Love at first swipe?

Sex on Tuesday

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This week, your intrepid sex columnist explored dating apps for the first time. 

After a lifetime of snootily spurning Tinder and the like as a waste of time, or a place for the bored or desperate, I decided to get over myself and see what all the fuss was about. These days, hookup apps are a major part of the sexual landscape, and I wanted to assess their benefits and drawbacks firsthand.

Above all, I decided they were much like any other tool: They help simplify and manage a challenging situation (here, dating/hookups), but their limitations mean they only solve certain problems, and thus can’t get everyone something they want.

To set the scene, I created profiles on Tinder and Grindr a week ago to compare the two and see if they were useful. I ruled out Bumble and other dating apps for being either less popular or minimally sex-oriented. I also tried not to hold back; I added plenty of pictures, a thorough if dry bio and, in the case of Grindr, my physical profile (height, weight, race).

The experience quickly overwhelmed me. Grindr definitely gets points for shock value: People’s first messages included every kind of nudity and a variety of poses; I was repeatedly propositioned without preamble. But because Tinder requires matching before messaging can occur, there weren’t fireworks à la Grindr.

Perhaps because it is less anonymous and more holistic, Tinder strikes me as more of a dating app than a hookup app. It’s a great place to meet someone you really like (since matching suggests mutual interest), but not the best place for “right now,” as Grindr puts as one of its options.

Another obvious difference is that Tinder is mainly a straight platform, and Grindr remains primarily queer, especially for cisgender gay men. Since gay men are traditionally thought of as the most hypersexual of all sexual orientations, Grindr’s immediacy and few-holds-barred structure make perfect sense and seem like a feature, not a bug. Tinder’s comparative restraint seems like good insurance for women, who would likely find the overly aggressive come-ons of Grindr all too familiar. But because Tinder caters less to queer users, I’d recommend Grindr to anyone queer who doesn’t mind a little oversolicitousness.

My foray into both platforms also led me to think that, given my set of physical traits, I have probably average appeal for women, but am something closer to dynamite with the boys. I could be wrong; this is just what the Tinder-Grindr analysis suggests.

Both platforms have major flaws depending on one’s priorities. I was unimpressed that Grindr’s proximity filter costs money, meaning the ease of contact can be confounded by the distance, though that’s not an issue if you’re just looking to exchange pictures. I did, however, love that Grindr allows you to filter for physical traits, which you can’t ever do in real life. It was nice to peruse only the profiles that might legitimately interest me rather than doing the legwork of Tinder, which forces you to swipe through every human being in your age range to find the ones you might like.

The age filter is, however, perhaps Tinder’s foremost achievement: By charging for its age filter, Grindr effectively subjects you to the desires of anyone interested in you, no matter their age or appearance. Here again, Tinder wins for those seeking the realistic possibility of a relationship by letting you filter for people you’d be comfortable getting messages from.

For those wondering which I’d ultimately choose, I’d opt for Grindr. Although Tinder is overall a better app — more human, more lighthearted, more private and probably a little safer — it offers a function I would rather get in person. If I wanted to start a relationship, I’d do that with someone I didn’t meet on the internet or on a dating app, but Grindr doesn’t seem like a place for dating. At the end of the day, Grindr is more purely about sex than anything else I’ve ever encountered, and I admire its efficiency. Like good contestants on a reality TV show, people on Grindr didn’t come here to make friends.

One perk of Tinder for the relationship-oriented is how many people are seeking friends. Although it seems like a strange place to find platonic rapport, Tinder (at least locally) is positively saturated with people who are “new to the area and just looking to meet new people” or whose accounts dare you to top the memes they’ve posted as profile pictures. On behalf of anyone actually seeking sex on Tinder, I think people should go elsewhere if they just want to show their love of internet humor or get boba and cheesy fries at midnight. But for people looking for friends in Berkeley (where it’s all too easy to feel anonymous), dating apps make sense as a strategy for socializing.

So although I respect anyone who wants the uncomplicated fun of a hookup-app fling, I find the algorithm a bit too impersonal; I’d rather play the old-fashioned waiting game and try to find someone in real life, since I think the physical side of things would be more fun with someone I knew based on more than just messages. On an intellectual level, I still have misgivings about meeting someone digitally, and I probably wouldn’t want to date someone I met through Tinder/Grindr, if only because I am a romantic who wants to fall in love at first sight and not at first swipe.

Aidan Bassett writes the Tuesday column on sex. Contact him at [email protected].