I’ve always been dead against dating websites.

Sure it works for some people but I’ve heard my fair share of horror stories too. One person revealed to me that after making a quick escape from a date that was going terribly, the girl drove out and turned up at his door (he lived on a farm in the Welsh countryside; hardly a trip next door). Another discovered that the profile pictures used on one person’s account were actually of an actress from teen TV show H20: Just Add Water about a teen mermaid and her mates. It just about took Plenty of Fish to a whole new level.

ImageThis did nothing to alleviate my fear that online dating was untrustworthy, superficial and dangerous. As a female, I am incredibly uncomfortable with the idea that I could arrange to meet with a man only to find that I’d be putting myself at risk. How do I know who I’m talking to? Am I really going to be meeting up with Brad Pitt’s long-lost twin in a quiet coffee house in Swansea city centre? Does Matthew McConaughey really live in Brynmill?

Recently however, a friend recommended that I give the Tinder app a go. I was reluctant to say the least. After promising myself I would never get involved in online dating after deciding that it just wasn’t safe, I began to hear more and more people raving about it. I read up on it online. Though it has been around for a year, Tinder has been trying to shed its reputation as an app used for casual sex and on International Women’s Day teamed up with Amnesty International  to promote gender equality and women’s rights by asking users to spread the message in their profile: “Amnesty stands up for women’s rights, will you?”  I’ve never been enticed by the idea that anyone could send lewd unwanted messages on dating sites and certainly wouldn’t have trusted anyone enough to go and meet up with them alone. However, Justin Mateen, co-founder of Tinder, states on the website: “Empowering women is a vital part of Tinder’s overall mission.”

How can this be? How can an app which allows people to hook up with anyone online and meet up after brief conversation possibly be a step towards “empowering women”? After coming home from a night out, carefree and full of wine, I decided to test its claim.

Unlike traditional dating websites and apps, Tinder puts the user totally in control over who can contact them. Using personal information from Facebook, a user’s details are used to find matches based on location, shared interests and also shows the user whether there are any mutual Facebook friends (a reassurance: you can at least be safe in the knowledge that you are talking to a genuine fellow Swansea University student and not a sixty-four-year-old sleaze eating crisps in his Y-fronts behind a profile picture of Ryan Gosling). All you have to do is upload a photo– it will automatically use your Facebook profile picture, so if you have a ‘hilarious’ photograph of yourself with sellotape around your face, I’d recommend you change it– enter a short bio of yourself and voila, you’re good to go.

Image

Make sure your picture is a current one of yourself

and not a modified Renault Clio.

You are then presented with potential matches within your area based on your personal information. All you have to do is swipe left for “yes” or right for “no”. If you give someone a “yes” and they do the same, Tinder will inform you that you’re a match and a conversation window opens for you to start chatting. If someone swipes “no”, then at least there’s no crippling rejection to crush your self-esteem; the action is completely anonymous. So that puts me in control of who messages me and removes my fear of rejection…but something still leaves me a little uncomfortable. It’s all based on image and attractiveness. The act of ‘swiping’ potential suitors seems brutal. Fifty potential men later and I feel like I’m throwing aside packets of crisps as though rooting out the best flavour from a Walker’s multipack.

The next morning I wake to see a line of small ‘flame’ icons on the notifications bar of my phone. Just four hours and I already had 8 potential matches.

Fast-forward 24 hours and I had 27. My Nan smiled and called me a “hussy” while peeling the potatoes.

The conversations that ensued were interesting. Some genuinely so, others for entirely the wrong reasons (“What’s your favourite ice cream flavour?” asked one. Slightly bemused, I replied that it was vanilla and returned the question. “Dunno, I’m lactose-intolerant” was the reply. We left it there).

By Sunday I had my first Tinder date. I don’t ‘Tinder and tell’ for lack of a better term, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that just by using a smartphone app, I’d managed to get an enjoyable date which didn’t involve any sleazy hook-ups as I’d previously thought the app was for (though if a one-night stand is what you’re after then yes, you can find others on there for the same reason).

After a week on Tinder I discovered that yes, it’s much safer than traditional dating websites and apps and I agree that it certainly does give women more control over who can contact them. I liked knowing that nobody could message me without my permission. But do I agree with Tinder’s claim to “empower women”?

ImageOh, Ryan Gosling, fancy seeing you on Tinder.

Tinder, although you do have the option of filling out a bio section, is based very much on your profile picture. Users are more inclined to just swipe the picture right or left after making a quick judgement of your appearance rather than clicking and trawling through every user’s personal information. Yes, when looking for potential dates, the first thing you will do is look at the person’s appearance before getting to know them and if you’re after a convenient, easy and fun way to date then Tinder is worth a shot. But in a world where we are constantly bombarded with images of unrealistic ideals and photoshopped illusions of perfection, it fails to eliminate this focus on physical attractiveness. Once you swipe right, you can no longer have any contact with the person you rejected and you’re never going to know this person other than somebody who wasn’t attractive enough to talk to.

Probably too superficial to be completely “empowering”, Tinder still has a long way to go, but by removing this risk of being constantly bombarded and approached with unwanted attention and reducing the likelihood of fake profiles, it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

by Natalie Ann Holborow

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