still swiping

A Mini Tinder Time Capsule

A decade of ghosting, emojis, and urban legends.

Animation: Erik Carter
Animation: Erik Carter

One of the first instances of ghosting I can recall took place in the early 2010s. A friend had gone on a few great dates with a boy she met on Tinder, after which they exchanged a steady stream of communication. Soon, her messages were met with long silences, “yep,” or “lol.” We speculated on the reason: a lost phone, shadowy personal problems, perhaps even a hospitalization. We didn’t use the term ghosting; back then it wasn’t obvious to us that this was an ending.

These days, we seem to have resigned ourselves to an epidemic of unsatisfactory conclusions and unexplained rejections. Friends and friends of friends have shared endless stories about carefully made plans canceled or beloved clothing items and books lost forever in the ghost’s home. Someone told me of determinedly chasing down a ghost so they would pay their share of an abortion. But most just stewed in silence.

The appeal of ghosting ​​is obvious: We generally don’t share a social context with the people we meet on apps, so we incur no real penalties for treating them badly. Why text someone to explain that you don’t want to date them anymore when you can simply screen their calls, safe in the knowledge that you’ll never see them again?

This evasion has spread beyond the dating world. A steady stream of reporting suggested a growing tendency for people to ghost friendships during the pandemic, and one recent survey found that 70 percent of millennials had even ghosted an employer. Dr. Raja Halwani, a professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago known for his work on the philosophy of sex, has noticed students not turning up for class and never emailing to explain why. “There is definitely this sense of a sort of ‘whatever-ness’: ‘Whatever, he’ll understand,’” he told me. He wondered whether ghosting was part of “a broader phenomenon where people feel they don’t owe other people explanations and can just do what they want.”

Halwani takes the view that ghosting is pretty much always a bad thing to do. “The minimum we can say is ‘Hey, I’m sorry. I’m no longer interested,’” he said. A recent backlash against bad dating etiquette has gone even further. Earlier this year, a young man known as West Elm Caleb was publicly shamed by former dates after he’d ghosted them, and in July, a politician in the Philippines introduced a bill that would decree ghosting to be emotional abuse.

But how bad is it, really? Some consider it just another part of digital life. “We’ve gotten to the point where, if someone’s not replying or replying to your message without a question, they don’t want to continue the conversation,” Holly Friend, a 28-year-old trend forecaster, told me. “I find it mad that so many people want to be told there’s something unattractive about them or that this person didn’t have a good evening, whatever it is.”

Ghosting is often seen as louche and insouciant, but I found that, up close, it often appears more jittery and neurotic. One 31-year-old woman told me she had gotten into the habit of ghosting people she met through online dating. “Sometimes with online dates, they’re quite low-quality interactions,” she said. “It’s awkward, and I kind of just get incredibly drunk and tell them all the worst things about myself and then we have sex.” The idea of acknowledging the experience seems bleak, so their follow-up texts go unanswered. “I dread seeing them again.”

This neurosis seems to have something to do with the fact that communication has changed in the time of apps and digital feedback forms. Lots of minor, mundane conflict scenarios have been outsourced. You don’t complain to your taxi driver anymore; you leave a bad rating. We seem to be rusty at dealing with social friction because we mostly don’t have to anymore.

Still, the low-grade dread and guilt that accompanies the act of ghosting does suggest that there is something at least morally dubious about it. According to Dr. E. M. Hernandez, a postdoctoral philosophy fellow researching interpersonal ethics at UC Irvine, the act of ghosting treats the other person as someone without an equivalent capacity for emotion and thought, but instead as a tool. There is a philosophical term for this: taking the objective attitude. It’s “the idea of doing things to make sure that you can get out of the situation and manage their emotions,” Hernandez said. It is how we treat pets or young children, for example, training them through positive reinforcement.

But some people I spoke to thought of ghosting as a kinder form of rejection. Matthew Stephen, 29, once ghosted a woman after around eight dates; his reasons for ending things just felt too stupid to explain over text. “We went to see Midsommar, and she talked all the way through it, asking what was happening every few seconds. Not talking at the movies is my golden rule. It put doubts in my head,” he said. Ghosting, he said, is an inelegant solution to a problem that doesn’t have a good one. “By giving a proper explanation and making a big thing of it, you might be adding a layer of importance to what might only have been casual in the first place,” he said. Ghosting could be a way to signal disinterest “without necessarily being as harsh.” Still, it isn’t something he’s proud of.

It’s not always harmful to be ghosted; it may be easier than getting a message detailing how obnoxious you were at the movies. But being a serial ghoster can have a corrosive effect on the self. “If you’re constantly taking something like the objective attitude towards people whenever you don’t want to engage with them, you’re going to habituate that,” Hernandez said. “That’s just going to become a default way of engaging with people.”

