assumes that the other people engaged in online dating are like-minded souls. That’s where the diffusion of innovation curve, in this case, does not work too well, especially in the early stages, in the early adopters’ favor.)

Okay, so online dating is not a panacea that answers all dating ills, and in fact there are some psychologists who claim that there are pitfalls (the aforementioned CNN article makes that clear, citing that online daters may be susceptible to warped outlooks and expectations, relying too much on vague profiles and contributing to a sense that one can be too picky or judgmental.

The Guardian article cited above also explores the idea that people online are looking for different things – and perhaps deceiving each other about it. There are some other great looks at how online dating is unsatisfying and can never really give people an accurate idea of whether they will really click with someone or not. Too true:

“…online dating sites assume that people are easy to describe on searchable attributes.  They think that we’re like digital cameras, that you can describe somebody by their height and weight and political affiliation and so on. But it turns out people are much more like wine.  That when you taste the wine, you could describe it, but it’s not a very useful description.  But you know if you like it or don’t.  And it’s the complexity and the completeness of the experience that tells you if you like a person or not.  And this breaking into attributes turns out not to be very informative.”

Personally, I would also argue about the creation of the illusion of endless choice – related to the point about pickiness and judgment made in the CNN article. People also don’t always know what they want – or need. But that is totally beside the point here. It’s a complex thing, like relationships themselves.

The question is – how has online dating become accepted, acceptable and the de facto thing to do while something totally above-board like online, virtual work isn’t? It’s not like for like and may not be comparable, but I suppose the difference is the line between what is personal and what is professional – and in the professional realm, more is at stake. On the other hand, do people pay a certain price for taking steps (personal or professional) that fall under one of these “stigma umbrellas”? That is, is the online dater somehow limiting herself to just that pool of people willing to be online and to those who can craft a profile that speaks to what she (thinks she) is looking for? Is the person who takes advantage of “workplace flexibility” also being stigmatized at work – not advancing in her career, perhaps – because she has asked or opted for a more flexible arrangement?

The worker seeking flexibility in her own life may in fact be seen by the employer as less flexible and less committed and therefore less “promotable”. While it may seem that women would be disproportionately affected, some studies show that men may be most adversely affected by asking for flexibility. Basically there is a lose-lose for both men and women who aim to work flexibly:

“There can be a stigma for remote or blended schedules, however: parents who want to be more available to their kids may opt for this, and that usually means women. These remote employees may not be as available as someone in the office, may appear to be slacking off, and may reduce their opportunities for promotion. Whether or not those things are true does not matter if there is a perception of truth to them.”

This only covers how some employers see flexible workers – it does not cover the whole concept of flexible work. Flexible work itself, regardless of the person doing it, invites all kinds of stigma about the kinds of workers who want to work at home (or without workspace restrictions) and the quality of work and productivity that can come of it:

“The fact working from home is often less pressured is probably why 19% of those asked, felt home workers take advantage of having no boss around and slack off.

Yet, when you look at the 2.8m home-based entrepreneurs who are running businesses from their kitchen tables and turning over an extra 284bn for the UK economy, you start to recognise that home-workers can be just as productive and even more driven.

Lastly, giving employees the option to work from home can make good business sense in other ways too. It can help a business save money because it means it won’t have to fork out for a huge office and there won’t be as much wear and tear on the office utilities.”

I have had the same questions – how is it, if I have successfully operated my own content business from my home for 15 years, that a corporation who chose to hire me as a regular employee would not be able to value the productivity and experience gained in those 15 office-less years? Imagine this: Microsoft in Finland a National Remote Working Day, asking employers to think about the benefits of remote working, including shorter commute times and further reaching environmental benefits. Events like this are unfortunately rare enough that the idea of virtual work may still be holding businesses back.