Welcome to Tinder: the free app for iPhone and Android that launched in the UK last month; a virtual world of speed-dating more addictive than crack cocaine. Ostensibly Tinder is an instantaneous matchmaking service that links to your Facebook account and aims to increase the ease and speed of internet dating. No more texts, e-mails and trawling your diaries for spare time, potentially you could be sitting in a bar or a restaurant within minutes of finding someone attractive – provided they’re also using the app, and provided they “accept” your attraction too. A few slots of basic information and four carefully chosen photos are all you need to get going. The app registers your current location, asks who you’d like to meet (male or female, distance, age) then begins to flash up random photos of potential matches like cherries on a slot machine. It even registers mutual friends so you get that friendly set-up feel and at least a first line of conversation.
Utterly repelled by Roger, 27, six miles away? He’s the topless chap leaning on the lamppost across the road – the one that also likes the trance act you heard a decade ago. Swipe left for a No. Curious about Phil, 31, the Ryan Gosling-lookalike walking a Border collie in the Brecon Beacons who knows several of your university friends? Swipe right for a Like, spray on some sex pheromones if that’s your thing, and book a train. Yes, you heard me right. Tinder can be used for hookups as well as dating, who am I to judge?
When someone you’ve “liked” likes you back, you’re matched. A messaging box pops up. Now the challenge is to keep their attention with your wit and wisdom as your instant messages arrange a date.
Is this the most superficial app in existence? “It’s about instant reactions to strangers,” LA-based founder and CEO Sean Rad tells me. “And in that way we’ve created something that mirrors real life.” Tinder launched last September in colleges across the US, and although they’re extremely secretive about user-figures and demographics they say that they estimate 100 million matches across 15 countries. The average user-age is rising quickly from 23 and I understand why. It’s never been easier to find a partner – in the sense that there have never been more of us.
We singletons are everywhere. The percentage of unmarried women aged between 18-49 has risen to 43 per cent from 18 per cent in the past 34 years (according to the Office for National Statistics), and the Government Office for Science has reported that single-person homes are increasing at a rate of 166,000 a year. It will soon be the most common type of household in the UK.
None of this worried me in my twenties, but the sheer volume of wedding invitations dropping on to my battered doormat when I turned 30 instilled The Fear. I began to understand why internet dating is a 2 billion industry in Britain. With more than one fifth of relationships in the UK beginning online, there’s no longer anything embarrassing about meeting a partner on Match.com or Mysinglefriend.com: everyone’s doing it.
Which is why, when I receive a text from my friend that begins, “If you do one thing today, join Tinder”, I pay attention. Particularly since the second half reads: “I hooked up with a 22-year-old last night. I have never seen such a body in the flesh. Am I a bad person?”
I began “tindering” tentatively, rejecting anyone who’d updated bizarre pictures. Left-swipe, left-swipe: like flipping through a sale rack at Selfridges. It’s shamefully addictive. Nothing beats that junkie-rush when – ping! – you’ve been matched. The fun begins. The beauty is, if they don’t right-swipe, they never know you did. And if they left-swipe you, that’s secret too. It’s dating without rejection.
Everyone’s at it. I even caught myself doing it on the loo at work – the last place I ever thought I’d try to woo a man. Having started conversations with more than 40 men, I’ve begun to clump them into categories: the Perverts, the Dullards, the Funnies (not to be confused with the Think-They’re-Funnies), the Dabblers – who create profiles then go into hibernation – the Cheaters, who actually have girlfriends but want to see how others rank them, and the Goodies, the only ones you would ever introduce to your grandmother.
Of course you get users trying to push their luck. I soon found that Victoria Park, East London, is brimming with Tinderers “less than a mile away”; but I had to decline several startlingly graphic invitations to rub suncream into three of my matches and by Monday the locals were thinning out. Despairing, I ventured into Soho for lunch: jackpot. That’s where I find Seb. Both finding the other’s photo attractive, we “match”, and since we’re less than one mile apart we arrange to say hello in the flesh – I just hope he doesn’t expect me to show too much of it.
“Tinder can be whatever users want it to be,” says Rad, appreciating that some users are predominantly using it for sourcing casual, no-strings sex. ‘We’ve had hook-ups, short relationships, long relationships, friendships. We’ve had 50 engagements – and that’s only the ones we’ve been told about. We’ve also had people start lucrative business relationships. In the same way that you meet people at a bar, you find different common ground with different people and forge the relationship that you both want.”
Seb and I weren’t exactly love at first swipe. We had a smashing sandwich, he didn’t demand I take my top off, and on my way home, buoyed, I scooped up two more dates. I’ve since been matched with a stand-up comedian, a restaurant manager, a sailor, an art dealer, a graphic designer and an ear, nose and throat specialist. Rad’s right – each conversation has taken a different angle; frivolous, serious, flirty, intellectual. I’ve met more interesting, available men in one week than I have all year.