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How Tinder Killed the Crush: An Ode to the Crush

Your first crush is a rite of passage. The fixations that follow it are just life. Nervous, awkward, sublime. Disastrous. Transcendent. Here, we celebrate infatuations, obsessions, and passions in all their exquisite splendor. Meet our “It’s Just a Little Crush” series. Isn’t she divine?

I’ve decided to delete Tinder from my phone again, again.

To do it I have to hold down the icon of the app, then tap the little X to get it off my iPhone. Like all apps, the square does a little wiggle when the X pops up. The animation is more or less innocuous, but when it comes to Tinder, that little wiggle is a taunt. You’ll be back, wiggle wiggle, I won’t stay gone for long, wiggle wiggle, you’ll get lonely and want to see if you can find someone who’s wiggle “fluent in sarcasm” wiggle.

For about five years, my relationship with Tinder has been more on-and-off than any of my (several) less-than-stable romantic relationships. But then, romantic relationships take discipline and commitment and time. The better metaphor for Tinder is addiction. Tinder is accessible when I’m at my lowest and gives me a temporary burst of dopamine and distraction, but never more.

And like an addiction, it’s robbed me of at least one of life’s purest pleasures. A million people and articles can explain how Tinder has ruined courtship—and even hookup culture. But its truest victim is the single element that makes flirtation fun. Tinder killed the crush.

You might think that Tinder would be a crush paradise. After all, crushes are all about instinctual attraction, and what’s more instinctual than evaluating someone’s picture and swiping left or right based on your gut reaction (plus, learning they’re 6’1″, INTJ, and, from the looks of their picture, were once were on a boat). Tinder should fulfill the smartphone promise, making things quicker and easier. I’m able to order a pizza and ride in a stranger’s car at the touch of a button. When I’m lonely and bored, I should be able to materialize a crush—someone to joyfully obsess over with all of the hope of someone who thinks she’s found The One.

But see, that smartphone modus operandi (speed! convenience!) runs counter to how human connection works.

Part of the problem is after swiping on Tinder for a few hours (let alone days or weeks), potential partners become almost interchangeable. To the shrewd, practiced swiper, a mere glance at a profile picture is enough to know whether that person merits a right or left swipe. Glasses, right. Dog, right. Fish, left. Mirror selfie, left. Red hat, left. Even when you’re intrigued enough to click for more information on someone, everyone blurs together into a single amorphous Jim looking for his Pam. Far from being fun, early “getting to know each other” conversations quickly become a chore. Our attraction to a person in the real world is based on their smell, the sound of their voice, the things they laugh at. On Tinder, people are just cardboard cutouts. Every time I succumb to it, I find myself using the same trite questions and giving the same trite answers. It’s rare that I ever give someone my phone number to propel the conversation to text. It was even rarer to feel a connection so undeniable that it’s propelled us into the real world. It’s hard to get butterflies about someone who’s just a two-dimensional face in your screen, one of 25 guys saying, “Hey, how’s ur weekend looking?”

Now, a crush. A crush is magnificent. After the “We’re comfortable enough to finally just wear pajamas and order in” stage, it’s the best part of a relationship, when each text notification sends a shiver of excitement through your entire body and you post selfies to your Instagram Story just to see if they’ll see them. Yes, it’s also a stage of paranoia (who is that girl in that Facebook picture from 2011???) and misery in the minutes waiting for the response to a risky text, but that exquisite pain just heightens the euphoria when he does text back and when you find out that girl from 2011 was actually just his sister all along.

The one time I ever remember feeling something akin to a crush on someone I saw on an app, it was because I recognized him from Twitter. Without external context, he would have been completely inscrutable. In all likelihood, if I hadn’t known he was hilarious and liked the same movies I did from his tweets, I would have swiped left. (Although, in all fairness, maybe I should have. We went out for three months, then he dumped me via text.)

Tinder is transactional and gamified. The swipe is a slot machine. It entices you to go for one more swipe and then one more—just to see what else is out there. But no one can match up against the prospect of all the other single people in the world, plus the ones who exist in your imagination. It’s the same mentality that keeps people glued to the slots in Vegas casinos: The next swipe could be the jackpot!

But perhaps the biggest problem with Tinder is also how it sold itself to us: You only match with people who you know are interested in you (or at least interested enough).

The pleasure of the crush is in how it starts, the uncertainty of it. A crush is a challenge—and a terrifying risk. The not-knowing part, the time when you have no idea how the other person feels about you is about 80 percent of the sensation we describe as butterflies.

It’s exhilarating, miserable, torturous, and ecstatic, the stuff of sending a flirty text that you outsourced to your entire group chat. That tension doesn’t exist on Tinder—where you only end up in conversation with someone once you’ve established mutual attraction. That other person at least wants to meet up, if just to hook up. And that happens after you’ve waded through throngs of fuckboys and randos.

If you’re looking to meet someone in real life but still want the expediency of the Internet, I recommend a good, old-fashioned Twitter DM slide. A little audacious! Full of anticipation! But same rule applies for bathroom-mirror selfies: If that’s their profile pic, metaphorically swipe left.

Dana Schwartz is the author of the memoir Choose Your Own Disaster. Follow her on Twitter @DanaSchwartzzz.

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