You would have to ask those engineer monkeys over at Tinder why swiping right or left has gained the hookup app over 10 million users. I am neither a scientist nor a marketer, but I am an experiential learner who is also an addict that has been on Tinder. And from that point of view, here’s what I can report: it is addictive, so addictive that I have gone on it for 12 hours at a time and then deleted my profile, having to manage it the way I did cocaine many years ago. Instinctively I knew that any leeway I gave myself would lead to very bad things. Tinder is addictive for the same reason Pavlov could get his dog to salivate at the bell; because the promise of sex is pretty powerful for most humans, let alone addicts who have very few other bells left.
Thank God Less Than Zero in the 80s made coke and crack look bad for those of us at the right impressionable age to take in the message (of course, not that all of us allowed that message to influence our behavior). What we need is a movie about Tinder, perhaps ending in murder, suicide, or both, that discourages people from using it—at the very least something that would remind addicts who are no longer drinking or using that we may be playing with as dangerous a substance as one that might as well be cut with Drano, PCP or baby laxatives.
From empirical research, I’m aware that the experience of being on Tinder is radically different for men and women—even good-looking men are not going to get the attention that women will. For a woman on Tinder, especially one who has already tried to mask either trauma or garden variety attachment issues with drugs and alcohol, the promise of an addictive rush of flattery or attention can create a craving for more and more “love” to fill a hole that was created many years ago, long before Tinder even existed. I am not only referring to someone who qualifies as a sex and love addict, someone for whom people may literally be the drug, but to someone who has already blown out their synapses on drugs, alcohol or other process addictions. Even for a regular person who is not sure whether he or she is an addict, Tinder might not be the best venue to find out.
Some women I know do not go on Tinder to get laid, even stating in their profiles that they’re “not interested in a hook-up.” So what exactly are they looking for? Attention/connection/validation? An ego boost? Instagram followers? These rewards can be intoxicating for any human being, let alone one who has made a habit of relying on being intoxicated.
While I do have one friend who got married to someone she met on Tinder, her story is not typical. The app shows people who are currently available in your area for a reason; people on Tinder are looking for a date immediately and on impulse. While I have made Tinder dates a few days in advance, the unwritten idea is that people want that connection fast. And what is more seductive to an addict than getting something to soothe the pain right fucking now? If we wanted relationships, we would be on eHarmony.
Tinder is addictive for the same reason that sex has been proven to be addictive: it causes the brain to be flooded with dopamine, oxytocin and norepinephrine. For many of us, even the thought of an imminent dose of these naturally occurring substances can be better than a street drug or pharmaceutical. These chemicals are manufactured internally but are no less powerful. Tinder becomes the 24-hour-a-day dealer that can deliver us exactly what we need, or point us in the direction of our next supply.
The first guy I ever met on Tinder was 6’8″ and lived across town from me. It was during what I now refer to as my “trampage” (which occurred after a disastrous “relationship” left me wanting to die). I was interested in having a diversion from my broken heart, and saw no moral reason why I couldn’t use someone for that, seeing as he would be using me too. This guy seemed nice but who knew? We had spoken on the phone and he had a nice voice and was reasonably intelligent, but best of all was willing to stay up until I got there. His availability, his niceness and his height were enough.
I drove at least an hour into a neighborhood I can only describe as a “barrio” though there seemed to be a different predominant nationality every few blocks. I found this out for certain when my phone died, my phone charger stopped working and I was forced to duck into a convenience store because I no longer had the annoying lady’s voice from Google Maps directing me to the guy’s house. The men working there were Armenian, and were kind enough to let me charge my phone in the wall. It was late at night, I was completely alone surrounded by foreign men at a gas station (two behind the counter and one sweeping the store) and I hadn’t told anyone where I was. Tinder was already placing me in a situation probably not ideal for a mother of two in recovery…but of course being an addict, there was no way I was giving up now.
I have a Russian background, and chatted to the men in Russian, somehow admitting that I was on my way to a “date.” It floors me how lonely I must have been to feel like it was safe to share this at all, but I was not behaving in what I would now consider a “sober” manner, even though I was not high on a substance. Something about the fact that this was all in service of a Tinder date made it okay. At least I would have a story, right?
“Well, if you don’t get there, you can always come back here,” ventured one squat, disturbingly hirsute fellow. Clearly when you are broadcasting availability and revealing way too much information, everyone feels they have a shot.
I got to the guy’s house around midnight and went upstairs to his room. I went to the bathroom first, and it was filthy. Ironically this was almost a deal-breaker (open toothpaste tubes ew!) but I ain’t no quitter. Without the presence of alcohol, I still had sufficiently low inhibitions to get undressed in front of this (lucky) stranger and participate in what happened next. I’m not the kind of girl to kiss and tell but…you don’t know the guy, so I will. Let’s just say his length and girth were proportionate to his height, and it was lucky he had his own protection, because what I had brought would not have sufficed.
Afterwards, we kissed at the door, and while I was pretty sure I would never see him again, I did text him a Happy Birthday wish at the end of that week because he had mentioned it. Aw, I remembered. What a mensch. Who says alcoholics are selfish?
I got back into my car that night, and in a move not very conducive to a night of relaxing passion, was forced to drive home for another hour, as there was no way I was going to stay the night. The Commute Of Shame was just long enough that 45 minutes in, the tears came. I had no regrets or shame about what I had done and was grateful that the healing balm had worked, albeit briefly. I wholeheartedly believed in being sex-positive; why shouldn’t I have some sober fun? But the grief I had been trying to cover bubbled up then, and all I could do with all the program and therapy I had at my back was lean into it. I may even have prayed a little. The temporary oblivion of human contact, sexual release and male appreciation were going to have to do in a pinch. Until the next time…