Thursday, January 19, 2017

That time I went on 16 Tinder first dates.

I arrived half an hour early to the brightly lit cat cafe in Georgetown, for I had overestimated the time it would take to get there by bus. "A cat cafe?!" my roommate shrieked when she heard about it earlier that week. It was the only cat cafe in Washington, DC, and I was excited. Not because I particularly liked cats, but because I thought that this is what it meant to be adventurous, that this is what it meant to live life in a new city to the fullest.

It was snowing gently outside, and I mildly regretted my decision to wear ballet flats. It was a Thursday evening, and the server at the front counter was the only person in the cafe. She smiled at me. "Are you a walk-in? Ninety-minute sessions are for those who made online reservations, but we offer thirty-minute sessions for walk-ins."

"Actually, my friend made a reservation - his name is Stephen."

"Last name?"

"I don't know." Awkward pause. I laughed, an unconvincing explanation. The server gave me a strange look. "I know that it's for seven-thirty," I added.

"Well, okay," she said, looking at her computer. "There's one reservation for that time, under Stephen Peters."

Oddly enough, I remember this moment, even a year later. I kind of stood there in a daze. I noted that this was an instance of asymmetric information, for he probably did not know my last name at this point. I marvelled at (what was to me) the poetic beauty of somebody becoming more real in my eyes. I knew that Stephen was multiracial, a recent Georgetown graduate, and he seemed pretty funny. But Stephen now had a last name! I recognized how silly this thought was, but I savored it at the same time. I looked up Stephen Peters on my Facebook mobile app. It was him.

I told the server that I would wait for Stephen to arrive before sitting at our table, and I avoided further eye contact with her by withdrawing into a book I brought with me. I felt unnecessarily self-conscious about the reason behind why I did not know Stephen's last name: this was a Tinder first date.


Stephen was the third person I met through Tinder, as well as the third person I met through Tinder that week. Stephen was part of my larger project to go on a "not small" number of Tinder first dates within the same period of time. I devised this idea at 4am in the beautiful Woodley Park apartment where I was staying. I was spending a semester in DC with fourteen other students from my college. DC was infinitely larger than our small college town with one main street that ran through the sloppy underage bar and the bookstore and the bad Chinese takeout place and the sorority houses and the fraternity houses and the unaffiliated houses. With the logic that a large city translates into many attractive, driven, and charming fresh faces - not a face you vaguely recall throwing up obscenely during that crappy party with the sticky floor and glow sticks strewn everywhere, not a beautiful face that got too attached to your roommate last year - many of my classmates in the DC program got on Tinder. I was nursing my bruised soul from a romantic rejection a few weeks earlier and was not immune from peer pressure, so I soon found myself choosing the five least-ugly pictures of myself and trying to write a witty bio. I consider myself a five (plus or minus half a point) when it comes to looks, but I read online that men tend to swipe right to half of the profiles they see (whereas women tend to only swipe right one-sixth of the time) and so it was a great ego boost when the matches happened quickly.

Here's the part where my classmates and I differed: for the ones I talked to, the app was just a fun way to pass the time. My devised project was - I felt - more than just a way to pass the time. It was thought-out and methodical. I diligently set aside time to respond at length to conversations and accepted most offers to meet up, as long as nothing about the conversation seemed off. I decided that Tinder would enhance my life in various ways:

Objectives of Project

1. I was new to a city. Going on Tinder dates would allow me the opportunity to see parts of the city that weren't overly touristy.

2. I was surrounded by a group of classmates that I saw every day. Going on Tinder dates would give me a chance to break out of the bubble I lived in.

3. I was very anxious about talking to strangers. Forcing myself to go through (at least) two-hour chunks of meeting a stranger and getting to know them better, again and again, would help me overcome this fear.

4. I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life after college, so - through my picks - I might get to meet up with people from different fields and get an insight into what different careers are like. I was also curious about what life in other colleges were like, so I also chose to meet up with some who - like me - were still students.

5. I had never really gone through the process of going on dates without definitively dating anyone, and I was fascinated by what that was like.

6. Many students at my college will tell you that it is hard to date there. I was curious to see if I could get a pulse on the dating culture among young men in a big city.

