What I learned about myself after seven years on Tinder
Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha gave me a blueprint for navigating big city dating. And the more I watched Sex and the City (all seasons and movies from start to finish at least four times, no shame), the more I thought I knew about love and relationships. But when I looked back on my own dating stats, I realized that no relationship has endured my anxiety and insecurities better than Tinder.
I’ve used the Tinder app to find dates and potential partners for seven years. In the span of my seven-year relationship with Tinder, I transformed from a closeted bisexual caterpillar into a precious pansexual butterfly. I went on hundreds of dates—some for free food and some for the sake of finding a real connection. Through ups and downs, trusty Tinder has always been there for me. Here’s what I’ve learned throughout our time together.
2012-2013: The early stages
My online dating history begins with OkCupid. I enjoy filling out the questionnaires more than I enjoy the actual dates. I question the algorithm when I wind up having 89% compatibility with creepy dudes who only answered three or four questions.
I’m 22, new to Chicago, and engaging in a sometimes-open, sometimes-closed relationship with a close friend. I text him the address of potential dates just in case they turn violent. He resents doing it, but, to him, my safety is more important than his pride.
I meet a foreign exchange student on the site and we hook up a few times. He invites me to lunch at his apartment, and he neglects to tell me that 15 of his family members are waiting to meet me. I am in complete shock as he admits he has been in love with me, and that tradition requires me to meet his family to approve our bond. I don’t love him at all. I barely know him. This is when I realize I know almost nothing about romantic love, and neither do these random dudes I keep picking up on OkCupid.
I’ve heard about Tinder, but the swipe feature and limited character count in the bio sounds like a recipe for dating disasters. I download the app anyway to see what more casual dating has to offer.
2014-2015: Woke thotty
I graduate from art school with crippling debt. In typical New York Gentrifier fashion, I drive across the country to sleep on a friend’s couch with $400 in my pocket and no job prospects. I go on Tinder dates for free dinner, and I play limbo with men who think they are still entitled to a kiss or a hug after I reject them. When I finally find a job with a decent salary, I continue to make men pay for first dates because this is my personal method of correcting the gender wage gap.
I move into a new building in Bed-Stuy, a historically Black neighborhood. I post photos of delicious, expensive meals at restaurants on my Tinder Moments, a now-defunct feature with the same mechanics as Instagram Stories. I match with many men who fetishize my Asianness, praise my thickness, and find my knowledge of art and international cuisine endearing. I learn about gentrification on a date. After a great date over cheap beers and pointed light-skin-fetish compliments, a native New Yorker writes me off completely when I describe Brooklyn through rose-colored glasses.
I don’t understand yet how allowing these men to glorify my light-skinned features is inherently dangerous to my dark-skinned sisters. I unintentionally validate their fetishism because it feels good to be praised. I don’t understand yet that the platform itself is a breeding ground for racial microaggressions that support the pushing of Black and Brown residents out of their own neighborhoods.
2016: Harvesting brunch content
The Tinder hamster wheel mentally exhausts me, but my loneliness grows louder than the logistical headaches of coordinating Tinder dates. I don’t cry when two innocent hookups take a turn for the worse, leaving me with irreparable damage to my body and spirit. I do cry over a fuckboy who calls me “crazy” for expressing feelings. The trauma leaves my nerves in a tangled wreck, but the dependable cycles of casual dating soothe the pain.
I keep going on dates because I like having good stories to tell at brunch. I crack jokes about Tinder’s one-mile radius being too large—then I actually start to believe that it’s such a great idea. I immediately unmatch dudes on the app if they don’t live within a 10-block radius. I meet charming boys from another borough, but I don’t continue dating them because going to a different borough is practically a long-distance relationship.
2017: Therapy bae
I start therapy, and I kick myself for waiting this long to start. Six months in, I’m still perpetuating the same toxic dating cycles. I lean into the feminine victimhood of hookup culture, with SZA’s Ctrl as the soundtrack. I continue to gossip about Tinder dates at brunch over $35 chicken and waffles. I don’t take accountability for my actions in my retelling of the events, but I still honor gossip as the sisterhood’s way of warning each other about the styles fuckboys are wearing nowadays.
I date girls, but I keep it a secret. I acknowledge that I’ve always been attracted to women, but I keep quiet because my attraction to men is easier to understand. I don’t know how to come out to my extended family of varying degrees of Catholicism. I date girls and don’t text them back because I can’t handle how much attention I need to give them. I behave poorly, and likely become the subject of other girls’ Tinder brunch stories.
2018: My first gay birthday
I smoke more weed now because it does wonders for my anxiety. I become less of a Samantha and more of a Carrie/Charlotte blend. I am vocal about looking for something serious, but I continue to engage in casual hookups out of loneliness and lack of brunch content. I listen to Kehlani guest-starring in Lizzo’s podcast. Kehlani admits that falling in love with a woman is straight-up soul-opening. I realize that my fear of coming out prevents me from pursuing the kind of love I’ve been dreaming about.
I join communities for women and queer/trans people of color (QTPOC), and find genuine, joyful connections. Community care, weed, and therapy make me 77% open and ready to be in a relationship, but the possibility of dating women pushes me to achieve the full hundred. I thank my partners for having difficult conversations with me about how to be a better communicator. I thank my parents for being kind and understanding when I come out to them.
I attend a lesbian strip cruise on My First Gay Birthday and happily throw $300 in ones to incredibly talented femme and stud dancers. I date wonderful non-binary and trans humans, and I identify as pansexual. I learn not to steal energy from my queer community by reconciling trauma enforced by straight men.
I swipe right on a woman who has never dated anyone on Tinder before. She’s one of those New York Unicorns who meets potential dates at bars or restaurants instead of awkwardly flirting on apps. I fall in love with New York Unicorn immediately and we spend a blissful four months together. New York Unicorn is the first person I imagine spending the rest of my life with, and she’s lucky enough to bag me as her first and last Tinder date. I learn that four months converts to one year in Gay Time. Gay Time moves at the speed of light, and the stress takes its toll on my body. We mutually agree to pursue separate paths of healing and end our relationship with love and respect.
2019: Broke up and got back together. To get her back, I had to sweat her.
The breakup devastates me. I return to Tinder seeking familiar territory. I read Pleasure Activism in less than 48 hours and start practicing what Adrienne Maree Brown preaches. I learn how to set firm boundaries in my new situationships. I quit working full-time and pursue freelance work to allow myself maximum time for healing. Binge-watching Pose and The L Word becomes the cornerstone of my Baby Gay Initiation. I read Audre Lorde’s work and attend a James Baldwin reading group. I stop going to brunch with my girlfriends because I can’t blow hundreds of dollars on lunch anymore. I miss my New York Unicorn more than I miss telling Tinder brunch stories.
I go back and forth between attending beautiful, sweaty QTPOC parties in my lingerie and chilling in my bathrobe wishing New York Unicorn would call me. One full moon, I dare myself to send her an email. By the grace of the pansexual deities, she agrees to have lunch with me and we rekindle our old flame.
I deactivate my Tinder account. I press my thumb on the Tinder icon on my screen until it shakes. Before hitting that x in the corner, I smile for all the priceless lessons, the camaraderie built on brunch stories, the queer glow-up, and the love to be found outside of the Tinder stratosphere.