Swipe About It: Can we reframe dating apps (and help make Tinder suck a little less)?
by Catherine Buxton
Your mom is probably wrong: Tinder* is not destroying love as we know it. For that, we can blame any number of factors: a culture riddled with toxic masculinity, the devaluing of female pleasure, erasure of queer voices, a lack of comprehensive sex ed... I could go on.
(*I'm going to use Tinder interchangeably with “dating apps.” I know Tinder leaves a lot of us (hayyy queer ladies) in the dust, and that there are myriad apps out there for all identities and tastes. But let’s be real, it’s the Kleenex of apps.)
Why the nostalgia for "the way it used to be"? The dating culture we yearn for never really existed. But it can. There is a romantic future where we feel listened to, respected, and even satisfied — and dating apps can be a part of that future.
Speak About It challenges people to find comfortable ways to ask for what they want and hear their partners’ desires. We encourage teens to breathe through the awkwardness of asking for a kiss and to just ask. We should expect adults to do the same. Communicating desire requires vulnerability and self-awareness, but these behaviors are not often exercised on dating apps.
What if I applied the Speak About It lens to my own Tinder behavior, and used the apps to seek out healthier relationships of all kinds? I realized that instead of viewing Tinder as a last resort for hook ups, it could be a tool for good communication in my sex and dating life. I just needed to pull a few pages from the Speak About It handbook. So here's some advice:
- People are human, treat them that way. With a plethora of options at your fingertips, it can be hard to see the people behind the profiles. This can seep into real life, and feed the idea that Tinder dates aren’t real dates, or that people online aren’t as valuable as those you meet “organically.” No. One of the basic tenets of consent is to respect the humanity of the other person. That person on Tinder will feel it if you ghost them, disrespect their boundaries, or treat them less than they are worth.
- Figure out what you want from other people, dating apps, and yourself. Do the #work. Soul search. Figure out why you’re on the apps in the first place. Are you looking for love? A fling in a new city? Self-gratification? (No shame, according to one survey, over 70 percent of millennials are.) Clarifying your own relationship with the apps can help unmuddy the cesspool and leave you more open to fun and inspiring dates. Knowing what you want can also make you a better listener. This can help tune out what your bros, the media, and your mom are saying about what you should want, so you can better tune in to what you and your partner are feeling in the moment.
- Say what you want. The sexiest thing you can do is clearly tell someone what you want. If you are interested in casual sex, say it. If you don’t want to go home with someone tonight, let them know. If you’re already dating someone else … probably worth bringing that up! Online dating provides an extended venue to be clear and communicative about what you’re looking for; you have the opportunity to communicate through your profile, through message, text, and in person. And most importantly, respect other people’s boundaries. If someone took a risk being clear and open with you, return the favor and hear them out.
- You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. You don’t have to be on the apps if you don’t want to. You don’t have to go on any dates if you don’t want to. If what you need to do is stay at home and swipe, whether it’s on Tinder or your clitoris, more power to you. And if you’ve been missing happy hour with friends for “Ugh, another Tinder date,” read that sign, close Tinder, and go to happy hour instead. Your self esteem might thank you.
- Communicate how much energy you’re able to give. It’s fine to date around, but communicating about how much time and energy you’re able to dedicate to a hook-up gives the other person a chance to figure out what they’re okay with too. It’s easy to feel like the grass is always greener and just a swipe away, but people aren’t grass, and some people can’t survive on being watered once a week. Give them the chance to put roots elsewhere.
On behalf of Speak About It, I challenge you: How can you redefine your relationship with the apps so that you’re more clear, more communicative, and more healthy? Maybe this month, you’ll spend less time swiping and more time actually enjoying a hot bourbon drink at Bramhall. (Because where else in Portland do you actually take a Tinder date?)
Speak About It is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that partners with high schools and colleges to educate, entertain, and empower students to create positive change within their communities, advocate for and practice healthy relationship habits, and prevent sexual violence.
Copyright 2016 Speak About It, Inc. Website by Alexandra Valleau