I thought back to instances of ghosting from my past. I was in the habit of doing it for a while, generally after a few nice but unexciting dates with a guy who would be, as my friends and I predicted, “somebody else’s husband.” Halwani’s “Hello, I’m no longer interested in this” solution might have seemed blunt, but it would have been a cleaner, quicker end.

5 New Dating Indignities: A Mini-Glossary

By Bindu Bansinath and Danielle Cohen

🐷 Pigging: To show interest in someone only to later reveal it was all a joke.

🍞 Breadcrumbing: To lead someone on by dropping enough flirtatious tidbits to keep them interested while having no intention of acting on them.

💬 Slow Fading: To send out mixed signals and withdraw from a relationship until it’s tacitly over.

🛒 Relationshopping: To approach dating with a consumerist lens — trying on partners who match up to your wish list of qualities, then discarding them for someone better.

🔪 Weaponization of Attachment Theory: To understand what attachment style your childhood trauma has left you with and then use it to explain why you’re ending things (e.g., “I’m anxious; you’re too avoidant”).

Remember when: the 🍍 was 🤷🏾‍♀️…

By Bindu Bansinath

Animation: ERIK CARTER

In 2016, men of the r/Tinder sub-Reddit began to notice what appeared to be a secret code lurking in women’s profiles. What does it mean, user after user asked, if a prospective match includes a pineapple emoji in her Tinder bio? (“Her only other pic is in her lingerie,” one user noted.) The pineapple wasn’t limited to bios or emoji: In 2017, one befuddled Reddit poster spotted “an increasing [number] of girls posing with pineapples, often in their main pic. Maybe a pineapple on the T-shirt, or an actual pineapple she holds.” His friends were similarly confounded. “There’s been a lot of discussion and googling,” he said. Some people offered theories as to what the fruit represented: It means she wants weed, or to fuck; others wondered whether including a pineapple in one’s Tinder bio has anything to do with the notion that the fruit helps make sexual secretions taste better.

The pineapple has long held significance in the dictionary of dating and mating — even before it got emojified in 2010. Since the ’90s, the fruit has served as a symbol for the ethical-nonmonogamy community. Like pampas grass and black rings, pineapples help swingers of all genders identify one another and are deployed in the form of pins, T-shirts, or signs hung surreptitiously outside cruise-ship cabin doors (people are very horny on vacation).

In 2016, according to internet legend, a group of high-school girls in North Carolina started using fruit emoji on Snapchat to secretly signal their relationship status. Pineapples, with their spiky crowns, rough skin, and sweet flesh, became shorthand for “It’s complicated,” which, once adopted by adults on the internet, could mean anything from a murky situationship to dissatisfaction with a fiancé. The fruit coquetry caught on, eventually making the jump to Tinder.

Today, the way to interpret the pineapple may depend on its context. On an app like Feeld, which operates on a premise of sexual open-mindedness, everyone could be hip to the pineapple that punctuates a bio. But on Tinder, the meaning behind the pineapple may be harder to parse: It could mean “It’s complicated,” or it could signal that one is down to swing. Of course, there are those who insist a fruit is just a fruit. “I’m a guy, and I show myself drinking a glass of pineapple juice,” one Tinder user wrote. “Read into it what you will.”

And the 🌮 soon became 🤦🏾‍♀️

By Danielle Cohen

Animation: ERIK CARTER

A particularly hellish aspect of the swiping experience is seeing the same quips and references over and over. At some point in the mid-2010s, the taco earned a spot in the pantheon of overused dating-app clichés alongside a purported love of “adventuring” and quotes from The Office. The inclusion of tacos in your profile — whether in emoji form or under your list of hobbies — was supposed to indicate that you were laid-back but mildly cultured: cool enough to know about food beyond pizza and burgers but not so weird that you would stray outside the mainstream. “It’s kind of like when white culture finds out about a thing that’s always been there and suddenly everyone is posting about it,” says Luke Fortney, an Eater reporter who remembers seeing the taco emoji take over dating apps around the time he noticed everyone he knew was vacationing in Mexico City — i.e., 2018.

Soon enough, the taco reached a point of oversaturation, which caused people on the apps to dismiss it as basic. Then that dismissal became cliché too. “Guys would have lines in their profile like, ‘Liking tacos is not a personality trait,’ ” recalls Steph, an architect who also pinpoints 2018 as the taco’s high-water mark. “I’ve seen a handful of dudes mention tacos in a snarky way, like, ‘Lemme guess, you love tacos and traveling?’ ” says Sable Yong, a beauty writer. By the time Vox identified the craze in 2019, the majority opinion seemed to be that claiming to like tacos in a dating-app profile suggested you had so little to say about yourself that you were substituting a universally beloved food in place of a personality.

