Why mobile dating application Tinder is sweeping the nation

BEIRUT: A trendy new smartphone app promises to reduce the complexities of finding your perfect mate – or at least a date for tonight – to a simple swipe on your phone.

Though the app was launched nearly two years ago in the U.S., only recently have Lebanese and many in the Arab region discovered that they can scroll through what seems to be countless pictures with the hope of finding that perfect someone.

The Lebanese are among over 50 million global users on the dating application. The average user views his/her profile 11 times a day, spending an average of 1.5 hours on his/her phone daily in search of a match.

It all starts with a swipe. You connect to Tinder through Facebook and the app automatically accesses your public information, creating a profile of a few pictures with some personal information (first name and age). Tinder then generates profiles of people geographically near you with mutual Facebook friends and interests.

Let’s say Ahmad is 35 and also likes The Daily Star’s page on Facebook. You swipe right if you find him attractive and left to reject him and view more people in your area. The user would never know they were dismissed and are only notified when someone they swiped right on does the same back; only then are the two allowed to chat.

Tinder encourages people with a match to start chatting with cliché phrases such as “You’re not getting any younger,” as well as suggestions for topics to chat about. Most users opt for a simple “Hi.”

“It’s a convenient way to meet someone and set up a date with them quickly, even the next day after your first chat,” said Mustafa Hourani, a 29-year-old media professional.

For Hourani, Tinder eliminated the uncertainty that comes with chatting someone up, especially the worry of being rejected.

“Only when we both like each other’s profiles are we allowed to chat and that makes it clear that the next time we see each other, it will be a date.”

For others like Lama al-Qadi, 27, the element of rejection is just as strong on Tinder.

“I went out with this guy who had a cute picture and sounded smart, but it was the most boring date ever,” she said. “I never spoke to him again so he knows I rejected him because I didn’t like him in person. That’s even worse.”

Qadi is currently seeing someone she met on Tinder who is a mutual friend of a friend, but it is still not serious yet.

“Tinder is fun but it’s not for people looking for a serious relationship,” said Qadi, an interior designer.

But Assaad and Heba’s relationship is proof that a match made in heaven is possible via the app.

“I spoke first and we went out two weeks later,” said Assaad, a 33-year-old engineer. “We’re still happy and have a strong relationship, but I did make her delete the application.

“She found her match; it’s done.”

Only if they broke up would Assaad put himself back on the Tinder market.

Taking the first step came easy to Assaad: He started with a simple, “So, now what?” that he said made his match “LOL,” text-speak for “laugh out loud.”

Hourani advised new Tinder matches to mention mutual friends, music preferences or come up with “something funny.”

Leila, 32, said she would never respond to a simple “Hi,” unless the person was “very hot,” and she said potential suitors needed to “work hard to make a good impression.”

Not all Tinder users are using the dating application for the same reason; middle-aged married people are look for love (affairs) while others are either egocentric or curious about the technology trend.

“I just do it to gratify my ego and see how many matches I would get and if they’re good enough,” admitted Ali Shmeitelli, 21.

While the idea of Tinder seems exciting in the beginning, some admit that there is also something unnatural about it.

“It’s fun at first but then you get over it because it takes away those little pleasures of seeing someone in person for the first time and having that surprising spark,” Qadi said.

Hanan, 33, said she went on dates with two different people on the same day after matching on Tinder. Despite the surplus of matching men in a single day, she suddenly realized that such a means of communication was too dull.

“One day, I swiped and swiped and then realized that I would rather go out and meet someone. I was fed up with swiping!” she said.

And in tiny Lebanon, there can also be a dangerous aspect to the app; many Lebanese come across the profiles of Israelis and immediately swipe left, assigning them to the rejection bin. The two countries at a state of war, and there are punishments for those found to be in contact with anyone across the southern border, so getting involved with them is risky and frowned upon.

“I once liked one of them but then when he spoke to me, I immediately blocked him,” Qadi said. “Why should I speak to them? It’s pointless and dangerous.”

While no Tinder-related crime cases have been reported in Lebanon, there have been a few elsewhere in the world. Recently in Australia, a woman met up with an online match and said she was gang-raped by him and his friends.

Still, it’s undeniable that Tinder does expand a person’s options on the dating scene, a scene that clinical psychologist Dr. Nabil Khoury said remained tricky in Lebanon.

“The whole process of dating is still not clear in Lebanon because it is imported from Western education and is mixed with our Arabian culture. We end up with a mixture of two types of cultures,” he said.

Some of the women interviewed said they usually waited for the guy to initiate the chat, somewhat traditional behavior.

Khoury said there were several reasons behind the influx of Lebanese people to Tinder. Some might lack the experience needed to seduce the opposite sex and struggle to keep up conversation in person, while others are simply keen to test new technologies, especially in the age of social networking.

“The third reason is that most girls in Lebanon are financially demanding,” Khoury said. “They want guys to take them out and spend on them. Tinder gives them the chance to say what they feel and impose some of their restrictions up front.”

Like a true doctor, Khoury said he would encourage the use of Tinder because looking for love was healthy, as it provided “emotional stability and a sense of integration.”

Not everyone welcomes the idea of an online dating application, however. Some are irked by the thought of looking for love through an app, while others do not want to seem desperate.

“I’m desperate, yes. But I don’t want to feel that I am,” said one single 37-year-old woman.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 27, 2014, on page 2.




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