All Tech Considered
9:15 am
Fri February 14, 2014

Mobile Match Apps Are 'Dating On Steroids'

Originally published on Fri February 14, 2014 12:15 pm

It's Valentine's Day, and if you aren't giving roses to someone special — or getting them — you might be thinking ahead to next year.

But OkCupid and Match.com may be considered old-school ways to find a mate. These days, whether you're gay or straight, the online dating scene is all about apps. Like a lot of technological change, apps bring efficiency to the process. But that isn't always a good thing.

Kristy Vannatter used to use the online dating service eHarmony, but she says it was a lot of work.

"It was just a lot of time looking at people's profiles," she says. "People write a lot."

Most importantly, she didn't find Mr. Right despite spending more than $250. Then a friend told her about an app called Tinder. "This is just so quick and instant," she says. "It is a little bit like a video game because you can kind of be like yes, yes, no, no."

The app lets you say yes or no to profile photos. If you swipe left, it's goodbye. Swipe right and it's hello. Tinder is also free.

Tinder user Shawn Dempewolff describes the experience as "dating on steroids." He's been using Tinder for a little over a year. It uses GPS to connect you with people nearby, and it connects to your Facebook page — though, happily for many users, no one on Facebook has to know.

If you indicate you like a picture of someone, that person can message you.

"Everybody goes through phases of using it actively and messaging people," says Dempewolff. "And you go through another phase of using it compulsively and not messaging anyone."

Dempewolff says he met a woman and they dated for five months, but it didn't work out. Tinder claims to make more than 6 million matches a day, and Dempewolff says he finds solace in that.

"You want the feeling that there are enough people that they're out there," he says. "Even if you're not going to meet any of your matches on Tinder in real life, the fact that they are there can give you a little bit of comfort."

And with Tinder, that comfort can be immediate: The ability to instantly message someone nearby makes it perfect for short liaisons.

Kyle McCarthy says he would call it "more of a guaranteed hookup app than a dating app."

The 24-year-old travels a lot for work. He isn't looking for a relationship, and he says he regularly finds women like him. "You swipe right, and then if you get a match it's like, 'Hey, how's it going? What do you like to do?' "

McCarthy says a lot of women then hint pretty quickly that they're not looking for a relationship. "I've had a lot of girls that are like 'I like kissing and cuddling and nice beds' — just like the weirdest crap," he says. "But it's more or less their subtle way of being like, 'So do you want to get together?' "

McCarthy says most of his friends use Tinder for quick hookups. In fact, Tinder is modeled like an older app called Grindr that was developed for the gay male community five years ago.

Clinton Fein, an artist and technologist, uses it instead of hanging out in bars. He says Grindr is "quicker ... and more efficient."

"The whole premise of going to a bar is to drink," he says. "And you don't have to necessarily drink to have sex now, because there's technology."

But the efficiency of both Grindr and Tinder has driven some people to delete their accounts. Olympic gold medal snowboarder Jamie Anderson recently deleted her Tinder account, saying it was "too distracting."

Others, like Corey Wesley, think these apps can get in the way of real intimacy.

"You're almost on a search for the better thing," Wesley says. "I always say that gay men have gay ADD, where they're like,'Oh, OK, I like that, that's pretty, but now I'm going to go to that next pretty thing.' "

Wesley deleted his Grindr account.

Terry Kim, a professional recruiter, says she started to have the same feeling about Tinder. "I was using the same method that I use to recruit engineers to recruit my candidate for my mate," Kim says.

And just like a recruiter with a lot of candidates for a job, she got fussier. "I just felt like I couldn't really decide on anyone," she says. "I kept wondering who else was out there that would be really perfect. I realized that maybe the same people were doing that to me — the people that I was going on dates with."

Of course, it may be that Wesley and Kim would have these struggles regardless of the technology. Benjamin Karney, a social psychologist at UCLA who studies the impact of the Internet on relationships, says looking for the next good thing isn't new to the digital age.

People who are going through bad times already look for alternatives, Karney says. "The Internet just means there's more of them. So it does speed things up and maybe makes it easier to act on an impulse."

For some people the apps are fun, but this isn't how they want to find true love.

"Hopefully, I can find a relationship in an old-fashioned way," says Kyle McCarthy. "Meeting somebody in an interesting setting that I could tell a story about down the line rather than we were both online trying to find people and we found each other."