Since then, new shorthands for taste have swooped in. In 2021, Becky Hughes, an editor at the New York Times’ “Cooking,” noticed straight men on her dating apps claiming espresso martinis as their love language. “I’ve also seen men’s profiles that say, ‘Okay, I get it — girls like orange wine,’ ” Hughes said. It’s enough, perhaps, to make one nostalgic for the hard-shell meat pockets of yore. “The taco emoji signaled a sort of dating-app innocence that I both begrudgingly respected and rolled my eyes at,” says editor Alex Shultz. Since moving to California, he hasn’t seen a single taco emoji on the apps. Faced with an abundance of surfing, hiking, and camping emoji, he says, “They almost make me miss the taco emoji. Everyone eats, and everyone loves tacos.”

And the Lax Bro loomed large.

By Rebecca Alter

Animation: ERIK CARTER

Four years into Tinder’s existence, a bad-date story began making the rounds on social media. It went like this: A woman meets a guy on the app. They hit it off, so he invites her over for a home-cooked meal. Partway through the evening, she’s struck with an urgent need to go to the bathroom, but he says he has to go clean it first. She doesn’t make it to the toilet in time and soils herself. The man is exceedingly understanding and tells her she can take a shower. She emerges from the shower to find his face buried in her dirty clothes. She realizes her Tinder date had spiked her food with laxatives.

Upon each telling and retelling, certain details would evolve. Sometimes it’s a third date instead of a first. Sometimes the victim goes to the police, who say this guy’s a serial offender but there’s nothing they can do about it; once, they found him wearing the soiled underwear. Every time someone reshared the story, others would respond saying they too had heard it about someone they knew in Leicester, Cork, or Hoboken. They said it happened to “my mate’s sister’s cousin” or traced its path from “victim, victim’s roommate, roommate’s friend, my cousin (roommate of that friend), then cousin tells my mom.”

The tale of the Tinder Lax Bro was almost certainly pure urban legend, in the genre of the Tinder date feeding a woman human flesh. But still, I wanted to know where the story had come from — and why so many people across Tinder markets were (at least somewhat) verifying its truth. Over two weeks, I searched enough variations on the words Tinder, laxative, spiked, and poop to land myself on some kind of government watch list for sickos.

I found versions of the story in tweets and Reddit threads and reached out to people who had tagged friends in the replies to these tweets and comments on articles. I logged on to Facebook, of all the indignities, to message a girl who had been tagged by a friend in a story about this. I didn’t hear back from anyone.

Most accounts of the Tinder Lax Bro, I discovered, had been shared from late 2017 through 2018 and coincided with the rise of the Me Too movement. Around this time, posts about the perpetrator began taking on a tone of protection. In July 2018, Twitter user @_tatianap warned, “Ladies: There is a man with a poop fetish matching with girls on Tinder in NY and DC, taking them out on dates and spiking their food w/ laxatives … be safe!” In the replies, another user said this had happened to a friend of a friend. “After she called the cops they said they had received calls about a similar situation,” she wrote. I reached out to both women on Twitter and Instagram to no avail, so my next stop was naturally the NYPD. I asked if they knew of any incidents of women complaining of a man drugging them with laxatives between May and July 2018. In ten minutes, they responded, “Do you have a location?” I said I couldn’t get any more specific than Manhattan.

The story of this Tinder Poogeyman reached peak virality in December 2018, when Twitter user @elliebroth uploaded a voice note sent to her by a friend recounting a story she had heard from another friend. To date, the tweet has over 2 million views and 35,000 retweets. In @elliebroth’s friend’s version of the story, told breathlessly in a Love Island–ready lilt, the Lax Bro invites his victim over to his apartment for dinner, and as soon as she eats the “lasagna or spaghetti Bolognese or something,” she urgently needs to “go for a poo.” She accidentally soils herself. When she comes out of the shower, “he’s sat on the sofa with her shitty knickers, massaging it all over his hands and having a wank to it! So it turns out he basically spiked her dinner with laxatives to make her shit herself because he has a shit fetish! Grim!”

Miraculously, Ellie, an Essex, England–based makeup artist, responded to my Instagram message. Over DMs, she told me that she had never met the subject of the story, that the voice we hear in the video is her good friend’s, and that the incident had taken place in Essex. “The friend who sent the voice note said it was told to her as an actual, factual story that happened and not a rumour being passed down,” Ellie wrote. “She actually heard it from the girl herself, so I think it was authentic!” Ellie then directed me to the Instagram profile of the friend who had left the note — Meg, also based in Essex — which would have brought me the closest yet to a real-life secondhand Tinder diarrhea victim. At the time of this writing, however, my message has been read but not responded to.

