By Anna Wilking
When I first created a Tinder profile I did it in jest at the prompting of a friend. I had just defended my dissertation on sex work in Ecuador after an 18-month period of intense academic rigor. To say that I lived the existence of a nun would be an understatement.
I followed a strict regiment in which I went to bed early and woke up early to have my breakfast and set off to the NYU library for a day of writing in precise 45-minute chunks. I would take a lunch break in which I would eat the dreary sandwich I had packed, take a swift walk around Washington Sq. Park, and buy some more coffee. I would then head back into my cubicle and write until I felt like I had maximized my potential for the day.
I would pack up my backpack, contain and store the mess of papers and books that had been scattered about in piles on my desk, and then head home on my bike. These bike rides home across the Manhattan Bridge were often my favorite moments of the day. I had the chance to clear my head and give my legs a workout after another long day of writing.
During this 18-month period, I abstained from alcohol and rarely went out, as my dissertation had become the sole focus of my life. It sounds extreme, but to tackle such an enormous, long-term project, which eventually resulted in a 300-page document, I needed razor sharp focus and no distractions. At least, that was what worked for me.
But soon it no longer worked. The minute I defended my dissertation, I realized that my monk-like existence had to come to an end. I was sick of the rigid structure to my days without a flicker of excitement or change. Not to mention my drought! During this time, I experienced a man drought of epic proportions. Perhaps a one off date here or a one-nightstand there, but I had convinced myself that love or intimacy would derail my focus.
Enter Tinder. I never thought that I would take it seriously. I never thought I would become such an enthusiastic user that my thumbs would cramp from all the swiping. But I was hungry for passion and excitement. Above all, I was hungry for men!
And Tinder delivered. My very first date, which was arranged after several pseudo-intellectual exchanges with references to Bukowski and Sylvia Plath, I met “Fernando,” a 32 y/o unemployed writer. It was perfection. He was cuter than his artsy, daguerreotype-inspired portraits had suggested. Two beers deep (my tolerance was nonexistent), feeling as connected as you can to a complete stranger, he asked if I wanted to go somewhere “more comfortable.” That place turned out to be his bed. After a satisfying evening, I gave him a peck on the mouth and headed on my merry way, practically skipping to the subway.
Fernando paved the way to many Tinder encounters over the following months. I was the perfect Tinder candidate, as I had no need to attach the “No hook-ups” assertion at the bottom of my profile. I was making up for lost time. I was youngish (39—but it’s all relative, right?), free, and single!
Perhaps the biggest surprise of my Tinder days was the amount of interest I garnered in younger men. Even though I had never before had “cougar” tendencies, I found myself going on dates with guys a decade younger than me. And let’s be honest, I wasn’t using Tinder to meet my soul mate. It helped that my expectations for meaningful encounters were low.
So there I was, from first feeling self-conscious about my age (I had even considered skimming 5 years off), to realizing that my encroaching 40th birthday was an asset, at least to some. It was fun to go on these dates and realize that I was still attractive to some subset of the population.
Which brings me to my next point. Tinder proved to be a good way to boost my self-esteem after years of singlehood. I hadn’t the faintest idea what I wanted to do career-wise. Plus, I felt like my sex appeal was waning. I felt incredibly lost and my self-worth was at an ultimate low. Being a single woman in her late 30s was not easy (see my last column), so receiving an influx of attention from hot 20-somethings was just what the doctor ordered.
That is not to say that Tinder was all fun. I had never before experienced such harsh rejection. I remember the first time a guy deleted me mid-conversation, it felt like a punch to my stomach. Or even worse, the time a guy walked out of the bar as soon as he saw me, leaving me to fight back tears. (I guess he thought I didn’t look like my photos). How about the time I was completely stood up—he was a no-show and didn’t even bother to text. And ghosting. I can’t even count the number of times I was ghosted.
But in some ways I was grateful for these painful incidents. The dating world is harsh. It made me fearless as I ventured out onto other more “reputable apps”. I learned to shake off the rejection. It helped that I was more mature now and genuinely didn’t expect anything from these random hook-ups. I sometimes wonder how my 20-something self would have handled Tinder, back when I took one-night stands as the promise of a new relationship.
Like all things shiny and new, Tinder’s allure faded. Simply put, I got bored. I got bored of the catalog of endless men, of the meaningless conversations, and even of the sexual encounters. It had been entertaining, but I was ready to move on and find something more fulfilling. That being said, it was perfect for that particular moment in my life. I always had a new sexual experience right around the corner. It pushed my boundaries and taught me to take chances and be spontaneous. It gave me a life that was a far cry from my days at the library. So Tinder, thank you, you served your purpose.
Anna Wilking holds a PhD in cultural anthropology and is currently getting her MSW at NYU to become a clinical therapist. She teaches courses on gender and sexuality at NYU and Brooklyn College and hopes to open a private practice for couples and family therapy one day. She is a documentary filmmaker and writer based in Brooklyn, NY.
Social media handle: @avwilking