The Future

the math of tinder

Wasn't this supposed to make things easier?
The Future

Tinder is not actually for meeting anyone

We’ve done the math on Tinder… and it doesn’t look good

I think a lot about the sheer math of modern Tinder. These are not official figures, but I would say based on my experience and that of friends they are eminently fair.

Let’s say you swipe through a thousand people, and swipe right on a hundred of them. Fifty match you back, optimistically. Twenty actually send you a message and you message 10 additional people, but only hear back from two of them. That leaves 22.

Three turn out to be bots or illiterate. Five say something extremely gross referencing aspects of your anatomy. Four just say "hi" or some variation thereof and are not attractive or interesting enough to get away with it; they too may be bots. One opens with “9/11 was an inside job.” One you don’t respond to fast enough and he sends three messages, the last of which is “Hello? :/“ which is just about the biggest red flag you’ve ever seen. The remaining eight are worth responding to.

Two of them disappear after two exchanges, maybe to resurface anywhere between two weeks and three months from now with "sorry got busy/went out of the country/went on vacation, would love to meet you!" Two actually don’t live here and are just visiting but are looking for someone to show them around. You have lively exchanges with the remaining four, but two of them fade out after a long conversation that leads nowhere; they ask for your number, too late, and you decide you don’t like them that much anyway. The other two move to texting.

It takes 3000 swipes to maybe, maybe get one person’s ass in the chair across from you.

One turns out to be so busy that you try to schedule a date and they cancel three separate times. The remaining one you schedule a date with, rolling a three-sided die: they forget, they ghost, or they actually show up. Therefore, it takes 3000 swipes to maybe, maybe get one person’s ass in the chair across from you.

Three thousand swipes, at two seconds per swipe, translates to a solid one hour and 40 minutes of swiping (if you don’t stop to actually look at their profile) to go on a single date.

You could attribute these terrible odds to any number of things about me, and I feel certain there are people who have more success than I do. (People who literally order men to their apartments for dick appointments are bolder and less afraid than I am that anyone could be a kleptomaniac or serial killer, or at least more confident that they could manage that situation.) But take it for granted I am a nice-ish normal-ish person with the line "tell me how you feel about avocados" in my bio. People love to to talk about avocados, and I really think I can’t do better than that. But even still, Tinder and its peers are so much thumbwork just to get one person to physically show up.

While the logarithmic scale of success (1000 becomes 100 becomes 10 becomes 1—I asked Tinder to confirm these numbers and they never answered) is damning, what I focus most on is those matches. In 150 matches, individually sorted and approved by two different people, only one actually transforms into a meeting. With Tinder and similar apps, I hardly ever actually meet anyone, given the number of people I reach mutual approval with. My theory about this is that Tinder is not actually for meeting anyone.

Think about the way people used to date: you’d spend two hours getting all dressed up, maybe pre-game a bit to take the edge off, physically go to a bar, rub up on other people, scope, talk, signal, and eventually go home with someone (or not, if you’re just there for the validation). Every night you did it, you mustered your A-game of appearance and interpersonal skills.

My profile depicts me as the most attractive I’ve ever looked, the most popular I’ve ever been, doing the most interesting things I’ve ever done.

On Tinder, I am always that perfect projection of my A-game appearance and interpersonal skills. My profile depicts me as the most attractive I’ve ever looked, the most popular I’ve ever been, doing the most interesting things I’ve ever done (men have locked down the perfect-storm photo of all these attributes, targeted to our cultural moment: them rock-climbing shirtless with friends). I can receive validation for my best self any time I open the app, without leaving my couch; no need to get dressed up or project interest or aloofness or whatever I think he thinks I think he thinks I think he is interested in. Someone will validate this person that I already am, and once they do, to be honest, for most of them I can’t muster the care to actually go through all the motions of meeting them in person. And 90 percent of the people I validate back appear to feel the exact same way. I tested this theory out on at least two real-life Tinder dates, and to my recollection at least one of them agreed.

Maybe it’s too much pressure; can anyone live up to their breezy Tinder bio? It has none of the interpersonal mess of, say OkCupid personality questions ("would you find a nuclear apocalypse exciting or terrifying?"). It’s possible things were just always going to be downhill from there.

It feels like people on Tinder used to at least pretend there had to be some follow through to a swipe-right, but now we’re all too exhausted by the sheer volume of people on there, and it’s devolved right back into Hot or Not, with a dashboard of the people who actually called you hot. If we swipe right on each other, I feel validated, you feel validated, I feel validated that you feel validated, and we can all continue on in our single lives feeling satisfied that we are good without actually having to do much at all. That, Tinder is great for; actual dating, not so much.