Tinder, the much derided and discussed dating app has wiggled itself into our popular consciousness with nothing more than a finger swipe.
Blamed with everything from destroying love to spreading syphilis, it has become the little app that could. It has spawned numerous copycat apps such as Bumble and happn.
But is this app really making us incapable of intimacy?
Dr Lauren Rosewarne, a senior lecturer at the University of Melbourne, says online dating and social media romance can create heightened shallowness in our interpersonal relationships.
She says “We pursue them in ways very similar to online shopping, scrolling through ‘products’ to try and find one that best suits our needs.”
Stephanie met her fiancé on tinder. He was her third match and in a year has gone from hook up to boyfriend to fiancé. She says “He’s my best friend, and he has changed my life, so I suppose you could say Tinder has changed my life.”
Her mum still thinks they met at the pub.
She thinks Tinder gets a bad rap because it is associated with hook up culture which is seen as less authentic and more transient.
But she thinks Tinder and dating apps actually enhance the possibility of intimacy. The apps allows the possibility of being immediately intimate with someone at any given time.
She says “What a person gets out of Tinder is ultimately a reflection of them. I used the app to meet people, but my interaction with those people was otherwise ‘natural’. It is a platform for meeting people. Tinder shouldn’t dictate the nature of those relationships, unless someone wishes to define a relationship by how it began.”
Who we are on social media tends to be more glamorous and less mundane who we really are. Our accounts are fantasised avatars and reflect who we want to be as opposed to the unsexy drudgery of everyday life.
Dr Rosewarne believes selling ourselves to find partners can only lead to disappointment. These illusions are impossible to maintain outside the screens of our phones.
Despite this, there are benefits to using dating apps.
Tinder and dating apps bridge social media with the online dating. It’s very easy to have a precautionary stalk and suss out mutual friends, common interests and discern if the potential date is a psychopath or a One Nation supporter.
You can now weed out potentially bad dates before you even meet your suitors and avoid any nasty surprises that could spoil an evening of dumplings and Tsingtao.
Eliza also met her current partner through Tinder. She thinks Tinder is a gatekeeper which allows you to shield yourself from the uglier side of dating. Tinder, she thinks, creates a dynamic of consent before you even meet.
She says “To connect to someone you have to agree to contact with them. Which is a very good opt-in thing. I think it creates good boundaries. In contrast, you can be cat called, harassed or pursued relentlessly on the street or in a bar without agreeing to it.”
But Tinder can also expose us to more people people than dating in the physical world would and the anonymity of the screen means people feel they can act in a way without accountability.
Many women have spoken about the sexual harassment they have received online.
The most prominent example of this is the case of Zane Alchin and Paloma Briely-Newton. which lead to the forming of Sexual Violence Won’t Be Silenced.
Earlier in the year a young woman named Olivia Melville put lyrics by the rapper Drake in her tinder bio.
They read “Type of girl that will suck you dry and then eat some lunch with you.”
Her Tinder was screen shotted and shared on Facebook by a man named Chris Hall. He posted the screenshot with the caption “Stay classy ladies. I’m surprised she’d still be hungry for lunch”.
Notified by a mutual friend of Hall’s post, Melville shared his post.
“I wasn’t aware I had to put my CV in my Tinder bio,” she wrote. “Shame on you, Chris Hall, for your ignorance of Drake and a good taste.”
Her friends rallied to support her, as did Hall’s, and things escalated rapidly.
None more so than Zane Alchin, who said these things to a one Paloma Brierly-Newton.
“Do me a favour go home and slap your mother obviously your father never did it enough.”
“I’d rape you if you were better looking but I wouldn’t fuck you.”
“You know the best thing about a feminist they don’t get any action so when you rape them it feels 100 times tighter.”
In total he sent 55 messages. Brierly-Newton screenshotted them and took them to the police.
The Police gave them little options and little hope for pursuing justice. In response, Brierly-Newton and other young women started the highly succesful campaign Sexual Violence Won’t Be Silenced.
Alchin was eventually charged with one count of using a carriage service to menace, harass or offend and was given a 12-month good behaviour bond in July this year.
But the issue is more encompassing than just harassment on dating apps.
Dr Emma Jane is a senior lecturer at the University of New South Wales. She specialises in online misogyny.
She says while both men and women experience online harassment and bullying, women receive far more sexually explicit material and gendered bullying than men.
For her the most notable thing is how consistent the abuse is. “It sounds like the exact same guy, talking to the exact same woman.”
Part of the issue is that the internet is seen as a new frontier, a glorious free for all where people aren’t accountable for their abuse.
We live in a world where our digital lives overlap with our physical lives and social media is inescapable.
What is important to understand here is that social media and social platforms are essentially extension of the physical world. Or more accurately, it is an extension of us.
Melissa Meyer says gendered ideas of behaviour between men and women are amplified on social media.
Young women and girls feel compelled to sexualise themselves for male approval.
Men feel the need to present themselves as masculine. Often this takes the form of online sexual aggression.
Katie Barclay, a historian at the ARC Centre of Excellence in the History of Emotions, says this how we have always formed intimacy.
She says “Many societies associate particular behaviors, practices and emotions with particular genders, and so people often conform to such expectations. This means that various practices of intimacy and particular emotions are more associated with men or women or another gender.”
Joni Meenagh says the power of reputation has a powerful role in controlling the behaviour of women online.
Dating apps may give more opportunity for sexual liberation, but they haven’t really expanded the sexual agency of women.
She says “Patriarchy plays out in the same ways via social media as it does in other contexts. I think it’s a false binary to talk about social media contexts as somehow different to other interpersonal contexts.”
But for some, online dating can actually be safer.
For marginalised groups, being able to seek partners without being confined by race, sex, gender, orientation and disability not only expands possibilities but is also a lot safer.
Stacie started exploring the internet when she first identified as queer. Coming to terms with her sexuality was difficult and in many ways alienating.
In the days before Facebook and Instagram she found herself on a lot of websites where being a member of the LGBTQIA community was normal and safe.
“As someone that young and not realising that there was a bigger community than my few queer pals in high school it was really refreshing to know I wasn’t that small in the big world. It’s gotten so much bigger & now I feel there are so many outlets for the LGBTQI+ community to thrive on.”
There are thousands of queer communities connected through social media. They act as support networks, sex and dating sites and activism hubs.
According to Melissa MeyerXX, , social media allows millenials to explore and experiment with their sexuality in ways which aren’t available in real life.
Social media and internet access provide a portal to other forms of sexuality and provides safe communities for people who aren’t safe expressing sexual difference in their day to day lives.
In our deeply connected world, millennials can find groups they identify with or appeal to them, and experiment until they find something that works.
Meyer says “They can then ‘try out’ or experiment with different sexual identities and approaches on various platforms online until they find one they feel comfortable with. Almost like learning to flirt and learning what works.”
Online experimentation is safer than being visibly different in public. While there are numerous queer events and parties, people who are visibly queer are at a much higher risk of violence.
Tinder, Grinder, the myriad other hookup apps and online and social dating creates a safer space for online dating.
Homophobic insults can be blocked. Bullies can be deleted. And there’s no ambiguity about sexual orientation.