Before you roll your eyes at the title (don’t worry, I’m rolling my own, too, and hiding my laptop screen from prying eyes at the coffee shop) just hear me out. As you learned from my last post, I have recently found myself single. While clearly still sorting myself out over that, I have jumped head first into the pool of online dating. Until this summer my experience with dating apps has been close to zero because Tinder wasn’t even released until two years after my boyfriend and I had started dating. In the nearly seven years of my relationship I had played around on my friends’ apps, but never swiped left/right, Bumbled, Grouper’d, OkCupid’d, or Coffee Meets Bagel’d for myself. I started with Tinder because, a mere week after having my heart obliterated, I had zero interest in dating anyone and just wanted distractions. That’s the whole purpose of Tinder, right?
I am five years behind this trend so I realize that nothing I am going to say is new, but thus far Tinder has surprised me. Obviously I have gotten my fair share of “wanna fuck?” messages and, after naively giving out my cell number, received dick pic after dick pic and one ejaculation video (why is that a thing? Men, seriously, WHY IS THAT A THING???). I’ve gone on some dates, chatted with some guys, and hung out with a few interesting people–everything I expected from Tinder. What I did not expect, however, was how many of these interactions started to make me feel good about myself. I mean, really good about myself.
Like nearly every other woman in the world I have never been happy with my body. I have always thought myself fat, I am aware that the initial impression I give people is that I am a nun, and, when I’m out with my girlfriends, I am never the girl who is hit on, flirted with, or picked up. Ever since hitting puberty and becoming aware of attractive vs unattractive I have thought of myself as filling the role of “the fat friend,” who just sits back and smiles while her thinner, prettier friends make eyes with the guy across the room. Yes, I’ve dated guys, but they have always been my friends first so when they said, “You are gorgeous,” what I hear is, “I found you gorgeous only after getting to know you. I didn’t immediately think you were pretty.” I know that having someone attracted to your personality is more substantial than them just thinking you’re cute (my old counselor always reiterated that looks eventually “sag and fade” as if I didn’t already know that), but I wouldn’t exactly hate having just one guy who doesn’t know me at all tell me I’m attractive. Friends, family, and boyfriends I don’t believe, but a total stranger? That person I might actually listen to. (Also, I’m not saying any of this to get sympathy because it’s something I’ve dealt with all of my life, I have talked about it with multiple therapists, and I honestly have much more pressing matters to attend to than my self-esteem. Also, this isn’t exactly unique and I could probably find fifty women within a five mile radius who have similar feelings.)
Now this brings us back to Tinder (I’m just focusing on Tinder because my current home is much too small to use more than one dating app). On one of my first nights using the app, a friend and I sat on my back deck, drank wine, and decided who to swipe left and right on. With each “It’s a Match!” we laughed and looked into the guys’ profiles a bit more. After the third or fourth match I said, “These guys are just judging me on my appearance, right?” My friend nodded. “So they are only swiping because they think I’m cute? Or are they just swiping on every single girl?” We concluded that obviously some of the guys were probably swiping right on every girl, but the chances of every single guy doing that were slim. We swiped some more. When I started matching with guys who were classically good looking (you know the type: typical triangle shape, buff, square jaw, etc etc)…well, I won’t lie, that felt really fucking good. A hot guy actually thinks I’m remotely attractive? What?! No. Really? They must just be swiping on every girl and seeing how quickly they can get laid. Hell, even if they are just trying to get laid, this must mean I don’t look like a total leper, right? (To my fellow uber feminists, I am very sorry for this entire post. You may want to stop reading now.)
Then the messages started coming in. Some guys went right in with “you’re really pretty!” or “beautiful smile :)” or “what gorgeous blue eyes.” Others went in for a conversation first before doling out compliments here and there. I know that this is how people operate on Tinder, but keep in mind that I am not used to this at all. I can count on one hand the number of random men-who-I-wasn’t-dating who have complimented my appearance (and I’m not counting the mentally unstable guy who used to hangout out on the corner near my train stop).
