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Is modern romance dead or are my Tinder pictures just poorly angled?

Dating apps in college do not have to be synonymous with thoughtless hook-up culture

Let’s say I am laying in my bed in unlaundered sweatpants as I watch “Titanic” or “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before,” an updated version of the forbidden love story archetype. As I inattentively watch these idealized romances play out on my laptop, I rapidly drag my finger right on my phone screen, affirming my attraction to a promising mirror selfie of a fellow Stanford student. In this *hypothetical* scene, something doesn’t feel quite right about my simultaneous desire for instant gratification and a scenario similar to that of the people slowly falling in love on the dusty laptop screen in front of me.

If you have dabbled, just by chance of course, in the search for companionship via Tinder and other dating apps or you are like a Stanford frosh who admitted, “I sometimes swipe myself to sleep,” you are familiar with the vast array of potential suitors through which you can peruse. This creates an experience comparable to, but slightly less exhilarating than, scrolling through Amazon. (Sadly, though, there are no customer reviews for my Tinder matches.)


Similar to Amazon, Tinder acts as a retail giant in its commodification of human beings. You set your preferences for your desired purchases — or partners — and then you begin your prideful scour. When something tickles your fancy, you indicate your interest. And importantly, you make note of how quickly the item will appear at your doorstep, which in the Tinder-sphere is normally revealed after a wee bit of verbiage is exchanged.

Amazon users’ demand for Prime services reveals just how much they value this last criterion. On Tinder, though, assessing the “shipping speed” can be a bit more nebulous. For your convenience, I have subdivided this critical information into four categories of Tinder matches, outlined below.

Prime Free One-day:

This label applies to those matches who message something with a similar nature to a singular GIF: a poorly-worded pun or a “‘Heyyy”’ — specifically with three y’s within five minutes of matching. They are eager and available within a minute’s notice. But hey, maybe that’s harmonious with your present desires.

Prime:

Tinder matches who resemble the typical Amazon Prime product are relatively easy to engage with in thought-provoking discourse and, luckily, have a bit more flair than the Free One-day folks. They have a pulse, a face and some other general characteristics we look for in a life partner or one-night stand. Being Prime is ideal.

Two-week Shipping:

Then there are those who look incredibly promising but will take weeks to come into your life, sometimes even charging you grotesque shipping fees — that is if they are located farther than three miles away. You question if they are worth all the effort. They are usually not. Their appeal can vary from that of a piece of white bread to Michelin-star chocolate mousse, and there simply is no time to sift through such a varied menu.

Currently Unavailable:

Like the worst kind of Amazon product that seduces you with an attractive photo but quickly dashes your hopes with the devastating red letters “currently unavailable,” these Tinder matches look especially promising but fail to even respond to your initial message. These people should swiftly exit from the feigned titillation of Tinder.

Now, it may seem slightly appalling to compare human interaction to methods of shipping, but in all honesty, we sometimes treat people with the same care as the five-year-old condom in our wallets. I think back to the childish wonder and excitement I had when my crush would sit at the other end of the lunch table, in comparison to how I merely bat an eyelash at the queue of people in my Tinder shopping cart. The seemingly endless universe of potential mates often trivializes the exclusivity and enthusiasm users may feel for any particular individual. App junkies are increasingly starving for interaction yet approach such interactions with laziness and indifference, creating the toxic relationship culture on college campuses that so many have come to criticize.

Stanford students’ experiences on Tinder vary greatly, from confidence-boosting procrastination to regular sexual encounters.

“I’m still not super comfortable with participating in a culture based on a split-second attraction, but I have to admit that it’s a bit of an ego boost to match with someone I find attractive,” said one student.

Another claimed, “I have seen a lot of Stanford boys’ butts. They love mooning people. It’s like Full Moon on the Quad but ‘Full Moon on my Screen.’”

With the variety of mentalities college students have while on Tinder and other dating apps, they often do not know what they will find. Some of us are using it to search for a potentially fruitful endeavor, while others simply use it as a search engine for one-night engagements. Motivations for using Tinder can get pretty esoteric when asked about her experience on Tinder, one Stanford student boasted that she has gotten “a lot of food” from interactions on the app. “I go to the frat house and just raid their kitchen,” she said. “I came home one morning with an entire sleeve of Oreos.”

“That’s how I stock up here,” she continued, gesturing to a shelf full of snacks.

Fortunately, Tinder can help grease the wheels of simply asking strangers in person for their Oreos. Approaching strangers directly for anything, really, has shifted from being perceived as spontaneous and romantic to generally uncomfortable and desperate in our modern dating climate. Real life is certainly not “The Notebook,” so we rarely engage in spontaneous witty banter when we have the equally entertaining alternative of flipping through acquaintances’ photoshopped images on Instagram. Laying in our twin-size beds watching rom-coms, we long for similar thoughtful gestures, but in practice, these tropes feel tacky and disingenuous.

That said, a dating app can be a helpful launchpad to bridge this disconnect and provides a semblance of hope for those searching for companionship or maybe a touch of Tinder tenderness.

“I’m dating this guy that dropped out of Stanford to work on a start-up,” noted a first-year Stanford student. “He has an algorithm named after him.” This expanded virtual world opens people up to new connections that they could have never formed otherwise like the extreme rarity of finding a tech-savvy Stanford student.

We often dream of a particularly sappy and romantic relationship but fail to live out these ideas in real life. We struggle to balance our desire for human connection and our insatiable thirst for the next best Primeable product that lies a swipe away. The swipe-life culture is enticing and addictive, but it feeds our latent disconnectedness in ways that only leave us more dissatisfied.

Maybe a bit of mindfulness can help halt this hunger. As you open your Tinder next time, remember that there are people behind the pictures with whom you have an opportunity for more than instant gratification or a sleeve of Oreos — or perhaps a Full Moon, if your interests lie in the planetary sector. Dating apps can be a vehicle to forge meaningful connections with others, rather than to treat them like items to be shipped, used and potentially discarded.

As one Stanford student admitted, “I still have the dream of meeting a potential suitor as I sip on a latte in my favorite small town coffee shop.” However, she resolved, “I have realized [that] since dating apps are now so commonplace in our culture, it is a lot more likely to have the first interaction on an app. We’ll just have to reserve the coffee shop romance for our first real-world date.”

Even as our expectations of romance have shifted in the age of Tinder, there is still room for some cheeky chitchat. Be selective, make your intentions clear and maybe even take some time to attempt meaningful conversations. You might just find a Prime candidate worth keeping.

Contact Alanna Flores at alanna13 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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