When Tinder helps you find the one for you, people are often embarrassed to admit where their love started. When using dating apps, eye rolls from onlookers are commonplace. Emma Leyva explores this shame, and why we should banish the Tinder stigma altogether.
Josie* and her mum have always been close. She tells her mum everything. Well, almost everything. She says: “It’s been two years since we started dating and my mum still doesn’t know. I’ll probably never tell her. When we had our first date, I said she was a friend of a friend. I thought my mum might think I’m desperate…or a slag. Parents think anyone you meet on Tinder is probably a serial killer.”
Josie, from Birmingham, was 18 when her relationship started after a few strawberry mojitos, raised eyebrow approvals from friends, and an all-important swipe to the right. They spent the next year and a half together. All the while, Josie was embarrassed by one thing – the app that helped them fall in love.
A 2016 study found the media extensively documented Tinder users’ bad experiences, creating a bad public impression of the app. Netflix’s hit ‘The Tinder Swindler’ showcased endless tweets recounting downright dreadful Tinder dates and screenshots of toe-curling pick-up lines. They’ve all painted the picture that Tinder is for shallow, sexually-charged singletons. In essence, it is the last place you should go for a relationship.
However, The Marriage Foundation says otherwise. In 2021, they found a third of marriages start from online dating. According to The Knot, 27 per cent of these couples met through Tinder. An exclusive Nosey survey revealed 33.2 per cent of respondents have been in or are currently in a Tinder relationship of more than three months, with 43 per cent lasting over two years.
Despite its success in founding long-term relationships, the stigma around Tinder persists, like the 50-year-old straight man in a lesbian bar. Counselling psychologist and psychosexual therapist, Jo Coker, says, “I think a lot of people do feel there is a stigma, and it comes largely from older generations.”
Of those in our survey who have been in a three-month-plus Tinder relationship, 70 per cent feel as though there is a stigma surrounding how they met their partner. People commented they felt their relationships were seen as “superficial”, “inorganic” and starting from “sexually driven” and “desperate” beginnings. Josie clearly wasn’t alone in how she felt.
Megan, from Leicester, met her girlfriend on Tinder nine months ago. “It’s the thing of looking for a relationship on Tinder. People judge you and see you as desperate” she says.
“But why? Are we seen as desperate for finding jobs on LinkedIn? No, we’re praised for it. So why is it different for Tinder? At least on there, no one has to suffer a 500-word post about how Liz chose her new CV font – sorry Liz but unless it’s Egyptian hieroglyphics, no one gives a shit.
Josie says “Tinder is based on looks and location, and matching is such a quick thing that people see it as more sexual.”
Yet in Tinder’s 2017 Modern Dating Myths survey of over 9000 people, users of the app voted education as more important to them than looks. Unless talking Pythagoras is the new style of foreplay, some users are clearly looking for more than a one night stand.
Niall, from Northampton, met his girlfriend on Tinder a year ago, aged 19. “Most young people use Tinder for hook-ups or entertainment. So when you tell someone you met your partner on Tinder, they think it’s just a sham relationship,” he says.
Even Michelle Obama said in her podcast in 2020, “You can’t Tinder your way into a long-term relationship.” Come on now, Michelle. To be fair, Barrack does seem more like a Hinge kind of guy.
Jo, who helped match couples for Channel 4’s Married at First Sight, says “People who meet their long-term partners on Tinder can often be well-aligned because they’ve both given lots of information about themselves from the start.”
The stigma doesn’t exist purely because of what Tinder is, it’s also because of what it’s not. “Having a cute story of how you met adds a stamp of approval,” Josie says. “It validates a relationship. So if you met on Tinder, it’s automatically discredited.”
If you meet someone on a beach in Santorini at sunset, you’re in the clear. But anything from behind a screen is subpar. Surely we can’t treat the beginning of something as a reflection of its entirety. If we went by that approach, not many of us would’ve made it to the end of our first shag.
“People, particularly older generations, often think there has been some failure along the way if someone turns to Tinder,” says Jo. “They question why their children have had to resort to a matching process to meet someone. But it has always been there, just in a different framework.”
Think about it. Parish vicars played cupid in the 1600s. Courting at balls was all the rage in Regency England (think Bridgerton). From Aztecs and ancient Greeks to many religious communities today, parents and elders have been the chief matchmakers. Matching processes have existed for eras, across classes and cultures. Yet the line seems drawn at young people choosing their own dates from an app.
Megan says “Everything young people do is seen as a phase and is undermined, no matter what it is. There’s just less respect.”
Relationships starting from sites like Match.com and Plenty Of Fish are often taken more seriously. If you’re a 40-year-old divorcee paying OkCupid to help you find your soulmate, there’s a nod of acceptance. But if you’re 20 and using Tinder for free to find your first boyfriend, it’s somehow less proper. Strange, isn’t it?
Maybe it’s not Tinder itself that people take issue with. Maybe this is another example of the classic dismissal of young people’s relationships, and Tinder is just one more opportunity to do this.
For some, the dismissal of long-term Tinder relationships has real-life impacts. “Stigma and shame can jeopardise relationships. Not having the support of your family and friends can have a significant negative impact,” says dating and relationship coach Rachel New.
The good news is this impact needs to not be fatal. “If you both have strong values, goals, and a sense of purpose, this disapproval can be overcome. What matters is finding a relationship that works.” Rachel adds.
Sadly, stigmas aren’t sat down and discussed. We don’t each get to vote on whether they should be banished. If you are in a Tinder relationship, like so many are, it’s clear these feelings of shame and embarrassment aren’t rare.
But however when you meet your partner, someone somewhere will find a way to undermine you for it, especially if you’re young. Meet them drunk in a club, match with them on Tinder, high school sweethearts since 14. They all come with their criticisms. So to hell with what other people think, and tell the story of how you met with the pride it deserves.
And to the single and swiping, listen up. If you match with someone on Tinder and want to shag their brains out for 24 hours, or if you want to buy a house in the country and grow old together, the judgement will be there, either way, so do what works for you. But if it’s the former, please do use protection.
*not her real name
Words by Emma Leyva