On Sunday, I spent four hours looking for casual sex with women my age without even putting any trousers on.
It’s all thanks to an app called Tinder, which is taking over the world by promising the holy grail of dating — it tells you if the people you want to sleep with fancy you too.
The way it works is simple: users scroll through pictures of singles in their area, swiping one way to say they like them, and the other to consign them to the dustbin of history. If both users give each other the thumbs up, then Tinder sets up a chat.
The genius (apart from the simplicity — it uses your Facebook profile photos) is that no one finds out about unrequited lust, freeing up nervous singletons to be completely honest. It’s like speed dating without the awkward conversation, and with thousands of potential matches in the room.
Crucially, the app has the buy-in of ordinary single young women, who can avoid the torrent of unwanted advances they would get on other dating sites.
By solving that problem, its founders have pulled off a coup in online dating: it is simultaneously more geared towards sex and less sleazy than any rival offering. And boy is it popular — the company won’t reveal user numbers, but in May it had reached 50 million matches.
I’d heard this sales pitch before, usually prefaced by the question: “are you on Tinder yet?”, but it was only when the Telegraph’s Katy Balls suggested Tinder was actually making it easy to have sex with strangers that I decided to sign up. From now on, I told myself, I would be an Android-powered Casanova, hopping from bed to bed, stopping only to charge my phone and secure the next match.
A flaw in the plan emerged when I set up my profile, and spent two indecisive hours choosing a dashing mugshot (clue: it’s not the one at the top of this page). The exclusive focus on physical appearance has levelled the playing field between men and women. Judge men purely on their looks, and they descend into the same desperate vanity that they’ve forced on women for millennia.
But I learned an even more disappointing truth after a few days: Tinder isn’t about getting laid or finding love at all, it’s about validation. This becomes obvious when you notice how many people randomly indicate an interest in others just to see if they respond. Everyone does it occasionally, but there are pathetic souls who swipe “like” on literally every single person, and then tell their friends how many matches they have.
There is science around this. Studies show that Facebook likes and retweets on Twitter give users a dopamine rush, making them feel happier. Imagine the hit from someone saying that they fancy you. That hit, along with the sheer volume of people to look at, makes swiping fiendishly addictive.
Even more tragically, there are people in relationships using Tinder, just to see if they’ve still got it. The singletons’ paradise has been invaded by needy couples who want to feel wanted. It’s safer than flirting with other people and you can do it from your bedroom.
One friend says he and his girlfriend do it together, both swiping through an endless stream of hopeful faces in silence. We’re surely nearing the first Tinder divorce, and how long before some poor lonely soul is swindled by a fraudster who chatted them up on the app?
This is even more of a shame than everyone’s initial fears about Tinder: that it encourages us to value people on physical appearances alone. Don’t worry, it does that too.
But the real let-down is that Tinder, which looked like it had cracked the code, is as vulnerable to liars, time-wasters and cheats as any other form of dating. You can come up with the smartest app in the world, but you can never conquer old-fashioned human vanity. And if you’re wondering, I got five matches.
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