It wasn’t until I started meeting with these guys that I began to wonder if Tinder could actually boost my self-esteem. Two guys asked how am I still single (hahahahahahahaha). I went on a date with one guy who told me, in Spanish, that I was beautiful and kissed me. Another guy, who I’d met up with a few times, blatantly asked, “What about sex?” Because I am super cool and super smooth I laughed like a loon in response. It wasn’t the question that surprised me, but the fact that it was coming from an incredibly attractive, incredibly fit guy (because yes, I’m being shallow and only swiping right on guys who I find physically attractive–sue me!). When I was done laughing I said something stupid and awkward like, “Oh? Maybe? I mean, I’m not against it. Maybe?” My mind, however, was saying: Are you serious? You want to sleep with me??? Have you seen yourself? Have you seen me??? Aren’t there hotter girls you’d rather sleep with? I then had horrific visions of this guy, with all of his damn muscles and hott-ness, seeing me naked and realizing that I was in fact not attractive, but simply knew how to dress well, and I promptly retreated into my unhealthy shell where I only sleep with random guys when I am inebriated.
Soon after Buff Guy, I hung out with a sweet, nerdy medical student, who was in town on vacation. We got along well, I drank too much trying to feign confidence, and, as is typical with Tinder, we hooked up. The next day, as we hooked up again, he seemed shocked that anything was happening at all. He kept repeating, “You’re just so sexy. I never get to do things like this! You’re just…you’re really, really hot.” I don’t know how to respond to compliments so I reflexively reached for my shirt. Med Boy shook his head. “Don’t do that,” he said. “Don’t body shame yourself. You are so attractive. Have you seen yourself? I mean…damn. You are gorgeous.”
Something about Med Boy’s insistence made my typical self depreciating thoughts start to lose hold. Again, I know that this is Tinder and that this is just the stuff that people say, but, let’s be honest, he had nothing else to gain by being so insistent. We’d already gotten what we both came for! Why put in any extra effort? Unless…because it’s true?
Somewhere between the casual Tinder chats, the handful of dates, Buff Guy, and Med Guy, my mind circled in on a new thought: am I attractive? I started staring at myself in my full length mirror before bed. I tried to see what these guys saw; guys who really did not know me at all, guys who are not being swayed by my personality, and, let’s be honest, have no real reason to compliment me because my heart is too dead to require wooing.
You know what? I’m actually starting to see it. Where I used to see unsightly lumps, hips that needed nipping and tucking, and a stomach I sucked in before turning off the lights, suddenly I see a healthy, curvy, and–dare I say it?–slender body (say whaaaaaaat?). I have very muscular legs, hips and a torso that do the stereotypical hourglass curve, and a stomach that actually does not protrude like a watermelon, despite my perception of it for the past two decades. Friends, family, and boyfriends have always told me I am attractive, but it wasn’t until these strangers started repeating it over and over that I actually started to hear it.
Oh god that was cheesy.
So which is boosting my self-esteem: Tinder or just plain dating? Or are they working in tandem with one another because without Tinder I probably wouldn’t be dating at all? Romantically, I tend to not “put myself out there.” I typically wouldn’t dare approach a guy and try flirting with him for fear of rejection and humiliation. With Tinder, however, just matching with someone seems to lessen that pressure of rejection. Whether you matched with them because they are genuinely interested in you or you matched with them because they were saying ‘yes’ to everyone–seeing the “It’s a Match!” message seems to ease a tiny bit of the tension that normally goes into dating.
There are obviously lots of downsides to Tinder. I have yet to go a week without a dick pic or some guy describing poorly written porn to me. I also don’t want to imply at all that women need to aspire to be thin in order to feel attractive. I just didn’t feel attractive no matter what size I was: 14, 12, 10, 8–nothing was ever the perfect number. However,I don’t know if it’s because of Tinder or not, but in the past month I have been more bold and confident than I have ever been. Jean-size-be-damned, I have flirted with guys, chatted them up, when someone compliments me I’m like thank you, you’re right–I am awesome, and I have even given one guy my number. Am I confident or do I just feel like I have nothing to lose? Who knows, but I’m going to try to keep this up.
I think the pros and cons of Tinder/dating apps balance each other out. On the one hand you have dick pics and guys who think you’re a prude for not sending naked photos (my cat is the only pussy pic they’ll get; some even get a picture of my dog if things really heat up). But then on the other hand you have someone like me, a girl who has grown up thinking she was some misshapen she-beast, and suddenly I’m realizing that that wasn’t true. (I wish I had figured this out years ago!) Dating apps are a slow and cautious path into the dating world. You meet people you never would have before (how else does one meet a cute, British warehouse owner or a nuclear mechanic who likes to write poetry?) and you end up having some fun experiences. And, hopefully, you get a little confidence boost, too!