#1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 would happen as a function of the dates themselves. However, #6 required some work. I love analyzing things and looking at patterns, so I drew up an extensive chart to measure different variables on each date, including:


a) What was the main activity on this date? Options included "coffee/ice cream", "lunch", "dinner", and "other". In order to keep things constant, I would always tell him to choose. I was also twenty years old in a city that is pretty strict about carding, so drinks was not an option.

b) Did he offer to pay for me? (For the record, I do not believe that the man has to pay on the first date. I don't want to unnecessarily burden someone else when I can pay for myself. I was just curious about how many would offer, because that might say something about the dating culture nowadays. Each time, I insisted on paying for my part after they offered. If they refused to take my money or offer to Venmo them, I let it slide.)

c) How far away was the location of the date from where he lived? Before or during every date, I would find indirect ways to ask where he lived.

d) What did I like or dislike about my interactions (both via text and in person) with each date?

e) Did each date fall short of, meet, or exceed the individual expectations I had before I met him? These expectations were broken down into our ability to connect on some level, as well as his appearance.

f) Did he explicitly state what he wanted from this? If so, what was it?

g) Did he ask me if I wanted to go back to his place?

h) Did I want to go on another date with him? Did he want to go on another date with me?

Initially, for a more comprehensive study, I was hoping to go on fifty dates within my semester in DC. At the beginning of my project, when I was going on four or five dates a week, fifty dates seemed like a realistic goal at the end of fifteen weeks. This was before I realized that Fifty First Dates is the title of an Adam Sandler movie. I also soon got too busy with work and classes to carry out fifty dates.

As the title of this post suggests, I did indeed go on sixteen Tinder dates between January and April 2016. I took notes on a spreadsheet immediately after each date. Here are some key facts about the people I met:
  • All their names have been changed to protect their privacy.
  • They ranged between the ages of twenty-one and twenty-four.
  • They were all men (worth reiterating to emphasize the potential bias/limitations - my experiences were within the heterosexual dating culture).
  • All sixteen were either college graduates or college students who were about to graduate. I feel like this is worth stating because of a conversation I had with Dan, the second person I met. He told me that a few months prior, Tinder made the decision to include people's schools under their names (as taken from their Facebook profiles). This, he said, changed the game, since "college kids only date college kids". This conversation replayed itself in my head as I became more aware of my own swiping patterns as well.
  • Among those who had already graduated from college, their fields included the following: law, consulting, policy, journalism, marketing, the military, unions, education, and music.
  • They ranged between five feet four (my height) and six feet five. I noticed that a lot of men add their height to their bios, so maybe this is worth mentioning? For what it's worth, it's not really a factor of consideration for me.
  • They all started talking to me first. I know, I know - fucking gender norms. I don't subscribe to this expectation, but I figured I might as well keep this constant. On a personal level, I was curious about whether there were recurring characteristics in the men who reached out to me. There is a lot to be said about abusive and creepy messages on Tinder, but I have to say that I was really surprised by the number of thoughtful, coherent, creative, and funny openers I received. I wrote a fairly long bio, and some took the time to craft personalized messages.
    • The Most Creative First Message Award went to Drew, who was twenty-two and a senior in college. Instead of using words, he sent a 7x6 grid made of white circle emojis, with one red circle emoji in the middle of the bottom row. I immediately understood that it was supposed to be the opening move in a game of Connect Four. I copied and pasted the grid, replaced a white circle emoji in the bottom row with a blue one, and sent it back. He won the game. It was not close. We went on a date.
  • I did not meet up with anyone without first engaging in a reasonably lengthy series of exchanges free of red flags. This creates an inherent bias in my study: all of the men I met up with were responsive, articulate, didn't seem psycho, and generally willing to at least go through the motions of a date before anything physical was even on the table.
  • I have stayed friends with three of them. In this case, I define "staying friends" as having hung out on completely platonic grounds and having communicated at length more than six months after we first met.
  • I am not presently dating any of them.
Before I get started on what I discovered, it's worth throwing a disclaimer here that this project was, at best, a pseudo-study. While the experiences outlined here are true, this post does not strive to make statistically significant conclusions or speak about Tinder, men, or the world of dating as a whole. This was just a crazy idea that I invested a good number of hours into, and turned out to be one of my more interesting adventures in 2016.

With that said, here are my findings in variables a-h:

a) What was the main activity in this date?

