Bump and Grindr

Dating and hookup apps give a whole new feel to romance

Leo Shelby-Dunn had been talking to someone on Grindr for about a month when he decided to invite him over to his place. It was uncommon to invite a stranger over to his home so soon, as he usually likes to set up a first meeting in a public space. They both had a lot in common, though, and Shelby-Dunn thought, “I’m just going to go for it.” He leaned in for a kiss, but he didn’t like where the night went from there.

“He was into all this crazy, kinky shit,” Shelby-Dunn said. “I was like, ‘Whoa, you did not mention this at all.’ I’m not vanilla, but I’m definitely not rocky road.”

Shelby-Dunn is one of the 5 million users of Grindr, a location-based dating app specifically for men, that scrolls through profiles of gay, bisexual and transgender men looking for everything from serious relationships to casual hook-ups to friendships.

That app and Tinder, another location-based dating app primarily used by straight singles, are becoming increasingly popular as a way to find relationships. Both have similarities: they’re free, they use a phone’s location to find people in the area, and they accommodate small profiles for users to communicate what they’re looking for. Profiles consist of photos, short descriptions and physical characteristics such as height and body type.

What they cannot do, just like online dating sites, is give a true and full sense of who the person on the other phone is and whether the chemistry will be there when the face-to-face occurs.

In other words, it’s user beware.

Shelby-Dunn, a 26-year-old Chico State history major, knows this first-hand. He’s been using Grindr for about three years and said he’s had both positive and negative experiences.

“It’s a mixed bag,” he said. “Sometimes I get, like, these really trashy perverts and sometimes I meet really cool people that I end up becoming friends with. That’s what I really like to use the app for.”

Indeed, in Shelby-Dunn’s experience, there is a wide spectrum of Grindr users. There are people who want to skip the dating part and go straight to sex. On the other hand, there are people who want a serious relationship and those who use it primarily to make friends.

“I end up meeting them and becoming friends instead of screwing around,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s gotten me laid before and it probably will again in the future.”

Some of the local users Shelby-Dunn encounters are what he calls “blank tiles”—people who don’t upload a profile picture and don’t reveal personal information about themselves other than weight, height and ethnicity.

“They don’t have a picture because they’re really nervous, and they’re using it to be secretive,” he said. “Part of it is because they’re not out of the closet, but the more significant part of it is that they just haven’t learned to accept themselves in their community.”

The more ubiquitous Tinder, which as of last fall had an estimated 1.2 billion profiles, includes that of a single, 25-year-old restaurant server and recent Chico State graduate, who asked to remain anonymous for this story. She started using the app back in November not only because it was easily accessible and free, but also because she was curious as to what she could find.

“The concept worked for me,” she said. “Tinder cuts out the bullshit. You’re single, I’m single, let’s talk.”

She joined Tinder to look for long-term, serious relationships and has been using it for dating but did admit the app has a stigma that it’s only for hooking up.

“Some girls are very open and you can tell they’re just trying to hook up,” she said. “That’s fine for them, but that’s not how I’m using it.”

Tinder requires users to sign up using their Facebook account. Once an account is created, users choose their profile, add a small description of themselves and what they’re looking for. Then they can start choosing people they’re interested in. The app claims it will never post anything on Facebook, but it does take plenty of information. Tinder pulls your photos from Facebook so you can choose a profile picture. It also grabs your friends list and your interests to show users what they may have in common with their matches.

Once users start browsing through profiles, they can either swipe right to “like” someone or swipe left to move on to the next person. Once two people have said they like each other, the app prompts a screen saying “It’s a Match!” and allows the users to start chatting through the app’s instant messenger. Unlike Tinder, Grindr doesn’t use a match system. It gives you a constant feed of thumbnails of people in your area. There is no wall between users, and anyone can strike up a conversation at any time.

That anonymous Tinder user has gone on a few first dates through the app, but only a couple of them resulted in second or third dates. She’s still hopeful that she’ll find a match on Tinder that will turn into something meaningful. If not, she’ll stop using it and explore other options. There are only so many users she can swipe left before she’s run out of profiles.

Dr. Liahna Gordon, a sociology professor at Chico State who has been teaching sexuality classes for 20 years, said she has a sense that mostly younger people are flocking to use dating apps because they’re easy to set up and quick to use.

“Part of its appeal is that it’s a constant supply of new people,” she said. “It means there are a lot of possibilities. If you’re meeting people in person, you’re limited to the number of new contacts you have.”

In some ways, these apps are like shopping, she said.

“There’s a very consumer mentality in our culture,” she said. “I think Tinder taps into that. There’s a fresh supply. If you both don’t like each other, there are other people who will.”

While Gordon sees the many positives of Tinder, like a decreased likelihood of rejection, she admits that the app has a lot of negatives, too.

“It reinforces our cultural notion of what is attraction,” she said. “You get much less—not none—but much less of a sense of them as a person outside of their physical appearance. That’s part of why it’s a younger audience who’s using it because, culturally, older people are not seen as attractive.”

There are a lot of real-world experiences an app like Tinder won’t give users, Gordon added.

“There’s something in face-to-face interaction that doesn’t come across in a photo,” she said. “There’s body language, the way somebody looks at you, the tone of their voice. There is a wider range of things you may get in a 10-second interaction that you won’t get in a photo, especially a posed photo.”

Another problem with the focus on visual attractiveness is that it promotes the idea that people who are most conventionally attractive are also the best in bed, Gordon said.

“In my experiences, it’s fairly the opposite,” she said. “The most conventionally attractive people I’ve slept with are not the people who have knocked my socks off.”

While Gordon said there is no data or research about dating apps just yet, a lot of previous research on relationships and online dating can apply to them.

“Many of the women who have hook-ups are using them hoping that they turn into relationships,” she said. “Many men who have hook-ups do not want them to turn into relationships.”