I guess true romantics will always be with us.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

On this Valentine's Day, we have news that online dating has become even more efficient than ever, for better or for worse.

NPR's Laura Sydell reports.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: Kristy Vannatter tried the online match service eHarmony.

KRISTY VANNATTER: It was just a lot of time looking at people's profiles, and people write a lot.

SYDELL: Most importantly, she didn't find Mr. Right, despite spending over $250. Then a friend told her about an app called Tinder.

VANNATTER: And this is just so quick and instant. It is a little bit like a video game because you can kind of be like yes, yes, no, no.

SYDELL: The app lets you say yes or no to profile photos. Swipe left, goodbye; swipe right, hello. And it's free.

SHAWN DEMPEWOLFF: I would definitely say that Tinder is dating on steroids.

SYDELL: Shawn Dempewolff has been using Tinder for a little over a year. It uses location to connect people, and it hooks up to your Facebook page, though no one on Facebook has to know. If you indicate you like a picture, the person can message you.

DEMPEWOLFF: Everybody goes through phases of like, using it actively and messaging people. And you go through another phase of just like, using it compulsively and like, not messaging anyone.

SYDELL: Dempewolff says he met a woman and they dated for five months, but it didn't work out. Tinder claims to have over 6 million matches a day, and Dempewolf says he finds solace in that.

DEMPEWOLFF: You want the feeling that there are enough people that they're out there. Even if you're not going to meet any of your matches on Tinder in real life, the fact that they are there can give you a little bit of comfort.

SYDELL: Tinder also gives some people immediate comfort. The ability to instantly message someone nearby makes it perfect for short liaisons.

KYLE MCCARTHY: I guess I would call it more of a guaranteed hook-up app than a dating app. (Laughter)

SYDELL: Kyle McCarthy, 24 years old, travels a lot for work. He isn't looking for a relationship, and he says he regularly finds women who aren't, either.

MCCARTHY: You swipe right and then, if you get a match it's like hey, how's it going? You know, what do you like to do? I've had a lot of girls that are like, I like kissing and cuddling and nice beds - just like the weirdest crap. But it's more or less, you know, their subtle way of being like, so, do you want to get together?

SYDELL: McCarthy says this is how most of his friends use Tinder. In fact, Tinder is modeled like an older app, called Grindr. Grindr was developed for the gay male community five years ago. Clinton Fein, an artist and technologist, uses it instead of hanging out in bars.

CLINTON FEIN: It's quicker. It's more efficient. The whole premise of going to a bar is to drink. And you don't have to necessarily drink to have sex now because there's technology.

SYDELL: But the efficiency of both Grindr and Tinder has actually driven some people to delete their accounts; most recently, Olympic gold medal snowboarder Jamie Anderson, who said it was way too distracting. Others, like Corey Wesley, think these apps can get in the way of real intimacy.

COREY WESLEY: You're almost on a search for the better thing. I always say that gay men have gay ADD; where they're like oh, OK, I like that; OK, that's pretty but now, I'm going to go to that next pretty thing.

SYDELL: Wesley deleted his Grindr account. Terry Kim, a professional recruiter, says she started to have the same feeling about Tinder.

TERRY KIM: I was using the same method that I use to recruit engineers to recruit my candidate for my mate.

SYDELL: And just like a recruiter with a lot of candidates for a job, she got fussier.

KIM: I just felt like I couldn't really decide on anyone. And I kept wondering who else was out there that would be really perfect. I realized that maybe the same people were doing that to me - the people that I was going on dates with.

SYDELL: Of course, it may be that Wesley and Kim would have these struggles regardless of the technology. Benjamin Karney is a social psychologist at UCLA who studied the impact of the Internet on relationships, and he points that people have always looked for something better.

BENJAMIN KARNEY: People who are going through bad times already look for alternatives. The Internet just means there's more of them. So it does speed things up, and maybe makes it easier to act on an impulse.

SYDELL: For some people, these apps are fun. But it isn't where they want to find true love. Take 24-year-old Kyle McCarthy, the guy who uses Tinder for quick hookups.

MCCARTHY: Hopefully, I can find a relationship in an old-fashioned way - meeting somebody in an interesting setting that I could tell a story about down the line, rather than well, we were both online trying to find people, and we found each other.

SYDELL: I guess true romantics will always be with us.

Laura Sydell, NPR News, San Francisco.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.