It’s 1 a.m. on a Friday night, and I’m messaging a 21-year-old, “6 ft if that matters” blonde — let’s call him R — on Tinder. R is a Berkeley student who also has abs. They’re hard to miss, given the four shirtless pictures on his profile — three in a bathroom mirror, one at the gym. And he’s completely unwilling to whittle it down to two.
“It’s giving psychopath,” I tell him.
“i want girls to know im like athletic,” he messages back.
“You have four sports listed in your bio already. I promise you we get the message,” I reply. “Girls aren’t gonna wanna hook up with you if they think you could murder them.” Then a few minutes later: “Most girls anyway.”
“i don’t want a hu. i want a relationship,” he responds.
“Then one shirtless pic is more than enough. And you’re on the wrong app,” I remind him. “Download Hinge.”
R came to me for advice back in January, not that I know the exact date, as he has since deleted the app and, with it, our messages from my phone. Maybe he downloaded Hinge, got into a relationship and erased all his dating apps. That would be the proper thing to do.
My morals, however, are a bit murkier. I was in a relationship last January, but I committed a major modern faux pas: I kept Tinder on my phone anyway. It wasn’t for hookups though; it was to continue my semi-ironic, always professional Tinder advice page.
Tinder had always been a joke for me, slapstick to be more specific. Something about the immediate gratification, the physical repetition of the swipe, the blatant performance, and the silent crowd, the voyeur. I logged on when I wanted to mess with somebody or flirt without stakes. I loved crafting my own image, imagining what a potential victim might find attractive (or at least interesting). I would even make my friends show me their profiles, submitting them to whatever critiques I so knowingly bestowed. Perhaps that’s what led me to think I could advise profiles professionally. One night, in a fit of boredom, I wrote the following bio:
UC Berkeley, Good Samaritan
You’ve reached a tinder advice page. Swipe right for constructive criticism. Tell me your tinder goals for a more tailored experience
Yeah Anthony Hopkins is my grandfather what about it
And, below, the following “Passions”:
Activism, Volunteering, Feminism, DIY.
I included a few pictures as well: A selfie for algorithm appeal, a photo of my face bruised and covered in blood (thought it was funny, still do) and a close up picture with me and Anthony Hopkins. I had run into him on vacation five years earlier. Having no clue who he was other than a celebrity, I was rude enough to ask for a photo anyway, and I still regularly claim he is my grandfather at parties. It’s one of my favorite lies, and when I started my Tinder advice page, I thought it would draw clients in.
Not that I needed the marketing; the page was a hit. Queries flooded in:
“i need to be pegged give me constructive criticism,” messaged S.
“Hold up lemme consult my domme friend,” I replied.
“Take out the video of you speeding down the road. You look a maniac,” I told K.
“I want people to know what I do for a living,” he insisted.
“Are you a convict?”
“No, I’m an EMT.”
“Hey Sarina, please criticize my tinder profile. I’m looking for something casual and I’m new to sf,” N sent in.
“The pic with the suit is great. If you can choose the order of the photos you should choose that one,” I messaged back. Then: “if you call yourself ugly in your bio someone might read it and think ‘being with this guy would mean having to give him a lot of validation’ / Not exactly a casual relationship.”
Occasionally, clients would make a move on me. “I’m gay,” I’d tell them, which is sort of true. It’s true enough that I only ever ran the advice page with my swipe filter set to “men only.” To give advice to women would seem too mean. Too real. And it wouldn’t satiate me in the way critiquing men’s profiles did.
But what way was that? Sometimes if a client had a successful hook up, they would message a quick thank you. I would send them my Venmo username with a simple “tips appreciated,” but no one ever made a donation, and I didn’t particularly care. My clients and I had a mutually beneficial relationship, if not a romantic one. They got increased matches, and I got male validation. Isn’t that the real purpose of Tinder? Even though I wasn’t dating a man, and even though I was rarely attracted to men, I craved power over them in a romantic sense. Maybe it was some Pavlovian, girlboss response knitted into me during the height of fourth-wave feminism. Maybe it was a deep-seated anger. Months ago, a male student spat at my ex-girlfriend and I as we were holding hands one night outside Moffitt Library. I was too shocked to memorize his face; I only remember the malice. He could be anyone. Sometimes, as I combed through nearly identical profiles, I imagined my clients’ faces superimposed on the shadows that evening. Any one of them could be the culprit. And although it was unlikely that I would actually come across him on Tinder, I wanted to prove him wrong anyway — whatever he was trying to say. I wanted some vague revenge on a vague offender. I wanted to prove that I knew more about love and relationships than him or anyone else on this campus.
Even though I wasn’t dating a man, and even though I was rarely attracted to men, I craved power over them in a romantic sense. Maybe it was some Pavlovian, girlboss response knitted into me during the height of fourth-wave feminism. Maybe it was a deep-seated anger.
But I couldn’t, and I didn’t, and my relationship ended, and I stopped the advice page. I got tired of myself. I got tired of being angry and of love and of lust. For a while, I practiced dating app asceticism. Self-isolation was my meditation. My stained hoodie was my hair shirt. And I fasted; I starved myself of validation.
And then I got hungry again, and I re-downloaded the app, this time for its usual use. I match with attractive people, and I briefly feel attractive myself. It’s less fun, maybe less fulfilling, but it sucks me in. Then again, much has changed since I first joined Tinder. For one, I adjusted my settings to women and men, when it used to be only women. It used to be careless. I would flirt with funny people, show my favorite matches to friends, and laugh at dumb pickup lines, but that’s not enough anymore. It’s not enough to match with someone and know that they briefly found me attractive or interesting. They have to find me smart, too, or else it doesn’t matter. They have to look past my tiny guitar clip and infer that I’m a love guru, that I’m a relationship sage, that I know more than they do about life.
I don’t think I would go back to running my advice page. It feels too mean in hindsight, but Tinder is boring now. And scarier. With the old page, I never ran the risk of a man not liking me, as that was never on the table. Now, I could be rejected or cat-fished or, worse, ghosted. I no longer know how to operate on the app when I don’t explicitly have the upper hand, when there is no layer of irony to protect me from their watchful eyes, save for my bio which reads “Join my MLM.”
You might see me on there, in which case, shoot me your best pickup line. Or ask for constructive criticism. Any kind of validation you’re willing to give, really, I’ll take it.