Illustration by Diya Gupta

Love in the Time of Tinder

The romance of a Jane Austen novel might be outdated, but Tinder is rapidly changing the way we date by empowering women to take charge in their personal relationships.

Apr 21, 2018

In 2015, Vanity Fair published an article that equated the rise of Tinder with “the dawn of the dating apocalypse.” The article accused the dating app of a number of things, from turning romance into a competition, to fostering a culture of misogyny, instant gratification and even devaluation women through the extremely casual portrayal of intimacy. In sum, it was a criticism of what we have come to know as contemporary hook-up culture.
The advent of the swipe right epoch has revolutionized the way people understand intimacy and seek companionship. This comes as no surprise, since we are no longer living in an Emily Brontë novel. Unlike in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, our lives do not revolve around the prospect of an advantageous marriage. The truth is, times are changing. From written love letters to emails, from long phone calls to Skype dates, the way we interact is rapidly evolving. As times change, so should our preconceptions of what modern romance ought to look like.
One of the most controversial claims made about Tinder is that it is harmful toward women. More specifically, some argue that it makes female sexuality too easy and fosters a dynamic where men hold all the power. But could it be possible that an app so harshly criticized for harming women is not only good for women, but is even a silent advocate for feminism? The answer veers towards yes.
It is certainly true that dating apps have inherent risks, namely the threats to safety that inherently arise from interacting with strangers on an online platform. Alternately, I argue that harming women is one thing Tinder has not done.
Let us examine what Tinder has done. The app has contributed to ending a historical narrative of passive female dating. It is no longer the case that women have to sit around and wait to be pursued, like in a Jane Austen or Emily Brontë novel. Whatever it is that women are seeking, be it dating or hooking up, it is no longer about being found. Tinder — and to an even larger extent, Bumble — have provided a platform where mutual engagement is a requirement. Unlike being approached by a stranger in a bar, communication on Tinder can only begin once both parties have swiped right and acknowledged mutual interest. This mutual interest can save both parties from awkward small talk and uncomfortable shifting in their seats while eyeing their friends to come save them.
Even before a match happens, Tinder allows for quiet, but often revolutionary acts of empowerment. For people who have long struggled with taking ownership of their own romantic lives, the dating app celebrates small individual choices. From downloading the app and creating a profile, choosing a picture and writing a bio to swiping through potential matches, the user accumulates tiny amounts of agency. They get to decide on the extent to which they show themselves to the world. Unlike some interactions in real life, Tinder users can tactfully decide when the conversation begins and ends. Moreover, Tinder gives its users the opportunity to choose to not respond at all; anyone can select to unmatch or report a user who sends inappropriate or predatory messages.
Of course, there are moments when Tinder and online dating do not feel empowering. Many women are harrassed and held to double standards on online dating apps. There is also serious discussion about how online dating affects self esteem and fosters a growing addiction to validation. However, it is important to acknowledge that women are harrassed and held to double standards in the offline world as well. It would, therefore, be hypocritical to criticize online dating solely for its disproportionate harassment of women. One important distinction between online and offline dating culture is that women actively choose to take part in online dating activities. Tinder allows women to take charge of their dating lives on a platform that gives them the power to decide when, where and how they want to be intimate.
Another strong claim against Tinder is that it contributes to the objectification of individuals by perpetuating a method of dating that is based solely on appearance. Conversely, there is much more to a Tinder profile than the pictures. Often, users take the biography into account just as much as the photos. The biographies typically include the user’s education, place of work and interests. Additionally, unless we are looking at an epistolary relationship, I do not know of any form of courtship that does not have a physical element to it. If we approach someone in a bar or a cafe, there is always a quality that has caught our attention and pushed us to make an approach. The only difference with Tinder is that our initial assessment happens through a screen. What we do beyond that is up to us. There should be no shame in what we seek to get from other people, as long as we carry ourselves with openness, honesty and lightheartedness.
This article is not a criticism of more traditional ways of meeting people. At heart, I still daydream of stumbling upon something worthwhile in a quaint cafe somewhere downtown. Rather, I’d like to argue that choosing to use Tinder is a little act of bravery and that instead of hindering feminism, it has been silently working to normalize female assertiveness when it comes to our intimate and romantic lives. It has contributed to creating an equitable and often empowering space to seek any sort of companionship we choose.
Perhaps we are no longer writing love letters by dim candlelight or constantly exchanging furtive looks, but at least, thanks to apps like Tinder, women taking ownership of their own is becoming the new normal. Courtship is indeed changing, but the possibility of love — whatever this may mean to you — is still there. And if not, the possibilities of a shared laugh about a bad date, meeting someone you would never have ever met otherwise or simply a fun night are more than ever still here.
Laura Assanmal is a contributing writer. Email her at feedback@thegazelle.org.
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