I learned more about myself on Tinder than I did in my first year of college classes. Sorry, Mom.
Okay, let me explain a little bit. Four years of all-girls Catholic high school had not brought me loads of experience in the dating department, and aside from awkward conversations with one or two cute guys on the C1, this trend continued into college. A few friends casually used Tinder last semester, but I didn’t really think it was a popular thing at Duke. However, I was unprepared for the frenzy that occurred when Tinder announced that the campus with the in their bracket of 64 schools would win a concert from Cardi B. All I knew is that I was ready. LDOC would arrive and there I would be, singing along to the queen herself because of the outstanding attractiveness of my classmates.
A few nights later, my roommate was hanging out with a friend, both working their hardest to bring Cardi to Duke by relentlessly swiping right. I was headed out to study, but somehow, the next thing I knew, beckoned by the siren call of Bodak Yellow and my friends’ urgings, I was hesitantly clicking download. In just a few seconds, there it was, the innocuously appealing pink flame on my phone screen. Before I could even click the app open, one of my friends grabbed my phone. She immediately began scrolling through my camera roll, looking for pictures to put on my profile. “Don’t worry, I know exactly what will look good.” I cringed a little when I saw her click upload, officially making me A Person On Tinder.
It’s for the Cardi B concert. Don’t worry. Tons of people are on here, I told myself. The first profile popped up. I basically flinched, swiping left so quickly that I didn’t even process the entirety of his face. I thought to myself, If I just swipe left on everyone, I won’t have to know what people think about me. And if I do swipe right, it’ll only be for the contest—not for real. Reassured, I settled into a rhythm. Left, left, left, left—wait, his profile says Duke? Right, I guess.
The fun continued for a little longer, laughing as we saw TA’s from last semester, friends’ older siblings, and people from down the hall. I went to bed later that night, reassured that it was harmless, that I would delete the app soon, and that it really didn’t mean anything. But just when I had finished ruining my circadian rhythms by staring at the blue light of Instagram in my dark room, I saw the little flame on the screen inviting me back in.
An hour later, I finally looked up after my screen told me I was out of swipes, realizing that I had gotten sucked in. I told myself that for every catfish profile and guy asking for people to send him pictures of their feet, there would be just one more UNC student with cute glasses or Duke sophomore with a funny Vine reference in their bio. The pings of dopamine I felt when the screen briefly went black to proclaim “IT’S A MATCH” helped me fall asleep, comforted by the validation I thought I had received.
Over the next couple of days, I found myself constantly chasing this high of approval. Every spare moment I had was devoted to swiping. Bus rides, walking to class, and Perkins trips all became consumed by my search. What did I expect? I knew I would never act on any of it, so was this solely an exercise in narcissism, a weak attempt to mitigate my insecurities? If I was just seeking approval, why did I feel so invested?
I was conflating my supposed attractiveness with actual personal worth, telling myself that each match was some kind of personal victory. I had to be likeable and attractive, and the binary of Tinder—right or left, yes or no—amplified the pressure I had been feeling without me even realizing it. This tipping point was a long time coming. I’ve felt lost in a sea of likes, comments and messages before, wondering if the pictures of a girl I barely knew in high school at a frat party thousands of miles away are really worth my energy. But I stuck around, just in case. My fear of missing out dovetailed perfectly with my search for approval, so when the Tinder wave arrived, I let myself become swept away without stopping to think if this was really the healthiest thing for me to be doing.
While I haven’t opened up Tinder in a while, the app is still on my phone—and I’m sure that the original flood of activity brought on by my endless swiping has slowed to a trickle. There have been times I’ve thought about checking it again, especially after exhausting my Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter feeds (if you couldn’t tell by now, I spend too much time on my phone). Most people are capable of using social media in a perfectly healthy way. However, I think I’ve realized that maybe my phone isn’t the place where I’ll find self-assurance. I love a wholesome dorm room dance party and runs on the Al Buehler trail, but you’d never guess it from a Facebook album or a pithy sentence or two in my Tinder bio (“here for Cardi xoxo”). I’ll feel good about myself eating Pitchforks tater tots and watching , not when I’m holed up somewhere glued to my phone screen, desperately seeking validation.
Duke is a place that certainly makes it easy to feel less than adequate, and for too long, I’ve tried to overcompensate for the insecurity I sometimes feel. Despite this, I’ve learned that even if I’m not raking in the right swipes or the likes, I am lucky to have people who help me remember every day that I am enough. So sorry again, Mom—that’s the most valuable thing I’ve learned this year. It may not have been a profound thought about The Communist Manifesto or an eloquent sentence in Arabic or an insightful answer to a stats problem, but at least I’m not still searching for it on my phone. And hey, now there’s a … Anyone down to party with Cardi?
Ann Gehan is a Trinity first-year. Her column usually runs on alternate Tuesdays.
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