May 9, 2014

‘Tinder’ speeds up online dating for singles

Jessie Riley calls herself a “Tinder terrorist,” but she’s not dangerous and she swears she’s just having fun.

Jessie Riley calls herself a “Tinder terrorist,” but she’s not dangerous and she swears she’s just having fun.

Riley is single, 32, and the owner of Maven Made Entertainment, a music and events business in Austin, Texas. She tried online dating services such as OkCupid before she got turned on to “Tinder,” a free iPhone and Android app that makes connecting to and potentially meeting people for dates a much quicker process.

“My girlfriend and I were at Halcyon one night having drinks. We got on ‘Tinder’ and just starting having a lot of fun with it. We were messaging guys in only ‘Jerry Maguire’ quotes. Or only in hashtags,” Riley said.

When she got bronchitis shortly after, she spent a week and a half in bed, trading sarcastic text messages with men. She posted the funnier exchanges on her Facebook page, and they caught fire among her friends, who begged for more. Riley has a big personality, and she uses the dating app as a way of weeding out boring men with no sense of humor. “I use it as a vetting process,” Riley said. “I’m pretty ridiculous. You get a taste of me before we meet and gauge if you can handle it.”

Of the dozens or perhaps hundreds of men she’s viewed in the app and approved or rejected (in “Tinder,” it’s a swipe to the right to indicate interest, a swipe to the left to say, “No thanks”), she’s only met seven or eight people in real life. Only one of them turned into anything more romantic than a coffee.

But she’s having a ball, or at least more fun than she did using traditional online dating services.

“I did I got drunk one night and filled out an entire eHarmony profile. Do you know how long it takes to do that?” Riley asked. “It was so boring. I just kept getting bad matches, not what I was looking for.”

It seems counterintuitive, but a spate of quick-hit mobile apps geared toward instant-gratification meeting and hooking up seem to be doing what most online dating sites promise: They create opportunities to match up with someone. But they’re doing it with a minimum of personal information and commitment.

An app called “Grindr,” launched in 2009, became a huge hit in the gay and bisexual community, offering connections to quick hookups based on location. “Tinder,” which launched in 2012, is a toned-down version of the same concept. It uses information from someone’s Facebook profile to show matches based on location, mutual interests and mutual friends. A dater can set an age range for matches and distance, but the rest is pretty much a matter of skimming through photos with a varying amount of text accompanying them and saying “yes” or “no.”

If a “yes” is voted on in both directions, the app creates a match and allows the nascent couple to communicate via texting.

The company behind “Tinder,” which launched in Southern California, doesn’t disclose how many people use the app, but a spokeswoman said that the app is seeing 800 million profile ratings (those yes or no swipes) and creating 10 million matches per day. Its name is becoming shorthand for smartphone-powered dating without frills or fees.

Patrick, an Austin high school teacher in his late 20s who asked that his last name not be used because of his job, was a skeptic. He thought “Tinder” sounded shallow compared to other dating services he tried when he moved to Austin last summer.

But he was won over. “It seems to be the most casual and easiest to navigate,” he said. “It doesn’t have the association of the desperate or more aggressive.”

He deleted “Tinder” from his phone in the winter when he began exclusively dating a woman he met on the app, but a few months later, after the relationship ended, he put it back on his phone. He averages a match a day but has only met in person with five or six women since he started using the app.

Patrick might swipe right on a gorgeous woman he thinks is out of his league on the off chance he might be her type. The swiping and swiping can feel like a game. “That’s a big part of it,” Patrick said, “you’re swiping, you get a hit, it has that jackpot effect like a slot machine. It’s addictive.”

When he goes out with friends who aren’t single, they ask him to pull out his phone and browse through “Tinder” profiles. “They don’t want to install it, but they want to know what it is,” he said.

Riley, who also manages the Austin band Sour Bridges and works with Utopiafest, has become so adept at using “Tinder” that she can sometimes “Facebook stalk” musicians and others she wants to meet by looking them up based on mutual friends who appear in the app.

When she’s not just joking around and really wants to meet someone, she’s direct. “The first message I send when I’m serious is, ‘You, me, coffee, say yes.’”

She can’t stand boring conversation. Don’t open with, “How’s your day?” “If that’s the best you can do, don’t ever speak to me again.”

Riley says she’s surprised by how many men use “Tinder” but are shy about meeting in person. That’s the point of the app, she figures. “These online tools are to meet people,” she said. “I don’t need a new pen pal and I’m not looking for a new best friend.”

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