Happy Birthday Tinder! Five years old this September and still, apparently, going strong. It is very true to say that in the short-term Tinder has changed the way we date. Rather than limiting ourselves to the few tens of eligible people we may know in our town, at work or through our friends the world is now our smorgasbord of choice. Move to a new town, venture on holiday or be on a short work break somewhere abroad and you have ready access to the population of local “singles” from your phone. Tinder, along with its fellow dating apps and sites, has been heralded by many as the new way to find a mate; replacing those age-old methods of going out, joining a club of like-minded people or, even, the relatively new practice of speed dating – now looking quaintly last century. But has it truly changed the way we date?
As an evolutionary anthropologist, I am often asked whether the new technology of dating has irreversibly changed the way we date and mate. In the short term the answer is yes. Today’s generation of singles are adept at whittling down their mate preferences to a few succinct sentences or tick boxes and operating in a world where if the current date doesn’t live up to expectations then there are plenty more where that came from. There is anecdotal evidence that Tinder in particular has changed the way young men date. Before online dating made our pool of choice global rather than local the deal a man had to accept for getting access to sex was a long-term relationship; a pool of only tens of women will do that to you. But now, when a man has access to thousands of apparently keen women, this trade is no longer required meaning that tinder has become the go to app for a swift hook up rather than long-term love and young men are opting for the short-term fling rather than the bonds of enduring love.
But in the long-term what we are seeing with Tinder and its associates is the short-term flood of excitement caused by innovation. Humans are amazing at innovating but our abilities to invent often outstrip our abilities to adapt our long-evolved behaviour to compliment the new innovation. So, we rush to use the new dating app but our brains have not evolved to deal with the flood of choice, to cope with making a good decision based on only limited modalities of information and to prompt the chemicals of attraction, lust and love to be generated in the absence of physical contact. In the absence of published data, my hunch is that while Tinder is amazing for that short term hook up, particularly if you are objectively gorgeous, it is less suited to the finding of true, sustained love. Because to make this choice we need to be in possession of all the facts and of all the motivating reward chemicals that are generated when we lock eyes with someone across a crowded room and feel the first stirrings of sexual attraction. We need to touch, laugh, smell, hear and taste each other and we need to see beyond our tick box list to what a human really is; a complex and unfathomable mixture of traits. We need to bypass the temptation to prevaricate that endless choice brings and jump in with both feet. We need to use all five of our senses and our highly evolved instincts to find that one person.
So, I believe that, in time, we will calm down and see Tinder for what it is, a dating tool, there to assist rather than replace our well-honed dating instincts. It will be there when we need it – to widen our pool of choice or help us when we find ourselves in a new town – but we will select it as one of the tools we have at our disposal to ease our way through the dating market. And the age-old methods of finding love will endure because no dating app will ever replace the power of two people, focused on each other with every sense and every fibre of their being as the first stirrings of attraction are felt and the initial assessment made. Never underestimate the power and influence of evolution – it has been innovating for millennia to ensure that humans meet and mate. By comparison Tinder is a mere five years old. Happy Birthday Tinder!