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Love & Tinderness: In defense of Tinder

Tindering in traffic? Jess Bernhart on why your evening commute may be the best thing for your love life.

It's family dinner. You've driven all the way back to your childhood home OTP to see your parents, and everyone's in a great mood. Your dad's cracking the same old jokes, your aunt's gossiping about her neighbors, and your mom's prepared your favorite meal. In a slack moment, you pull out your phone to message the guy you've been chatting with on Tinder. Your mother, setting green beans on the table, peers over your shoulder and asks, "What's that, honey? Is it your boyfriend?" to which you foolishly reply, "No, it's just Tinder." At which point Mom begins weeping copiously, Aunt Vickie prays for your lost soul, and Dad punches a hole through the dining room wall.

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We've all had experiences like this — felt the shame and judgment associated with Tindering. But I'd like to stand in defense of Tinder and offer my theory as to why it occupies a space in Atlanta equivalent to the more, dare-I-say "traditional" role that Match and OkCupid play both in Atlanta and at large.

For the uninitiated, here's the quick and dirty: Tinder profiles consist of several photos (culled from Facebook) and a maximum 500 characters of text. If you like someone, you "swipe right," and if they like you back, you're a "match." You can only contact and be contacted by people who “matched” with you and you can “unmatch” at any time. Unlike many other dating platforms, Tinder offers significant control over who you're talking to.

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But let's focus on the profile text. If you’ve ever struggled to express your deepest feelings in a 140-character tweet, you know that 500-characters is not a whole lot of information. A Tinder profile can only render the faintest sketch of a complex human life.Thus a prototypical profile might read. "Birmingham -> ATL. 5'8”. Realtor and aspiring actor. Things I'm good at: 1) Petting dogs 2) Free throws." So you're really boiling it down to the essentials of long-term partnership.

Due to the paucity of self-eulogizing text, the accusation is often leveled that Tinder operates on superficial attraction. People argue Tinder relies almost entirely on photos, and therefore base physical attraction. But you can learn a lot from a picture, like whether a person is into puppies or assault weapons. And yes, you’re gauging your physical attraction, but to be frank, you can't date somebody for too long if you don't ever want to see them naked.

As Aziz Ansari points out, Tinder actually closely resembles a more traditional way of finding a match. You see somebody you like the look of, and if they like the look of you, you start talking. You weren’t brought together by a fancy algorithm or search parameters, and you’re not equipped with this person’s hopes, fears, and childhood memories before you start talking. A popular Tinder line is, “My grandparents met on Tinder.” And in a strange way, this could be true.

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Now, Tinder can be used to many ends, from walking down the aisle to hooking up in the bar bathroom. Vanity Fair famously called Tinder "the dating apocalypse," arguing people whip their phones out to order on-demand sex in the same way one might order a pizza. But contrary to this opinion, Tinder can be much more than merely a hook-up app. And I believe this is particularly true in Atlanta.

I have it on good authority that in other, crueler cities, Tinder is used primarily to find a warm bed, couch, or backseat at the end of the night (and clearly, this is the spectral Tinder that haunts my parents’ nightmares). But after two years of Tindering in the A, I have only been approached for a hookup once. The gentleman’s first and only message was, “Smash later?” which I have to assume is a pretty grotesque euphemism — or, I don’t know — maybe he just wanted to watch The Hulk.

Granted, my profile doesn’t scream “random sex,” and I’m sure others have vastly different experiences. But an informal survey indicates in Atlanta, Tinder plays a role equivalent to Match. It’s an ostensibly relationship-seeking site, except Tinder is free-er, with less required reading.

And guys, I think I know why. It comes down to city planning.

Across the U.S., most people are using Tinder between 4 and 9 p.m., and let's be honest, almost everyone is Tindering in moments of boredom. I think it’s safe to assume most Tinder matches spark while you're waiting for your friend to show up at the bar, in evening seminars, and on evening commutes home. Since the average Atlantan drives 28.74 minutes each day on their way home from work — or roughly 600 minutes each month — let’s zero in on that online-dating commute.

People in cities with good public transportation systems have ample time to dig into lengthy autobiographies in the form of dating profiles. But there’s really only so much you can read in stop-and-go Atlanta traffic — a roughly Tinder-sized amount.

If MARTA were a sophisticated system, you might have time to settle into your seat and devour a 1000-word profile. But as it stands in our car-reliant city, you must raise your eyes from the phone before slamming into the back of an SUV on 75/85.

And I think that’s it. So the next time you’re on a wholesome Tinder date, raise a glass to Mayor Reed and the city’s forefathers. Thanks to 12 lanes of standstill traffic, your progeny may be able to say, “My grandparents met on Tinder.” In fact, your parents might want to write a letter to Mr. Reed in gratitude.



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