It’s often rare these days to find any person below thirty who hasn’t heard of Tinder. But in case you don’t know what I’m talking about, Tinder is a dating app that allows the user to find a potential partner, friendship or one time hook up. The latter is what it’s predominantly used for.
Tinder hasn’t been around for more than five years, but it’s already revolutionized the way we perceive dating. All you have to do is sign up for a profile using one of your social media accounts, choose your best pictures, and set some basic filters. If you want, you could also add some witty text to accompany your profile. But proceed with caution – not everyone may appreciate your sense of humour.
You’ll then be presented with numerous profiles that fall within your desired parameters. All you now have to do is swipe left or right. If you’re interested in the person and want to chat to him/her, swipe right. If you’re not interested, then swipe left. You keep doing this until your thumb becomes sore.
If a person you swiped right on happened to swipe right on your profile as well, then you’ll both be allowed to converse with each other. Generally, people tend to message back and forth for a few days before they mutually decide to meet up in person. It’s that simple!
Now while this may seem like a novel way to meet people in a world that is getting more and more individualistic, the rise of Tinder and other dating apps have brought about some peculiar psychological drawbacks. In fact, they could also be doing more harm than good.
Swipe, Swipe, Swipe…The Paradox of Choice
Let’s imagine that you’ve met someone on Tinder who seems like they’ll be a perfect match. You decide to meet up, and after an introductory conversation, find out that you’ve both got a lot in common. It’s an ideal situation to find yourself in. You then make plans to meet up again and see where these future encounters lead to; maybe something deeper than a one night stand.
However, with each rendezvous, you begin to notice small flaws in your date. Perhaps there’s a small hair on his ear that sticks outs rather obtrusively. Or maybe her smile’s a bit crooked. It’s nothing serious, but it gradually begins to gnaw at you. And so do other imperfections with time.
So your mind begins to drift back to Tinder. It dawns on you that there are plenty of other profiles you haven’t swiped through yet. Yes, the person sitting in front of you seems interesting enough, but maybe there’s someone else out there who’s better. Someone who is flawless in every way imaginable. It’s a nagging prospect that keeps your mind preoccupied. This is what is known as the paradox of choice.
A term coined by American psychologist Barry Schwartz, the paradox of choice is an affliction that plagues our modern societies due to an overabundance of choice. It can be best described by a trip to a shopping mall for a pair of jeans. After finding a pair that appears to fit well and falls within your price range, you still continue to peruse through other brand names and styles so that you can find the absolute perfect pair. It’s an exhausting endeavour and one that is also time consuming.
But for people who want to maximize on their potential to make the best choice possible, their shopping habits spillover onto their relationship decision-making. Schwartz writes that there may be nothing wrong with their current partners, but ‘maximizers’ will always obsesses over the what-ifs.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, lies so called ‘satisficers’. Schwartz argues that satisficers are able to be satisfied with their decisions and choices. This doesn’t mean that they opt to settle on the first option that comes their way, but instead they make well thought out choices and don’t spend time wondering if the grass is really greener on the other side. And this makes perfect sense. If you spend your time waiting for the ideal partner, you might just end up alone. This is because the likelihood of meeting someone better suited for you will always exist. In the meantime, you’ll pass up several opportunities to be with a person you could be truly content with.
Tinder and Human Evolution
It’s only been recent in our human existence that we have the luxury of so much choice. Things were quite different for our cave dwelling ancestors. Early homo sapiens most likely traversed the world in groups no larger than 40. And in their entire lifespan, they probably encountered only around 150 or so like them. Their opportunities for reproduction were strikingly different from ours today.
But you don’t have to go back that far in time to realize that things have changed for us quite drastically in only a short period. A team of sociologists found that in 1932, one-third of married couples had previously lived within five blocks of each other. More surprisingly, one-eight of these married couples had lived in the same building before they established a relationship together.
With that said, according to Psychologist Wendy Walsh, it’s easy to understand why we’re not programmed to be exposed to so many sexual opportunities. Instead, we’re wired to be excited about a new sexual encounter because it used to be so rare. Put these two together with modern online dating and we witness an uncontrollable impulse to pursue the possibility of several sexual partners.
You can draw a similar comparison with our evolutionary desire for sugary foods. We crave everything sweet from chocolate to candy, because of our physiological association of sweetness with high-energy foods. It’s definitely something that helped our ancestors survive in the past but today contributes towards an unhealthy diet thanks to our over-consumption of sugar.
So we now know that apps like Tinder can be detrimental to our overall well-being, but that doesn’t give us a solution for our ever increasing isolated existence. Dating apps exist for a reason because they fill an important void left behind by our modern societies that have us shuttled back and forth between work and home, with little time left for healthy social interactions. We don’t get out often and additionally spend way too much time online.
To succeed in the sphere of online dating, it’s important that we first recognize the effect these apps have on us. We then need to use them in the most constructive way possible. If you use Tinder for its primary purpose, which is to engage in a brief physical relationship, then do so knowingly. On the other hand, if you’re seeking something more serious, then clearly state your intentions. And when on dates, focus on the person in front of you and accept that there’s no such thing as a perfect partner.
But if you find yourself constantly on your phone or your mind always preoccupied on your next potential match, then do yourself a favour and delete the app. At least for a while. Take the time to first foster healthy interactions with the people around you and allow your mind to be centered in its immediate environment. Who knows, you might just notice that one friendly face that could be right in front of you.
Tony is an accredited existential coach and counsellor who offers both in person and online sessions for individuals seeking to find more purposeful driven lives. Topics are diverse but include seeking a work/life balance, living abroad as an expat, dealing with anxiety, making difficult decisions, to even pondering what life is really about.