I was standing at a party, chatting with friends, when a man walked directly through our circle and announced, “Maureen O’Connor! You dropped our conversation on Tinder.” What happened next is a blur of awkward terror. (“You look different.” “Because I’m 30 pounds heavier now?” “And you look great! If I’d known, I would have replied.”) The fourth wall of online dating had been broken. “Oh, I know you,” a stranger chimed in. “My co-worker got you on Hinge, but that conversation fell apart, too.”
Last year, the rise of swipe-right dating apps was a breath of fresh air in the often-exhausting world of online dating. Low commitment, pleasantly superficial, and actually fun (“Keep Playing,” Tinder prompts at regular intervals), these apps offered a thrilling sense of freedom and lightness — then paired it with Facebook for accountability in photo selection and lists of mutual friends. But as the novelty wears off and swipe-right dating apps become fully integrated into the social landscape, they have developed their own fatigues and faux pas.
If Tinder is the equivalent of striking up a conversation at a neighborhood bar, then Hinge is the equivalent of meeting at a mutual friend’s house party. Whereas Tinder lists mutual Facebook contacts when they exist, Hinge only matches users who share Facebook friends. It provides full names, work, and education information gleaned from Facebook. (Tinder veterans: If you have ever searched the Facebook friend list of a Tinder “shared contact” to network your way to the full name and profile of a prospective date, then you have performed an analog version of Hinge.) Mutual friends are listed with buttons labeled “Ask!” to encourage behind-the-back social vetting. Back in 2009, the novelist Walter Kirn wrote an essay about friending “the pretty single women who appeared during my initial surveys of my literary acquaintances’ Facebook lists,” until he ended up with a girlfriend. I dimly recall thinking that essay was creepy when I first read it. Four years later, it could be an elevator pitch for Hinge.
As technology, Hinge is horrible; it crashes constantly and messages routinely disappear or send without warning. But users persist anyway. In systematizing the formerly unsavory act of creeping around Facebook looking for dates, Hinge makes indulging your inner Walter Kirn acceptable. What’s more, matches from your extended social network can be unnervingly good: My first Hinge date was with a man I had so much in common with, he actually convinced me we had already met, at a social event he deduced I would have attended. The lie was so brilliantly constructed, I felt compelled to reward him with a date.
But that Saturday I discovered the downside of dating apps’ high-volume browsing advantage: By systematically exposing myself to every single man in my extended social network, I had achieved romantic notoriety without going dates with any of the people in question. It was the worst kind of bad reputation — the kind you didn’t even have the fun of earning.
Among Tinder’s most intoxicating assets is the illusion it creates of a never-ending supply of eligible dates. Sorting dates has become my go-to tool for cell-phone procrastination and entertaining myself while in line at Duane Reade. Before dating apps, I used those moments to browse Twitter, text my mom, and learn languages on DuoLingo. Now I just rate men. I rate men when I wake up in the morning. I rate men before I go to bed at night. I reject men at the bus stop. I block boring conversationalists between courses at dinner. It’s not that I’m disproportionately desirable on Tinder; at least as many men, if not more, have dropped conversations with me than I have with them. It’s a rejection free-for-all.
This is, in part, because dating app rejection is relatively gentle. The time investment is minimal so the stakes are low; the humiliation is softened because you’re not face to face; and there is an infinitely renewable supply of new people to distract you from the ones who slipped away. You can be superficial. You can be brutally efficient. You can walk away from anything. You can’t always forget, though, particularly if the match in question shares 18 “hinges” and is somebody you dimly know. When that happens, you may have no choice but to memorize her name and face, so that you may shout her down at a party later.
I have made 45 matches on Hinge and 186 on Tinder. I have met five in person, including the man who shouted me down at the party. When I got home, I pulled him back up on Tinder. “The stress of getting called out on my Tinder game in public TOTALLY RUINED my night. You now owe me one amazingly glorious date,” I wrote.
“I apologize but not really,” he replied. “I can’t tell you how cathartic that whole experience was. Are you free this week?”