A Tinderella story

photo of tinder user college student using online app

With social dating app, everyone goes home happy — or at least entertained

Opening lines from a porno or attempted pick up line via Tinder? You tell me. If you guessed Tinder, you’re right. Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about either. You know what Tinder is. In fact, you probably use it religiously – in secret of course.

Since its inception in 2012, the app has been regarded as a jack-of all-trades. From mobile dating tool to casual hookup finder to the ultimate “let’s see how fast I can creep this person out” game, there is no right way to Tinder. Honestly, it’s amazing what someone will do with the chance that they might get laid.

The college environment, according to Assistant Professor of Sociology Jenny Davis, is no stranger to a hook-up culture where casual sex is the new normal and apps like Tinder just help facilitate that process. Davis, who has extensively researched the interplay between technology and human relationships, says Tinder is a more immediate way to do what we’ve always done.

“College students have been flirting and hooking up for ages, and apps like Tinder just take that process to another platform in a more lighthearted way than services like Match.com or OKCupid,” Davis says. “It just makes sense to use a tool that can mediate that interaction for us in a convenient way.”

Tinder allows us to put ourselves out there, anywhere, and we’re obsessed. Becca, a junior, chose to remain anonymous so Creepy Tinder Tom won’t find her, but is a fan of the service because it means she can meet new people when it is convenient for her.

“I can be in bed in my pajamas and a facemask and still meet the type of guys I would meet if I got dressed up to go out,” she says. “The best part is they’ll never know that, since they only see the profile pictures I choose to put forward.”

Becca believes that the application has earned a reputation as part of popular culture on campus, and that it only adds to the notion that college life is about casual sex.

“I think people go out with the intention of finding someone to go home with,” she says. “If you don’t meet someone by the end of the night, you can always turn to Tinder to find someone easier.”

Davis cites Tinder’s ease of registration (you only need a profile picture and a Facebook account to sign up) as one of the reasons the app is favored among a millennial audience. It is also the ease of selection that attracts users.


“It has the potential to let you ‘have sex like a man,’ and you get a confidence boost when you match with someone you think is attractive,” Becca says.

This confidence boost, according to Davis, “Offers a bit more control in the dating world by letting you pre-screen and select candidates as potential matches. Like everything in the age of digital technology, it is all about the ability to know what you’re looking for and select those that meet that criteria without having to do all the hard work yourself.”

For some female students, the ability to make a pre-judgment and “have sex like a man” could be considered empowering, according to Associate Professor of Sociology Matt Ezzell.

Tinder mimics the 1960’s sexual revolution in that women are able to take their sexual experience in their own hands,” Ezzell says. “Women are able to engage or interact with who they choose on their own terms.”

Sounds good to me.

So, yes, the app makes finding a friend for an adult sleepover an easy and accessible process. If you have low enough standards, finding someone to match with could be as simple as making sure that they are a human being of your desired gender. But is the app really all in good fun, or could what many students consider a joke actually have a harmful side?

“The program isn’t necessarily harmful, but it can be,” Davis says. “When a woman puts herself out there as looking for a potential partner that doesn’t mean she’s necessarily interested in sex or is sexually available to everyone.” However, it may not be the technology itself that is causing the threat. Davis’ research suggests that our technology use is typically a mirror of cultural patterns of behavior.

“There just isn’t enough awareness of rape culture out there,” she says.

In sharing a few of her own encounters via Tinder’s chat feature, Becca reflects that she holds mixed feelings overall.

“A lot of the messages are inappropriate and degrading, but if you are careful while swiping, you can have some pretty funny conversations,” she says. “One time a boy asked if he could knit us matching sweaters. I’m still waiting on said sweater.”


Regardless of where you stand on the debate over the app, it is actually able to serve its intended purpose: dating.

Cassey*, a senior at JMU, is happily attached to her boyfriend, and all it took for Cupid’s arrow to strike was an emoji. Cassey took matters into her own hands after being matched. She found him attractive and noted that he lived in the same area where she would be attending grad school. To get his attention, she merely messaged him a smiley face with hearts for eyes (we all know the one), and from then on conversation flowed smoothly.

The pair had a successful first date in Richmond and have spent every weekend together since. Cassey, a self-proclaimed “Tinder believer,” isn’t hesitant to tell to tell the world that they first met on Tinder.

“A lot of my friends think it’s hilarious that we met on Tinder and poke fun, but it doesn’t bother me at all,” she says. “I think using and meeting someone on Tinder, for the right reasons, is similar to meeting someone random and new at a bar. I’m thankful for the app because if I hadn’t used it I probably would have never met [him].”

Yet for all that goes down in history as love at first swipe, it seems that what will be remembered are the bizarre attempts at achieving sex. Or perhaps, like Angela*, you’ll remember the time you took a chance on a boy you met on Tinder, who turned out to be the creepiest dude ever.

After months of conversation and exchanged text messages, Angela ventured out to meet her Tinder-friend in person and sparks seemed to fly – until the situation caught fire.

“We ended up sleeping together, but the entire time he purred and roared like a lion,” Angela recalls. “So of course I had to cut that shit off real quick.”

Tinder, for all that it’s worth, might draw an analogy to the classic debate over “size.” As in, it’s not what you have but how you use it. It is no secret that the app makes it possible to match and meet people normally not in an immediate friend circle, but it is also no secret that it can give any sane human being the heebie jeebies when someone asks if they can be their plumber.

As for Davis’ overall verdict?

“If I were in college, I don’t think I would download Tinder,” she says.

But, hey, you can always tell your future children you met at a bar.