Breakdown of results
6 for coffee/ice cream, 1 for lunch, 8 for dinner, 1 for other (which was a comedy show, and no food/drink was consumed)

What this means:
  • People don't like to go on lunch dates. 12 of the 16 dates happened on weekdays, which might explain the lack of lunch dates. I got asked where I was interning, but nobody tried to set up a date during lunch hour.
  • People prefer dinner over lunch for a first date because the night is more romantic?
  • Coffee or ice cream was another popular option
  • Had my very first meal at Chipotle because of a Tinder date
  • Interestingly, 2 out of the 16 dates were at a Chipotle

b) Did he offer to pay for me?

Breakdown of results:
12 yes, 4 no

Two of the dates in the "yes" section include more specificity on this point. One date involved an online reservation and payment, and he completed this for the both of us without asking me to chip in. (I found out that it cost money when I looked it up myself.) Another guy really liked cooking, so I was invited over for a dinner that he had made. I guess that counts as offering to pay, since he paid for the ingredients without asking for anything in return.

As mentioned, I made a genuine attempt to offer my share if the guy tried to pay for us. This resulted in me paying my share on 7 out of the 12 dates in which the date offered to pay.

More detailed breakdown of results:
2 dates where the cost was prepaid
3 were very insistent that they pay for me ("You're an intern," one of them said.)
7 offered to pay for me but let me pay when I asked
4 did not offer to pay for me

What this means:
  • The notion that the guy should offer to pay is still quite alive (again, not saying I agree with this idea and I do not have a history of letting this happen in my dating past)
  • It's a relief when you feel like you don't *have* to pay for two people. Living in DC is expensive, after all.
  • Receiving a text three hours after the first date asking if I could Venmo him the $10 he spent on my coffee and a pastry
  • "You have to be strategic about when you buy a girl a drink," said Dan, the same guy who talked about college kids only dating college kids. He did not offer to pay for me.
  • "If I pay for you, it might make you want to go on a second date with me," said Tim, a guy whom I did not go on a second date with.

c) How far away was the date from where he lived?

Breakdown of results:
6 guys set up dates in their neighborhood and/or within a 15-minute walk from where they lived
7 guys set up dates that were 15-30 minutes away from where they lived
3 guys set up dates that were over 30 minutes away from where they lived

This gets more interesting when you also consider how far I travelled for each date:

In other words, the dates I went on fell into five groups:

  • Dates that were very convenient for us, but also led me to wonder if he was only interested in me because I happened to live near him
  • Dates that made me think he prioritized my convenience over his own (all of them asked me which neighborhood I lived in first)
  • Dates that made me think he prioritized his own convenience over mine, especially if the date happened at an unoriginal location
  • Dates that were neatly halfway between us
  • Dates that got me excited; I assumed that he had something interesting in mind when knowingly choosing a place (relatively) far away for both of us

What this means:
  • I overthink too much
  • Dates really near him but a distance away from me gave me an initial judgment that he might be less considerate (probably proven false later in person)
  • I was inclined to go into a date with high expectations if I knew that both of us travelled far; I assumed that something really fun or special was about to happen
  • "I would drive an hour for [expletive]," a close male friend said, on the subject of how far you would go for a potential romantic interest
  • The two dates in which both parties travelled over 30 minutes to get to were (fortunately) really fun and lasted for about four to five hours each. Maybe there's something to be said about how you are more inclined to enjoy something you spent more time preparing for, like the sunk cost fallacy?
  • Travelling all the way to Rockville, Maryland. Trusted my date enough to get into his car right away (I don't recommend this) and he drove us to this place that served really good pho. Afterwards, we went ice skating. Again, very far, but fun.

d) What did I like or dislike about my interactions before or during each date?

(This is more subjective, so there are no charts.)

Things I liked via text:
  • Humor
  • Complete sentences
  • A minor air of mystery
Things I liked during dates:
  • Friendliness
  • Not breaking the physical barrier right away
  • An appropriate amount of eye contact
  • Walking around and seeing new things
  • Conversations that made me feel like we would actually be good friends if we had met organically
Things I did not like via text:
  • Nothing much, because I probably wouldn't have met this person if he was so bad over text
Things I did not like during dates:
  • Being asked several times: "Do you think I'm attractive?" Dan, the guy who talked about college kids only dating college kids and who probably was the most bro-like with me right away, introduced the concept of catfishing to me: "It's when they look way worse than their pictures." When I got asked repeatedly if I found the guy (not Dan) attractive, I was tempted to just say that he was a catfish. But that was not true. It was still a turn-off, though.
  • When he tried to hold hands right away
  • Any mention of other Tinder dates that he went on recently (maybe I'm possessive and crazy, or maybe this isn't first date conversation material)
  • Uncomfortable silences
  • Being asked if I wanted to kiss him (Edit: consent is very important. It is never a bad idea to ask the other person before doing anything. I am specifically referring to the awkwardness that arose when someone asked for a kiss when the date had been pretty lackluster throughout; it was mildly awkward to think that we might have had different ideas of how the date went)
  • Hearing about how his most recent ex-girlfriend dumped him: it was very mutual, and they decided to have sex one last time before calling it quits
  • Having to eat messy, soupy foods
  • Being told that I looked nervous

