“What do you tell people when they ask how we met?” We were a couple of dates in by the time I posed this question to my latest dating partner, so I wasn’t surprised that he took a second to consider it. “The truth,” he said simply. I heartened at that. The truth was, we had met on the well-known hookup app Tinder a few weeks before, and I was slightly worried of sharing that news with my friends.
When I would tell people I was on Tinder, I always felt the need to quickly add that it wasn’t just to hook up, the understood reason any woman my age would start swiping. Actually, I started a Tinder account as a joke. Sitting at a bar one night, I sat with friends as we swiped through user profiles and debated the cuteness of the puppies in a guy’s photo. It was all fun and games, really, and I surprised myself and those who know me best when I kept my account going. Sure I got spammers, bangers, and fetishizers, but that’s what comes with the low bar of entry into the app and its reputation of being like an orgy in your pocket.
I wasn’t actually ashamed to be in such randy company at first. When I first got the app, I gleefully shared it with everyone, recommending it to my single friends, even allowing people to look at my matches. Then the looks started.
Where some people would ask questions about the app or giggle along with me over my matches, others would just have this look on their face. It was their mix of amusement and an annoying knowingness that made me self-conscious and regret sharing in the first place. It was just part of that stupid stigma that comes with Tinder. It’s those same sidelong glances that started with online dating in general sometime in the late ’90s, when you friends would say, “Good for you,” but what they really meant was, “Wow, she’s either really lonely or a giant whore. Either way, some creep will probably murder her.” Of course these days no one blanches on going out on OkCupid dates every night of the week, but Tinder, its sluttier corporate cousin at IAC, has yet to be spared those looks.
And just when I got used to the fact that I was on there, I met someone. I figured I could always pretend we met at Whole Foods, if it came to that. Based on all the guys who joked, “Don’t worry, I’ll tell people we met at Barnes and Noble” on their Tinder profiles, I wasn’t alone in this preemptive deception.
When I started dating my Tinder match, I tried to keep the circumstances of our meeting vague when explaining the story to my friends, saying we met “online” as a sort of half-truth. But I didn’t want to be so hapless about it. They were other people I wanted to meet, and I didn’t want everyone thinking I was booty-calling all these dudes from my phone. I wasn’t! But I’ll take any viable avenue of making a match I can get. I started to try owning up to my Tinder crushes casually, so it wouldn’t draw attention. If I looked comfortable with the idea, then people wouldn’t pry, right?
When I met someone I actually liked, I decided that I had to be honest about it when people asked. We were riding the train back home, when I told some friends about him. “I met him on Tinder,” I said matter-of-factly. I didn’t wait for a response, but went into more explanation of the person rather than our means of meeting. “His hometown is near my hometown actually.” And the conversation steered in that direction.
I know that finding dates through Tinder isn’t an anomaly, regardless of its reputation for hooking up. I’ve heard many happy stories about couples who met through it, and I realized that the more upfront I was about using it, the more my friends accepted it.
But I was part of the problem, really. My extreme candidness in sharing funny stories with friends — like the guy who asked me to join the circus, or that guy with the lion — made my friends think it was okay to joke about the whole thing. I set myself up for the judgement in that way, so when I started to hedge my replies about where I met a date, I think my friends mistook my unwillingness to share as shame.
Sure, the stigma associated with the app itself might’ve made people get that look at first, but I was the one who helped keep that stigma alive. By learning how to be open about Tinder’s place in my dating life, and not caring so much about what people would think, I made everyone in my life comfortable with the idea, including myself. I even convinced some friends to try it out for themselves.
On a date further down the line, I wanted to see if my guy had the same issue I did when he spoke to people about using Tinder. He said he told people the truth about how we met — none of that backtracking I did. I heartened at this, too.
“Okay, but can we tell them we met at Barnes and Noble?” I joked, already know what he was going to say.
He looked confused by my suggestion. “No.”