It’s 2004, the dawn of the internet dating age; the threshold of a new époque in sexual relations. I’m sitting on a wine stained off-white carpet in Bramley, West Yorkshire surrounded by ashtrays and empty cans of Kronenbourg 1664. We are crowded around Phil’s laptop to witness a marvel of the electronic age. It’s called ‘Gaydar’.
Remember, we are pre-Myspace and pre-Facebook. Social networking is still mainly confined to chatrooms inhabited by socially inept cyber geeks. While we may have conceived of using the internet to look at sex, most of us have not yet conceived of using the internet to procure it.
“So basically,” explains Phil. “You set up a profile and then men send you pictures of their cocks and if you like what you see you can arrange to meet up and fuck. I’ve fucked two guys this week and this little cutie is coming round to give me a massage tomorrow – obviously it will end in fellatio.”
“Wow!” I marvel. It seems incredible to me that by simply posting a photo and professing to like George Michael, Turin Breaks and Châteauneuf-du-Pape 1 Phil is in contact with all the sexually available men within a 200 mile radius.
Imagine if such a thing existed for heterosexuals…
* * *
Fast forward ten years and I have finally given in to curiosity. I download the Tinder app for my phone. What better place to delve into the world of endless sexual possibilities than on an island absolutely brimming with a smorgasbord of buff international tattooed beauties? Juan 34, Sven 29, Mark 32, Hans 26. With one flourish of my omnipotent thumb I can either condone or condemn. Generally, I choose to condemn but not on arbitrary grounds.
Here are some photographic misdemeanours that may cause an attractive man with full erectile function (probably) to be consigned to the NOPE pile:
Superfluous hand gestures, e.g. flicking the Vs, thumbs up. BOOM! You’re a NOPE.
Offensive cultural appropriation, e.g. Native American head-dress at a festival. BOOM! Dropping a NOPE bomb on you.
Posing in front of an expensive car that patently doesn’t even belong to you. So long, douchebag. BOOM! Do not pass ‘Go’. Go straight to NOPE. Do not collect £200.
Slightly sweaty selfie taken lying in bed, looking suspiciously like you’ve just finished masturbating. TMI darling, TMI. BOOM! Honeybun you are definitely a NOPE (but it looks like you probably don’t need anyone else anyway).
Oiled-up shirtless mirror selfie. Watch yourself there, Narcissus. NOPE.
Wearing a onesie with animal ears? Sweetpea, are you looking to get laid or adopted? NOPE.
Sitting in a Jacuzzi surrounded by women in bikinis whilst slurping straight from the magnum (ubiquitous on Ibiza Tinder). Señor, such vulgar pictorial displays of wealth and virility attest to your lack of either. NOPE.
Tinder is addictive. Instead of reading a book of an evening I have taken to sitting on the sofa with a glass of red wine and my iPhone and scrolling through photos of hot singles in my area. I’m in danger of getting an RSI in my Tinder fingers, or Tindernitis as this affliction is widely becoming known. I’m a looking at lots of photos of men but as far as interacting goes I prefer the safe distance of cynical commentator.
“How are you doing with Tinder, hon?” asks Rita.
“Hmm, not very well.”
“Helen has been on loads of dates. I think she has a slightly different approach to you.”
I consult Helen, who seems to have had more luck.
“Honey, you need to be more open minded.”
“Would you be my Tinder coach? My Mr Miyagi of dating apps? Right-ah swipe, left-ah swipe. Breathe in. Breathe out.” I say emulating the iconic sensei from The Karate Kid.
I receive a message from an attractive French DJ.
“Are you single? Are you in Ibiza NOW?” he demands
“It seems like he just wants to meet up for sex. There was no ‘How are you?’ No preamble. Nothing.” I lament to Helen.
“Darling,” she replies in her gentle Scottish accent, which sounds like honey being drizzled on top of drop scones, “it’s Tinder. What did you expect?”
“I don’t know, a little witty repartee at least.”
She shakes her head at me, as if I’ve just presented her with a condom and asked her if it’s a sleeping bag for a glowworm. It’s been a long time since anyone accused me of naivety.
“Just send him a message,” she instructs.
I do as she commands.
A few minutes later another message. This time from a hot Italian artist. “Hola!”