e) Did each date fall short of, meet, or exceed my expectations for each of them?

Before each date, I noted down scores out of 10 (in half-point increments) for how attractive I thought they were from their pictures, and how well I was expecting our connection to be. I noted down scores for their looks and our conversations after each date. If there was a one-point discrepancy or less, I considered it meeting expectations. If the pre- or post-date score was more than one point higher than the other, I considered it falling short or exceeding expectations, respectively. When it came to our conversations, I did not require some magical romantic spark to exist. After all, a good conversation can just be a result of shared interests and/or a shared sense of humor.

Breakdown of results:
1 fell short
12 met expectations
3 exceeded expectations

4 fell short
5 met expectations
7 exceeded expectations

What this means:
  • I have low expectations
  • I did not get catfished very often (Dan would be proud!): by and large, most people looked very much like their pictures
  • I am inclined to think that many people do not put up wildly misleading photos of themselves on dating networks
  • Some people are really good at texting but really awkward in person
  • And vice versa - some people are not the best at texting but pretty cool to talk with in person. This was a lot more pleasant to discover on a date.

f) Did he explicitly state what he was looking for? If so, what?

Breakdown of results:
5 guys said what they were looking for on the first date
11 guys did not

What the 5 guys said:
1) "I'm looking for somebody to be friends and hook up with, and if something more happens, that's great."
2) "I'm on Tinder for sex."
3) "I'm looking for something casual."
4) "I want somebody to hang out and hook up with."
5) "I'm looking for good times and good vibes."

Things get interesting when you look at whether the 5 guys were distributed more heavily within the "near him but far from me" group of dates (see variable C): however, nothing too unusual was present: 2/5 of these dates happened in their neighborhoods and required me to travel a while, but 2/5 is not a outrageously higher proportion than the 4/16 dates that fell in this category: the difference between 40% and 25% is probably negligible and/or statistically insignificant, given the low number of data points.

Nobody explicitly said that they were looking for a relationship.

What this means:
  • Some men are on Tinder to get laid (most obvious statement on this blog? this is a matter-of-fact statement as a result of my experiences, but I have no judgment towards those who are honest and open with their partners about it)
  • Before I started college and became any bit familiar with the hookup culture, I used to assume that there was a binary among those who were romantically involved: they were either properly, fully-fledged dating, or they would come over, do their unspeakables, and leave without a word or a shred of regard for each other. Of course, things are more complex than that. Some people prefer to get to know someone well before being comfortable about being intimate. Some people prefer to hook up with someone they also happen to hang out with every now and then. It can be tricky to navigate (and I'm no expert on this), but it was just interesting to observe whether, when, and how a guy expressed his intentions during a date.
  • I have a feeling that the 11 guys who did not mention what they were looking for were thinking along the same veins as the other 5: the Tinder matches were mostly based on physical attraction, after all, but there were varying degrees of how open they were to the possibility of "something more". I do not think that any of the 16 came into the first date really wanting to become my boyfriend.

g) Did he ask me if I wanted to go back to his place?

Breakdown of results:
7 guys asked if I wanted to go back to his place
9 guys did not

I counted the guy who cooked for us as "yes".

What this means:
  • There are connotations to this question (no shit)
  • Men can be pretty forward about this
  • Many Tinder dates happen with this possibility at the back of each person's mind

h) Did I want to go on another date with him? Did he want to go on another date with me?

