One of the USPs of Tinder, espoused by its founder, is that the dating experience it offers is ‘like real life but better.’ That does not sound like an inspired piece of marketing to me. I have no idea what your real life was like today, but if we take my real life as an example, it was not praiseworthy. With a few exceptions, most of them occurring before the age of 12, real life is mostly about working towards a newer, improved version of real life or spending an inordinate amount of time trying to get away from the real life you have identified as yours. It doesn’t take much to be ‘better than real life’. I think it’s fair to posit that Tinder is not aiming too high.
The positive nature of the Tinder experience is predicated on the throwaway nature of our current society. Immediacy and convenience work both ways: you can meet (I use the word in its most fantastical sense) very easily and equally you can dispose of someone with the same alacrity. You have about the same significance as an item in an Argos catalogue. The message is, you come with no baggage and you take none away. Makes the zipless fuck look like hard work doesn’t it? But here’s the thing about Tinder and about digital dating in general: People arrive with, and leave behind, a whole lot more baggage than you would in real life. And it disrupts the natural laws of dating.
If you have a halfway decent Mum (and that part of my real life is probably better than yours I reckon) she will have told you that dating in the very early stages is about keeping things minimal, a cat and mouse game to find common ground without alienating the other person. Don’t talk about anything too heavy. Keep your children, real or aspirational, out of it. Don’t give away too much about yourself, don’t over do the talk about hobbies, don’t mention or introduce your friends or family, try not to talk work and don’t wear anything too outrageous. She would have said it’s rude to mention money, discuss what you own or go too deep into any allegiances you have. No, the idea of these early dates is to keep it light and not put too much more on the table than a drink, a bowl of greasy, bacteria infested peanuts and a pack of Silk Cut Tens.
Except that he has told you in his profile he does not smoke. He rarely drinks. You can see he does triathlons. He does them with the same friends he goes skiing with. There they are again drinking (ok so this is when he does it) with their arms around one another. Already you have to ask whether in between all that activity and camaraderie there is any room for you? Especially as there’s another picture of them on a night out wearing court jester hats. He is sitting in between two young women. In another picture he’s at a party grabbing a girl around the waist. Chancer, short attention span, party guy. The next guy has children. You know this because they are in every photo. Every. Single. One. In the last photo he’s with his presumably estranged wife. This man will come across as caring and sensitive at first, before progressing to cloying. You know he has the ability to turn any conversation into one about his kids. He will talk to you of his hopes and dreams for them, how Sophie got into ballet school, how his son is really, very clever and will probably have his MBA dusted by the time he’s 10 and he prioritises time with them which includes not allowing them to use electronic devices (why do family men consider this an example of their caring side?) and how he maintains a good relationship with his wife. In fact they go on holiday together. You will want to climb out of the bathroom window, after stabbing him forty times in a violent, frenzied fashion.
Now compare this to real life. (These are true examples of my real life when it gets interesting)
1. I am sitting on the tube. A man opposite smiles at me. I smile back. He gets off at the same stop. He tells me I have a dangerous smile and he loves it. He kisses me on the cheek and gives me his business card, saying he wishes he didn’t have a meeting. I know he has courage, style and charm. I might want to find out more.
2. I am at a corporate do. I am bored and so I stand in front of the table plan. A man stands next to me. There is something about the table plan that makes us both laugh. He shares my absurd and obscure humour.
3. A man asks me in the supermarket whether the avocados are any good. We chat about the generally crap state of fruits and vegetables and I end up telling him that he can ripen them faster if he puts them in a bag with bananas. He likes that tip. He obviously likes food as I do.
4. I am at the gym. A guy starts chatting. He tells me I look strong. (This is gym talk for ‘you are fit’.) I tell him I feel crap and am thinking of what I can eat. He says I don’t look like I eat whatever it is and am sure I can eat whatever I like. A little physical appreciation. Worth a look.
5. I am at a wedding. In fact I am there with someone else. I see a man but don’t think he sees me. During the dinner he suddenly brings me a glass of wine. He disappears. When the bride and groom are leaving he grabs my hand and drags to me the kitchen where he kisses me passionately in front of the waiters. He gives me his address and tells me to meet him there. He is waiting outside when I arrive.
These are all true, all real life. They began with an unseen connection, a gesture, a word or in the case of (5) powerful, wordless, sexual attraction. On Tinder, this behaviour would all be written as execrable pedestrian cliches. Eg:
1. I am spontaneous and and a little bit crazy
2. I have a eclectic sense of humour
3. I like to eat mostly healthy stuff
4. I look after my body but am not obsessive
5. I am sexy and romantic with the right person
Would you date anyone who wrote those? No, and neither would I. But this is the reality of online dating, even Tinder that purports to be as good as hooking up in real life. Nothing you do will ever come close to that interaction. Nothing you feel by exchanging texts and photos will ever make you laugh like this. Nothing, absolutely nothing you can do online will create that anticipation and fuel your passion so that you drop all rational thought. And that’s the point. Real life drags things out and we’re impatient. Or we feel we’re missing out. And so we want to fill in the gaps. The illusion of choice and the profusion of choices created by the digital marketplace may lead us to think we’re getting the jump on real life. But what we’re getting is the discount real life product, one based on telling not showing. All those lists, all that talk it actually doesn’t make anything clearer. And it muddies the waters.
Because despite its constant pain, boredom and disappointment, those moments when real life comes good are better than real life.