Tinder Gave Me Some of the Best Experiences of My Life, But Why Did It Never Lead Me to Love?


It’s 2013. I’m 18 and have just broken up with the boy I thought I would love forever. Well, he broke up with me. For someone else. Who lived in another country.

So, I moved to a new city to start a new life, and rediscover myself in anonymity. Although heartbroken, I was ready to experience new people in unfamiliar environments and try as many things as I felt comfortable doing.

So, I downloaded Tinder.

In 2013, Tinder was barely a year old. Launching onto the scene on September 12, 2012, Tinder was the first dating app to blow up in a big way, making online dating mainstream among millennials. While dating sites like eharmony and Plenty of Fish had been around for ages, Tinder was new and fresh and every young single babe wanted a taste. Including me.

The first person I met up with from Tinder was a boy I knew through friends but had never met. We matched within ten minutes of me having the app, and it felt like fate. I walked to a suburban park at midnight in my new city (something I probably wouldn’t do now), a bottle of red wine in hand, to meet this boy with wild curly hair, kind eyes and a turtleneck. We drank wine from the bottle and made out for hours, squeezing in some getting-to-know-you questions when we came up for air. It was a beautiful combination of romantic and messy, and we dated for a few weeks afterwards.

At first, I really loved using dating apps. I was meeting new and interesting people who I’d never have to see again if I didn’t want to. It felt like the perfect way to experience a new city.

Each date was an adventure. Whether it was the bar owner who took me on a martini-fuelled trip around the city’s hottest food and bev spots, the influencer who got way too drunk on vodka lime sodas and spent the entire evening showing me his viral Snapchat content, the girl with the pink hair who couldn’t give me eye contact but was (still) the best kiss I’ve ever had or the older gentleman who took me to the opera in a tux — each was its own experience.

But over time, when the novelty of a new city, new people, and new app experience wore off I realised I wasn’t feeling any deep connections with the people I was meeting.

I found that I couldn’t tell if I was attracted to someone by their profile. Regardless of how detailed their profile was, with a well-written bio, a variety of photos that show different areas of their life, a link to a social media profile… I struggled to get their vibe. I found I was basing my idea of them purely around something superficial; the way they physically looked and the way they presented themselves online.

Even if we had great banter over messages, it wouldn’t always translate in real life. Someone just as sarcastic and flirty as me — might have less confidence IRL, which would make the whole interaction feel different.

I learnt that for me personally, I’m attracted to someone’s energy. Although yes, I have a physical “type” that I find I’m the most commonly attracted to, when it really comes down to longstanding attraction, it doesn’t matter to me what someone looks like. Most of my serious relationships wouldn’t have been with someone I would swipe right on, which is apparently quite a common experience for many people.

“I wouldn’t have swiped right on any of the people I’ve actually dated,” my colleague Jordan told me when I asked this question out loud at my desk today.

“I don’t think you can read someone’s personality and vibe from an app. Plus, guys often don’t take great photos and it’s really all that we’re basing our initial opinion on — how they look.”

Not only is it really difficult to get a sense of someone’s energy over a dating app, but it also makes us care more about how they look from the get-go. Our initial impression of them is based on a photo, rather than the way they walk into a room or carry themselves.

“I don’t use dating apps,” another colleague, Beth, chimed in. “It just feels like a game. You’re swiping so fast and just basing it on what you see for a few seconds… it’s dehumanising.”

“It creates more boxes that need to be ticked,” another colleague, Pete, added. “There’s just this catalogue of people, it’s like online shopping for people — and it gives you this impression that there’s always something better.

“We write people off based on stuff that’s purely superficial, which are not the qualities that truly make you into someone — or not.”

While being physically attracted to someone is obviously important, it’s not everything. And despite dating apps having more information than just images, they allow us to create a desirable image of ourselves which therefore encourages us to conger up the idea of someone before meeting them.

“Living in the digital world with social media and online dating have led many of us to over-value appearance and de-value other equally important aspects of attraction such as emotional, intellectual and relational when it comes to finding a partner,” says Christine Rafe, sexual wellness expert for We-Vibe.

“In saying that, the over-valuing of physical appearance isn’t new, as we have been taught to value beauty and appearance in the socially constructed sense i.e. certain body types, colours of skin and hair etc that we have been told equate to attractiveness.”

“Dating apps allow us to choose a potential partner on the basis of a collection of pictures alone is re-enforcing this narrative.”

I would say, from personal experience, that it’s impossible to be 100% authentic online. You could be completely “yourself”, with a thorough profile and realistic images, but people are still going to make assumptions about you. No one can really know someone from an online profile. So then, how can they know if they’re going to be into you or not?

“I think dating apps have definitely made us more superficial,” says my colleague Pete. “We see what’s out there, all the opportunities of people we could date, and it makes much more fussy about people’s appearances.”

Dating apps might have made us more superficial, but should we write them off?

Rafe says that she can’t see online dating going away anytime soon. Given the ease of accessing new people behind the safety of a screen — particularly during and since COVID lockdowns where people have become more socially isolated — online dating has been a way for people to connect and build/rebuild confidence in social skills. 

Regardless, we should try to maintain some spontaneity in our love lives, and allow for openness to experiences and people, she says.

“We can still invite spontaneity into online dating, by being open to meeting someone that we get a good initial vibe or feeling from, in a casual setting. Things like grabbing a quick coffee or going for a short walk with someone you’ve been chatting to online for a shorter period of time rather than chatting to someone online for weeks before setting up a perfectly constructed date.”

I have to say that I’m grateful for Tinder. The app taught me how to go on dates with people I’ve never met, not have any expectations and live in the moment and gave me so many unforgettable experiences. And even some lasting friendships.

But while online dating isn’t necessarily successful for me, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work at all. It’s just important to be aware of why we’re swiping on people — and on getting to know them beyond their online image.

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