Breakdown of results:
Whether I wanted a second date
8 yes
8 no

Whether he asked for a second date
13 yes
3 no

What this means
  • I'm very charming
  • My threshold for wanting a second date was not that high, and/or there are a solid number of decent, datable men out there who pass first impressions
  • There were a few I clicked with well but didn't have a desire to go on another date with
  • I wanted to say no to a few people, but I didn't do a great job at saying no immediately and directly to them (probably my biggest/only regret in this project)
  • There was no correlation between what we did on the date (see variable a) and the likelihood I wanted a second date, or the likelihood he wanted a second date
  • This one date where we both knew we were never ever going to talk to each other again after it was over
  • Being asked if I wanted to go on a second date after I Venmoed the $10 for my coffee and pastry, three hours after the first date (my friends reacted strongly to this story): the answer was no, and it was a "no" long before the Venmo transaction


I didn't add what happened after each of these dates because:
a) They detract from my questions about first dates and first impressions
b) I am not/no longer in the habit of airing everything I do on the Internet

I don't feel like I made any groundbreaking points and I don't expect you to think I did. In objective #6, I wrote that I wanted to get a pulse on the dating culture, not become an expert on it. I now know what it's like go on a Tinder date (caveat: with men among my age and socioeconomic status, I guess). In terms of the other objectives:

  • Objective #1: These dates brought me to 11 different neighborhoods (not counting where I lived) in 3 out of 4 quadrants (DC is divided into four quadrants - NW, NE, SW, and SE).
  • Objective #2: I broke out of the bubble I lived in by making friends that do not go to my college.
  • Objective #3: I got better at introducing myself and talking to strangers. I actually refined my elevator pitch as a result of all these dates.
  • Objective #4: I learned a lot about people's careers; whether they liked them, what their next desired steps were, etc.
  • Objective #5: Well, I guess I now definitely have been through the process of going on dates without dating anyone...

There are some key personal reflections from all this:

i) By the second half of this project, I was getting really tired. It was emotionally draining to form conversations and connections with people that I knew I might not see again. I also got busier once the semester kicked off, so it was sometimes stressful to balance going on dates and talking to potential new dates with schoolwork and my internship. I also questioned the purpose of my project many times: I felt that I had hurt some people's feelings by turning them down - not too much, I'm not self-absorbed enough to think that. Still, the idea that this was my own project, that I would be able to create data points and enter stuff into my spreadsheet after each date kept me going. I'm now realizing how sad the previous sentence is. If I were to do this again with the objective of locking down a serious boyfriend from Tinder, I would probably devote my energy and time to getting to know a few men better instead of going on so many first dates.

ii) It seems that many young professionals in DC are thinking of going to law school - or maybe it's just the men I went on dates with.

iii) Both before and during dates, I found ourselves talking about our academic or professional lives a lot. I think this says something about the vibe of young people living in DC. (Maybe that's why I got better at my elevator pitch.)

iv) In all 16 dates, I formed a conclusion about our connection within the first 15 minutes.

v) I found myself slightly turned off by men who were very upfront about their search for a hookup on the first date, because it made me feel like I had travelled all this way and perhaps they were not interested in me as a person. (This is me realizing what I was looking for, but is not a judgment on other people's choices.) On the other end, I also found myself slightly turned off by men who seemed too keen to give specific compliments when they barely knew anything about me. It came across as insincere, or maybe I'm too defensive. In other words, my perception of his feelings towards me affected how I felt about him. Perhaps his perception of how I felt about him affected how he felt about me, as well.

vi) My best first dates were the ones where we just got to know each other as humans without feeling the pressure of a date. The best first dates did not share the same external characteristics. Which sounds obvious, but it made me realize that I wanted to date somebody I already knew well organically, preferably a good or best friend. The good first Tinder dates were great, but I felt like it would be difficult to get to know someone completely well and become comfortable with them within a few dates, especially if one of us had a specific timeline or expectation in the back of our minds. Again, there are couples who meet on Tinder and fall in love on the first date, but I'm not a love-at-first-sight kind of person. I was previously reluctant about dating friends because of the saying "don't shit where you eat", but this whole experience inadvertently changed that for me.

vii) At the same time, with Tinder (or Bumble, or eHarmony, etc.), I was made so aware that there are so. many. possibilities. I think it's amazing that these dating apps or websites - for better or for worse - change the way we meet each other and change the control we have over who we meet. Would definitely recommend this as an avenue for those who are interested in getting out there and might not have a firm idea of what they are looking for. I mean, I guess you could be really upfront about what you wanted in your bio. I considered running another study to see whether a different bio attracts a different group of men, but time was limited.

viii) I'm crazier than I thought I was.