Meanwhile, the Tinder Lax Bro remains at large, and his legend continues to escalate. On May 29, redditor WeekendReals wrote a post on r/TinderStories about a “friend’s daughter” whose date had sneaked laxatives into the dinner he cooked for her. But here’s where the story changes: The friend’s daughter went to the bathroom, “took a HUGE dump and went to flush the water down, but nothing happened.” She told her date, and he was nice and went to “take care of it.” She waited 20 minutes, then “opened the bathroom door and there he was, sitting on the floor, EATING her sh*t out of the toilet!” The Lax Bro definitely isn’t the myth we want, but it’s the one we deserve, and as long as the slog of Tinder dating remains generally shitty, he’ll keep finding new ways to jump-scare us.

Tinder Spinoffs: The Rise of the Niche Dating App Industry

By Louis Cheslaw

🧐 The Grade2014 (defunct)
Gave each user a letter grade based on popularity, responsiveness, and “message quality” (points were docked for spelling mistakes and “use of slang”). Those who received an F were expelled.

📍 Happn2014
Pairs you with people you’ve physically crossed paths with throughout the day by detecting when another user comes within a 250-meter radius of your phone.

🧔 Bristlr2014
A half-joking concept designed to pair “people with beards who like to have them stroked, and people who don’t have beards but would like to stroke them.”

💪 Sweatt2015 (defunct)
Matched users based on their favorite workouts as well as their favorite time of day to exercise.

🌲 High There2015
Some reviewers of this stoner app have taken to Apple’s App Store to complain they were kicked off. The company’s responses reveal that this typically happens when someone is using the app to solicit or sell weed.

💣 Score2015 (defunct)
Determined compatibility based on each user’s answers to the same multiple-choice questions. Example: “Plastic … (a) surgery, (b) cards, (c) explosives.”

🍁 Maple Match2016 (defunct)
Created at the start of Trump’s presidency to help Americans meet Canadians they could marry. Always something of a gag.

🍑 Trump Singles2016 (defunct)
A pro-Trump app that never really got off the ground because of its glitchy design and lack of functionality. Charged $20 a month.

👆 Wingman2017
Allows you to swipe for a friend from your own device. Any matches then go straight to your friend’s phone.

🤓 S’more2020
The more you chat with someone, the less blurred the images on their profile become.

🦒 DateUp2021
App that “puts tall women first.” To be members, men have to be at least six feet tall, women at least five-eight, though reviewers complain of a lack of active users.

Remains dormant all week until Thursday. Then, for 24 hours, the app opens and displays only people willing to go on a date that very night.

🤱 Stir2022
Launched by dating giant Match to help single parents date. Lets users display their “me time” so matches can coordinate calendars.

Designed for singles who don’t want to have children — or any more children.

5 New Tinder Types of Brooklyn: A Mini Taxonomy

By Randa Sakallah

Although some dating-app archetypes transcend geography (the Tech Bro, the Girl Whose Dog Is Her Entire Personality), each local market offers its own cast of recurring characters. In New York, there has been the Perpetually Single 38-Year-Old Plant Zaddy, the Bi-curious Brooklyn Transplant With One Cheeky Tattoo, and the evergreen NYU Tisch Film Guy. To uncover the archetypes of 2022, I polled 16 people — including friends, friends of friends, and several random people I accosted in Fort Greene Park and the Bed-Stuy bar Doris.

Known to Throw Fits
The Men’s Fashion Guy may be the type “who lines up for Aimé Leon Dore,” according to Rachel, 26, or the “Throwing-Fits Jawns Dude,” according to Lee, 32. This guy is identifiable by his fit pics, delicate tattoos, Birkenstocks, and cigarette smoking. His profile probably includes an ironic photo featuring his mom.

Always at Nowadays
Characterized by tattoos, a photo taken at a protest, and visual or textual assurance that he has read Marx, the Bushwick Leftist probably has BLM and/or ACAB in their profile as well as “pics at Knockdown Center or something — or Nowadays,” says Rachel. “Always at Nowadays.”

Anti-capitalist (With a Stock Portfolio)
The Fort Greene Guy is “indie but has a good job,” according to Chiara, 26. “He’s a hipster with extreme stability. He has a 401(k) but likes to be cool on the weekends.” This type resembles the Bushwick Leftist, but his dye job is better and he looks cleaner. His profile probably features a mirror selfie taken in his well-appointed apartment, and he may own a purebred dog.

Should Be on Feeld
The ENM (or ethically nonmonogamous) Guy is usually a white Brooklyn dweller in his late 20s or early 30s. He tends to have cringe couple photos, maybe from Burning Man, and an off-putting earnestness in his bio. “I usually think of them as the people who don’t know about Feeld,” says Max, 32.

Just Gave a TED Talk
Most commonly found on Bumble, the Girlboss is polished and probably has a photo of herself onstage. “I like going on dates with Girlbosses,” Ben says. “We go on two dates, I don’t feel guilty splitting the check, she zeros in on one flaw with me and decides to end things, and I rest easy knowing I gave her something good to talk about with her therapist that week.”

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A Mini Tinder Time Capsule