Swipe Right for Romance



The first time I used a dating app, I had just moved to New York City and was waiting for my girlfriend to join me in a few months. One lonely night in an Upper Manhattan apartment, I gave into temptation and downloaded Tinder. It felt as wrong as it was addictive. There were some close calls but nothing ever came of it in real life — or “IRL,” in internet speak.

My girlfriend eventually moved to the city, and the strength of our commitment to each other renewed as we leaned on each other in this massive new environment for three fruitful years. But when she broke it off, I was blindsided. I did my best to dust myself off, and even while mourning the loss of a deep and real love, I watched Tinder’s familiar fire icon materialize on my phone with a numb mix of excitement and dread. I’d certainly have stories to tell.

Maybe she’s fresh out of college from California, wide-eyed and not a little terrified by the demands of her demanding finance job, as young and beautiful as she is existentially lost. She loves music, you invite her for a drum lesson and later, you pull her in for a kiss on your Brooklyn roof. It begins a month-long fling.

Maybe she’s an overworked high school English teacher who has little patience to sift through the meager selection of men at her local bar. You meet for drinks at said bar. You break the ice, you challenge her, she challenges you, you pull her to a ’90s dance party. One thing leads to another. It begins a month-long fling.

Maybe she’s from Pakistan and lives out by Coney Island in deep Brooklyn where she takes care of her mother, who has muscular dystrophy. You kiss outside the bar lit by the fluorescents of the soccer field and she walks away forever. You get a text the next day: “You were really great. I just didn’t feel the connection.”

It’s difficult to talk about online dating; it’s difficult to know its repercussions for flirting and romance. But one thing is certain: Dating apps make it easier to meet a variety of people. They set me up with women I’d never run into following the usual trajectory of my life. On an app, you can find a date for the weekend while sitting on the couch wearing stained pajamas after a long day of work. The apps commodify dating, making it more convenient, like a chore you do here and there in the minutes waitin g for a bus or while on the toilet (some call it “Swipe and Wipe”). Maybe it’s harmless —does it really matter how you met? Is meeting on a phone screen any less romantic than meeting by the water cooler at work?

One drawback of dating apps is that we may lose the charm or swagger of the real-life approach — a skill possessed by fewer and fewer men. And I fear that as an unintended consequence of the well-meaning #MeToo phenomenon, men will grow more and more fearful to approach women for fear of being “that creep.” It’s up to us to save the baby as we throw out the bathwater.

I deleted my phone’s dating apps months ago. It’s winter and I’m hibernating with a girl I met IRL. She was wearing a NASA T-shirt. Neither of us can remember what I said, but that’s probably a good thing.