“Hola!” I respond, “How are you?”
We exchange a little chit-chat and he offers to send me some photos of his work. I’m intrigued. I’m finally entering into the spirit of Tinder. Seconds later I find two 8MB pdfs in my inbox. He hasn’t sent me photos of his work. He has sent me his entire career history. Which turns out be about 500 paintings that Rita points out all look like penises and a bio which liberally over uses quotation marks to enclose words like “ghetto”. The bio explains that he paints crack addicts and prostitutes but there doesn’t seem to be any agenda apart from fetishistic voyeurism. There is also an interview in which he professes to admire my “favourite” misogynist photographer Terry Richardson. I think he might be a “sexist”.
Oh well, there are hundreds more opportunities out there. That’s the magic of Tinder.
The French DJ responds to my message with a rendezvous suggestion.
He wants to take me to a remote beach. I explain that I don’t have a car. He offers to pick me up. I remember my last blind date beach experience. I can’t think of anything I want less than to be stuck on a remote beach with a strange man dependent on when he decides to drive me home. I explain that I would rather go for a coffee somewhere. He stoically manages to completely ignore what I’m saying and the next day asks,
“So, when we go to the beach?”
I explain that I am a bit shy and would therefore prefer not to go to the beach but that I am more than happy to meet him for a coffee.
“How old are you?”
He knows how old I am. It says it on my profile right next to my name and my geographical distance in kilometres away from my “match”
He’s being a (pardon my French) “cunt”.
I consult the fount of all Tinder wisdom.
“Just ignore him.”
He sends me a string of messages telling me I’m being immature and that he just wants to meet me.
“Fine,” he replies resentfully and twenty-four hours too late, “You want to go for coffee? We can go for coffee.”
I block him in a triumphant gesture of passive aggression.
Later, I mull over this exchange. I have just managed to fall out with a man before meeting or dating him. This is fast work even by my usual standards.
I delete the app concluding that I am not cut out for Tinder.
A few hours later my fingers begin to twitch like Kate Moss’s on a long haul flight lusting after a Marlboro Light. I try to distract myself – chewing gum, carrot sticks, crochet. Nothing works. I need to take a toke on the Tinder pipe.
I download the app again but this time I substitute my photo for a mysterious nautical scene. It will reduce my chances of matching but I can still browse through photos. I’m surprised to find that I match with a buff shirtless Spanish fitness instructor.
“Hola guapa” (Hi beautiful) he messages.
I admire his optimism given that he has no idea what I look like.
“Hola, how are you?” I reply.
“Good. How are you?”
Then immediately after he messages, “7€”.
I am baffled. 7€? Does he assume that as I have no photo I must be willing to pay for sex? I’m mildly insulted and yet, what an ingenious marketing ploy. That’s a very reasonable asking price. 7€? You can’t even get a bottle of beer in Amnesia for that price.
“Muy barato” (very cheap) I reply. Not that I am considering paying for sex. I’m just curious to know what his reaction will be.
“Sorry,” he replies. “That was a typo.”
A typo? Typo as in he’s not selling sex or typo as in he omitted a zero on the end? I am still none the wiser. I decide to unmatch him.
I emerge from this exchange dejected.
So far all I’ve ended up with is achy fingers and a depleted battery (feel free to insert your own masturbation joke here).
I remove the app from my phone once more. This time for the foreseeable future.
It transpires that I am not addicted to Tinder. I am simply fascinated by the way in which it distils sexual attraction down to its most basic tenets. I like the way you can do Tinder in your pyjamas and I love the way it shoehorns sexual possibility into an otherwise banal working day. If I ever find myself craving a no strings attached sexual encounter fuelled predominantly on looks, I’ll be sure to download the app again.
It occurs to me that the reason I am being so cynical, argumentative, and downright picky on Tinder is is because right now I’m not looking for a quick fuck. I don’t want photos of strangers with glistening pecs and Snapchats of hard-ons. What I really want is a more elusive brand of human encounter. I want an electrifying connection to another person.
I want nuance. I want laughter. I want glorious three dimension.
It doesn’t have to be forever. It just has to be real.
I’ve only ever seen Phil drink Blossom Hill or whatever is in the £3 bin at the corner shop. He’s obviously angling for middle class cock.