It’s hard to find a 20-something in New York City who hasn’t set up a Tinder profile out of sheer curiosity, or who at least doesn’t have friends who are regular users. In a city that’s densely populated, crazed for career advancement, hyped on opportunity, yet reliant on one single transit system, online dating can be like a breath of fresh air, a place where even at your busiest, you control your personal space and can sign in and out as you please.
Like everyone else in New York, I have what feels like a million things going on all the time. Balancing work and any semblance of a social life is a daily struggle, if not an impossibility, and the idea of adding anything else into that mix is a big source of anxiety. Plus, it’s hard to imagine where and when I’d meet someone in person in a culture that moves so quickly.
After a disastrous attempt at Tinder, I swore never to return to online dating. That was until the summer I had to take a graduate-level Latin course. I’d commute an hour and 15 minutes to Columbia, sit in class for three hours, then commute back down to my Brooklyn apartment. This amounted to spending 6 hours each day on the course, not including the hours I spent cloistered in the library studying declensions. It was more a self-inflicted torture period than a summer.
I was tired. I was busy. I was losing my mind. But I still wanted to meet someone I truly liked and could potentially monogamously date, so that summer, online dating was my best bet. I downloaded Hinge, a dating app that’s similar to Tinder but only shows you a network of users with whom you share a Facebook friend, with the goal of matching dates with similar backgrounds, interests and education.
After a week on the site and a few unsavory messages that gave me unpleasant flashbacks to my Tinder trial, I finally swiped right on a guy who included pictures of himself at Disneyland, one of him watering little plants, another of him working some sort of 80s-looking camcorder, and last but not least, one of him smiling, sitting in a pile of sand wearing a safari hat. I felt relieved to find someone with some similar interests as my own: plants, dated technology, and beaches. He hadn’t spent hours agonizing over which photos to pick because they all were more or less the same: unthreatening. They didn’t suggest that he had this crazy social life I’d have to keep up with or that he was the next Olympic hotshot snowboarder. The truth was, I could easily picture myself uploading very similar photos of my life—and I could see myself with him.
But then I began to wonder: How can anything on an online dating profile accurately represent someone? This man and I had both spent time crafting our online personas with the goal of meeting a specific type of person. How could I know that Plant Guy’s profile wasn’t just a cunning ruse?
But as I thought about it, I realized that this isn’t all that different from meeting someone in person. After all, doesn’t a first meeting only give you a glimpse of who someone really is—and sometimes one that’s equally manufactured? If my boyfriend and I had met at a party or coffee shop (such hopeful yet absurdly inaccurate depictions of New York meet-cutes Hollywood has given us!), that wouldn’t be any more real than meeting online.
The difference between a dating app and real life is context. On an app, both people are interacting under a romantic—or, perhaps, pseudo romantic—pretense; their reasons for downloading the app are transparent. Meet someone in person, though, and there’s no way to know their motives. That means there’s also more initial uncertainty and mystery—perhaps that’s why relationships that begin “IRL” are thought to be more “authentic” or “organic.”
In New York’s nonstop grind culture, meeting someone in person can seem more like a lingering expectation from eras past (or another unrealistic holdover from Sex and the City). For busy people like me, online was the most organic way I could have met my boyfriend, and our romance isn’t lessened by that. If anything, it’s been strengthened by our mutual no-nonsense approach to dating. Our fearless honesty about the fact that we wanted to be in a relationship from the start could be the most romantic thing of all. Two years later, our relationship continues to grow and deepen—and all from one swipe right.