by: Annie Ryan
A few weeks ago, my entire house downloaded Tinder. It started drunkenly as a “joke” (so we told ourselves) but we quickly stopped laughing and started to flirt. The first of my housemates to start playing the Tinder game began with unexpected success: within a day, she had several conversations going with several different men, all of whom she found appealing enough to have been matched with. (For those of you who aren’t familiar with how the app works, you can only have a conversation with someone after you’ve both liked to each other’s profiles, called a “match.”) Not surprisingly, the matching process doesn’t have a high accuracy rate; contact was only sustained with an even smaller number of men, and my housemate has so far met three of these guys in person. The rest of us started as her curious and inspired cheerleaders, but all of us eventually had a whim for varying amounts of time on the app.
To be clear: this isn’t a post about how online dating is impersonalizing our relationships or ruining the social skills of our generation. If we have anything in common, you’re so bored by that argument that you’ve almost stopped reading this blog post. What I have to say about Tinder, or websites and apps like it, isn’t really about the apps themselves, but maybe their potential. In reflecting on my own and my housemates’ experiences on Tinder, the app has been a venue in which we’ve been able to be more confident, more direct, more forward, and more honest about what we want. I’ve watched my housemates—who are usually too intimidated to ask people on dates (and I use “date” as an umbrella term here)—find the confidence to ask for what they want on Tinder. It may be the guise of impersonality or the “I have nothing to lose!” spirit, but wherever this confidence is coming from, it feels empowering.
Men and boys are, from young ages, given the tools to be direct in communicating with women and other people they’re interested in dating. They’re passed on cultural dating scripts, expected to be date-initiators, and given permission to pursue what they want sexually and romantically. This is not to say that dating is easy for men. We all suffer from insecurities, fears, and dating nerves. If anything, I imagine there must be a lot of pressure on men to conquer these feelings. However, men are so encouraged to be the date-initiators that to ask a woman out (even if it results in rejection) is a validation of their masculinity. Pervasive cultural dating norms leave the “ball” perpetually in men’s courts. Women often assume men will be direct about what they want, and men are expected to have the confidence to do so.
Women, on the other hand, have to acquire these communication tools by other means. Speaking from experience, even my progressive mother taught me (in subtle ways) to follow the lead of the men I was interested in dating. Women are encouraged to be mysterious, flexible, passive—to not be direct in pursuing what they want. Dating resources like Tinder, that have no built-in gendered communication rules and where the foreseeable social consequences are minimal, may be venues in which women can develop the tools to be open and honest communicators. In a week, I’ve watched my housemates (and I) become more bold in asking potential crushes on dates, in seeking out casual sex, and also in being forthright in telling men how we feel about them.
My housemates and I are by no means a representative sample of all of the women who use Tinder. Further, I cannot reflect on the app outside of our hetero-seeking patterns. Tinder could be a completely different experience for app-users with different intentions, communication styles, genders, sexualities, or dating politics. I can’t say with any confidence what I think the app means for a larger context of sex and dating, but if my personal observation leads me anywhere, it’s this: through spaces like Tinder, women may be developing the confidence and courage to communicate directly, rewriting the gendered dating script that disempowers them from going after what they want.