CAN YOU FIND LOVE ONLINE?
By May Blake
I matched with Ben* on Tinder in early June. After corresponding for a few days, we agreed to meet up to split a bottle of wine on a park bench in his neighborhood. I was taken by the confidence in his voice and how well-versed he was in both underground SoundCloud rappers and early modern philosophers. We instantly bonded over our shared sense of humor and taste in music—we seemed to be intellectual equals—and when we finished the bottle, he took my hand and led me back to his apartment.
We started to hang out and communicate regularly, and he became my new norm. I grew anxious if more than a day went by without a text from him. Our connection felt palpable; he seemed like a real, tangible part of my life. So when he ghosted me two months later, I refused to accept it. I tried to convince myself that no, he wouldn’t end things so abruptly, so insensitively, because our relationship had transcended past a vapid online hookup.
But after two weeks without hearing from him, I forced myself to come to terms with reality. Regardless of the length of our time together, I was a girl he met through Tinder. To him, I was a profile and a carefully curated set of pictures. The guidelines for our courtship were set: no formal goodbye, no explanation—simply silence until I get the message.
The reasoning for my Tinder usage has fluctuated. I originally downloaded it in jest, with no real intention of ever meeting someone. At the time, the idea of looking for romantic or sexual relationships online seemed ludicrous, even sad. After I broke up with my long-term boyfriend, it served as my safety net as I dipped my toes into the dating pool again. When I began to question my sexuality, I used it as a secure way to talk to women without committing to any labels. It wasn’t until I moved to New York that it became my default mode of meeting interesting hookups. At the beginning, I struggled to justify it to myself. I knew that I was attractive, socially competent, and living in a city overflowing with other young, single people. But I also only knew a total of five friends, bars stressed me out, and my summer in New York was supposed to be about gaining new experiences, anyway.
I try to maintain a sense of self-awareness and erudite understanding during my time on dating apps, but this has eventually proved to falter. Historically, my relationship with sex has been fraught, and I've frequently found myself seeking it in order to avoid confronting my own lack of self-validation. On Tinder, I get instant gratification from every match, and consequently became hooked on inauthentic affirmation.
This superficiality led me to develop a disposable approach in dating that comes to fruition in how I find myself treating people. Looking through my endless options of suitors feels like frantically searching through a shopping catalog. It’s as if my ingrained American consumerist greed has translated into my dating life. Sex is a basic human craving—it’s necessary for our evolutionary survival. But on Tinder, nothing feels natural or organic.
“I met up with someone from Tinder about a week ago, and the boy had a really bad lisp,” said Melissa, a senior WLP at Emerson. “It’s so shallow, and I hate to think that that’s the reason I’m not going to see him again, but there’s so much more that goes into finding somebody attractive. It’s their whole aura, the sound of their voice, their vibe. You just can’t get that from five pictures and a bio.”
When I asked Melissa if she would seriously consider someone from Tinder as a partner, she was quiet for a moment. “I want to say yes, if we had a real connection. But I feel like I would be so paranoid that I’m just one of 500 girls he’s matched with that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy it.”
Lindsey, a junior Communication Studies major at Emerson, advocates on behalf of online dating. As we talked, I wondered why someone with her charm and poise would have needed to go on “about 20 to 25 Tinder dates”. But she asserted that her inclination towards dating apps had been a conscious choice. “I feel like I have the power,” she explained. “I can dictate the pace and what I want out of the situation.”
“There’s still a lot of cultural pushback towards online dating. People judge me, but I think they have an antiquated way of looking at things,” she continued. “It might seem irresponsible to meet up with strangers, but I have a pretty good judge of character, and I think being able to date is a really good skill to have. Also, Tinder’s fun.”
"It’s not any less authentic than meeting someone at a coffee shop.”
In conducting over a dozen interviews, I found that the majority of people’s experiences have left them disgruntled. Sarah*, a junior Journalism major, described her time on Tinder as “disappointing, mostly”.
“Relationships are less tied to our self-worth now. I don’t take hookup culture personally. But in turn, we put less weight on people,” she said. “It becomes difficult to see these living, breathing human beings as not just a name on your screen, because you assume that that’s all you are to them.”
“It’s taken the romance out of sex for me. It’s all about convenience,” said Jesse, a junior VMA who has used both Tinder and Grindr. “I think an online connection is real, but I look at those types of connections in two different lights.”
Tinder’s superficial nature can also lend itself to problematic behavior. “It reduces you to just your appearance, and as a person of color, it can be really objectifying,” said Tarik, also a junior VMA. “I’ll have a lot of girls message me saying things like, ‘I’ve always wanted to hook up with a black guy.’”
This doesn’t mean that successful romantic relationships can’t be found. Emma, a junior Media Studies major, met her current boyfriend through Tinder. She told me about how they went on one date in late May and “hit it off immediately.” They continued to talk throughout the summer, and officially began dating when they both returned to Boston for the school year. Her story sounds like a romantic anomaly.
“We were texting every day, but he seemed like an entity. I only knew what he wanted me to know,” she says. “It wasn’t until I met him in person that I saw him as a fully-formed human. And, luckily, it worked out, but it is an unusual circumstance.”
“It’s advanced hookup culture and it’s advanced the art of ghosting, but I would still say it’s beneficial to society,” argued Ash, a senior Communication Disorders major. “As long as you make your intentions clear from the start, it’s not any less authentic than meeting someone at a coffee shop.”
When I first matched with Ben back in June, I made a quip about one of his pictures to my roommate, then continued to mindlessly swipe. Now it’s late July, and I’m resting my chin on his bare shoulder in his Lower East Side bedroom. I know about his budding marketing career, his childhood in Baltimore, and the fraternity that kicked him out during his sophomore year of college. He picks at his fingernails when he’s stressed, and snacks on dried seaweed when he’s bored. It’s just me and him, and he’s looking at me with his dark green eyes that sometimes look brown in pictures.
I don’t know that this is the last time I will ever see him. In a week, he ceases responding to my texts. In three weeks, I hastily delete all our old messages and block him on social media, effectively erasing any online history we ever shared.
I glance down at his phone and see that he’s texting a girl named Julie. The apartment buzzer rings, and he gets up to press the button to let someone in.
“It’s a girl my roommate hooked up with,” he explains. “She left her purse.”
“Your roommate,” I repeat quietly, unconvinced. He puts on a t-shirt and walks out, closing the door behind him.
Is she another Tinder girl? How long has he known her? Was she in here before me? Did he even bother to change the sheets? He comes back inside and nonchalantly plops into bed.
I feel embarrassed, angry, and confused—all at once. I want to spite him for making me believe that our relationship had meaning, but none of the words he used were any more emotionally misleading than things I’ve said to past lovers. My pride is wounded, but I am a girl he found on an app. I should’ve known I was replaceable from the beginning. So I mumble something about having to get up early for work and start reaching for my clothes before he can see the distress on my face.
But he tugs at my wrist and asks me to stay, and the feeling of false intimacy is too alluring, too addicting. So I let him pull me back into his arms and welcome his embrace like a familiar lie. I place my head in the hollow of his chest and listen to his heartbeat echo in my ear. It sounds distant and far away, but it is intensely, unmistakably human.
*Names have been changed.