When famous astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson had two relationship experts appear on his StarTalk Radio show to discuss the evolution of love and relationships, it’s not surprising that the conversation almost immediately turned to Tinder — a popular dating app where the user swipes the pictures of their potential matches to the right if they like what they see, or to the left if they don’t.
Tinder gets a bad rap sometimes. It’s been called a hook-up app and an app for only shallow people since users judge potential matches on their appearance.
But one of Tyson’s guests, biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, made an interesting point: Tinder is nothing new. It’s just a new interface for doing things the way we did them millions of years ago.
Tinder works well because it mimics the first thing you have to do in a real-life encounter — you have to look at the person, Fisher said. And you can tell a lot about a person from just looking.
Calling apps like Tinder and websites like OkCupid “dating sites” is somewhat of a misnomer, Fisher said.
“The bottom line is these are not dating sites,” Fisher said. “They’re introducing sites.”
You can swipe all you want, but eventually you’ll have to meet someone in person.
“And when you get into the bar or into the coffeehouse or whatever [to meet a Tinder date], and you sit down, the ancient human brain works the way it always has and you court the way you did a million years ago,” Fisher said.
When you think of dating websites as introduction websites, it seems natural that we’d incorporate them into modern love and dating.
“We no longer have parents that can fix us up,” Fisher said. “By middle age you’ve gone through the people who your girlfriends could introduce you to, you’ve met everyone that you might have wanted to meet at work, and [online dating] is cheap, it’s easy, and it’s safe, so why wouldn’t we want to do it?”
Of course it can be more complicated than that. Some reports suggest that nearly 30% of Tinder users are already married and are just using the app to get something on the side.
Fisher is more optimistic.
“Romantic love is like a sleeping cat — it can be wakened at any moment,” Fisher said.
That means even people who are on Tinder just for sex might meet the “person who triggers that brain circuitry for romantic love, and they’re off to the races on something even more powerful than sex,” Fisher said.
You can listen to the whole StarTalk episode below. The Tinder discussion happens in the first three minutes and last five minutes of the show:
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