By Omar L. Gallaga
Jessie Riley calls herself a “Tinder terrorist,” but she’s not dangerous and she swears she’s just having fun.
Riley is single, 32, and the owner of Maven Made Entertainment, a music and events business in Austin. She tried online dating services such as OkCupid before she got turned on to “Tinder,” a free iPhone and Android app that makes connecting to and potentially meeting people for dates a much quicker process.
“My girlfriend and I were at Halcyon one night having drinks. We got on ‘Tinder’ and just starting having a lot of fun with it. We were messaging guys in only ‘Jerry Maguire’ quotes. Or only in hashtags,” Riley said.
When she got bronchitis shortly after, she spent a week and a half in bed, trading sarcastic text messages with men. She posted the funnier exchanges on her Facebook page, and they caught fire among her friends, who begged for more.
Riley has a big personality, and she uses the dating app as a way of weeding out boring men with no sense of humor. “I use it as a vetting process,” Riley said. “I’m pretty ridiculous. You get a taste of me before we meet and gauge if you can handle it.”
Of the dozens or perhaps hundreds of men she’s viewed in the app and approved or rejected (in “Tinder,” it’s a swipe to the right to indicate interest, a swipe to the left to say, “No thanks”), she’s only met seven or eight people in real life. Only one of them turned into anything more romantic than a coffee.
But she’s having a ball, or at least more fun than she did using traditional online dating services.
“I did Match.com. I got drunk one night and filled out an entire eHarmony profile. Do you know how long it takes to do that?” Riley asked. “It was so boring. I just kept getting bad matches, not what I was looking for.”
It seems counterintuitive, but a spate of quick-hit mobile apps geared toward instant-gratification meeting and hooking up seem to be doing what most online dating sites promise: They create opportunities to match up with someone. But they’re doing it with a minimum of personal information and commitment.
An app called “Grindr,” launched in 2009, became a huge hit in the gay and bisexual community, offering connections to quick hookups based on location. “Tinder,” which launched in 2012, is a toned-down version of the same concept. It uses information from someone’s Facebook profile to show matches based on location, mutual interests and mutual friends.
A dater can set an age range for matches and distance, but the rest is pretty much a matter of skimming through photos with a varying amount of text accompanying them and saying “yes” or “no.”
If a “yes” is voted on in both directions, the app creates a match and allows the nascent couple to communicate via texting.
The company behind “Tinder,” which launched in Southern California, doesn’t disclose how many people use the app, but a spokeswoman said that the app is seeing 800 million profile ratings (those yes or no swipes) and creating 10 million matches per day. Its name is becoming shorthand for smartphone-powered dating without frills or fees.
Patrick, an Austin high school teacher in his late 20s who asked that his last name not be used because of his job, was a skeptic. He thought “Tinder” sounded shallow compared to other dating services he tried when he moved here last summer.
But he was won over. “It seems to be the most casual and easiest to navigate,” he said. “It doesn’t have the association of the desperate or more aggressive.”
He deleted “Tinder” from his phone in the winter when he began exclusively dating a woman he met on the app, but a few months later, after the relationship ended, he put it back on his phone. He averages a match a day but has only met in person with five or six women since he started using the app.
Patrick might swipe right on a gorgeous woman he thinks is out of his league on the off chance he might be her type. The swiping and swiping can feel like a game. “That’s a big part of it,” Patrick said, “you’re swiping, you get a hit, it has that jackpot effect like a slot machine. It’s addictive.”
When he goes out with friends who aren’t single, they ask him to pull out his phone and browse through “Tinder” profiles. “They don’t want to install it, but they want to know what it is,” he said.
Riley, who also manages the Austin band Sour Bridges and works with Utopiafest, has become so adept at using “Tinder” that she can sometimes “Facebook stalk” musicians and others she wants to meet by looking them up based on mutual friends who appear in the app.
When she’s not just joking around and really wants to meet someone, she’s direct. “The first message I send when I’m serious is, ‘You, me, coffee, say yes.'”
She can’t stand boring conversation. Don’t open with, “How’s your day?” “If that’s the best you can do, don’t ever speak to me again.”
Riley says she’s surprised by how many men use “Tinder” but are shy about meeting in person. That’s the point of the app, she figures. “These online tools are to meet people,” she said. “I don’t need a new pen pal and I’m not looking for a new best friend.”
“Tinder” has become so popular that it has inspired variations, such as “Firefly,” a dating app that recently launched in Austin after a test run in Brazil attracted 10,000 downloads in three months.
Clay Spencer, a 2003 University of Texas at Austin graduate who co-founded “Firefly” with a partner in New York, said that “Tinder” is great but can be improved upon.
“We think ‘Tinder’ is a revolutionary platform,” Spencer said, “However, they can be a victim of their own success. We’re offering a more curated experience. I don’t want to see everyone around me, just the people who are relevant to me.”
“Firefly” only shows daters friends of friends from Facebook, which Spencer says is safer and more likely to produce matches with people who have shared interests. “‘Tinder’ feels more like a hookup app. Ours feels more like a quality introduction to one of your friend’s friends,” he said.
Unlike “Tinder” users, those who use “Firefly” can enter their height and their religion as optional information and the app displays the college attended and workplace of potential matches.
Riley has been so busy running her business that she hasn’t had time to seek out a serious relationship using “Tinder,” but she’s convinced she could find someone with a little effort. In fact, she has plans this summer to set up a full day of half-hour blocks and “rail through as many ‘Tinder’ dates as possible,” she said. She would tell each person all about her plan. “I’m all about transparency,” Riley said.
Even if the day proved unsuccessful as far as love, she’d still have some funny stories to post on Facebook.
JESSIE’S “TINDER” TIPS FOR MEN
Jessie Riley sees a lot of “Tinder” profile photos and says these are definite turnoffs:
1. Dead animals or fish in a profile photo. “Why are you holding a dead, beautiful animal?” she asks.
2. A photo with a puppy. “If it’s your first picture, my immediate thought is, ‘What are you hiding?'”
3. Photos from a friend’s wedding, especially if it’s the only photo where you’re not wearing cargo shorts and a baseball cap.
4. A photo with a much more attractive friend. “The profile always belongs to the less-attractive guy,” Riley says, “It does not add value! If you’re just mildly attractive, post your mildly attractive photo.”