How Tinder Made Me Hate My Own Face

Sam Parker on why online dating is best avoided for the average-looking

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There is a wonderful moment, near the end of the average adolescence, when you come to terms with your own face.

When after all those years frowning into a mirror, mining blackheads from your too-big-nose or trying to force down your sticky-out-ears, a sudden sense of peace washes over you.

Sod it, you shrug. This is the face I’ve got. Could be better, could be worse. Now let’s move on.

It’s not the absolute end of physical self-consciousness, of course. But it is the end of the hysterical phase, the beginning of a steady trajectory of not-giving-a-crap that is supposed to end at old age, where your reward is to happily wear corduroy and neglect your ear hair because you outgrew silly human vanity long ago.

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But this smooth arc of enlightenment has been disrupted, for me at least, by the same thing that has disrupted everything else we once held to be true – the internet.

I’m talking about Tinder, the latest – and arguably purest – form of online ‘dating’ yet devised.

For the uninitiated, Tinder is an app on which you browse an endless stream of photographs (up to five, taken from people’s Facebook accounts), swiping each one either left for ‘no thanks’ or right for ‘yes please’.

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At the same time, your face is being peddled out to others on your behalf, who are also putting you in the ‘Phwoar! I would!’ or ‘Pffffff... no chance mate’ pile. The only time you’re actually able to converse is when two people say yes to each other and are ‘matched’.

In a basic sense, Tinder is no more shallow than the scan men – and women too, I expect – perform whenever they enter a new room or board a train. It’s the instinctive, ‘is there anyone here I find attractive’ sweep we do, like Terminator robots pretending they can have sex.

In quite another sense, Tinder is the most shallow invention mankind has ever devised, because nothing – no display of talent, act of kindness, or even just a great laugh – is discernible in the person you’re assessing. All you have is hair, eyes, noses and mouths – raw physical attributes, a solitary sensory input, less even than animals when they’re deciding whether to hump.

The speed at which you make these determinations is oddly frightening. Before long, you can be sucked into a variation of what a friend of mine calls ‘the porn vortex’ – a numb, semi-hypnotized state of vague stimulation, in which you flick impassively through endless images, lingering or rejecting, never quite feeling aroused, never quite repulsed, until you finally snap out of it and make a cup of tea.

Inevitably, you make mistakes along the way. Which is how – in the spirit of brutal, shallow honesty – I’d have to describe all twenty or so of my ‘matches’ so far.

Taking a closer second look, I haven’t actually been attracted to a single one of them. I probably swiped yes because they were smiling, or wearing a bikini, or someone was talking to me at the time. If that sounds awful, then remember: these are the terms of the game. I can't say whether they're lovely people in real life, or if something sparked when we had a chat. You have nothing to go on but a face.

Which brings me back to mine. What three weeks or so on Tinder has taught me is that my own face isn’t very attractive at all, or why else would every last one of the beautiful women I’ve eagerly swiped ‘yes’ to have looked into my own jumble of flesh and sinew and swiped ‘no’? Who can refute such basic biology, backed up by the rules of probability?

And believe me, I’ve tried them all. Every style of photo there is. The ‘Intense Selfie Guy’. The ‘Check Me Out With All My Friends Guy’. The ‘What A Fun Party Guy’. Even, with shameful apology to Ruby, Erin, William and Florence, the ‘Sensitive Guy Playing With His Nieces And Nephews’. Nothing made a difference.

One consolation is that all of the real life romances I’ve enjoyed in my 28 years so far must have had something, at least, to do with my personality.

But in the disembodied, shopping kart world of online dating, personality is a consolation prize.

You can write all the witty bios, craft all the nonchalant, charming opening emails you want, but if your face looks like an uncooked mixed grill you’re never going to get anywhere.

And so the cheerful, ‘ah-well-it’s-not-too-bad’ attitude I’ve had towards my own visage since wriggling free of my teenage years has now been unexpectantly shaken.  The equilibrium of my self-esteem has been tipped unnaturally backwards. I feel a little less sure of myself, think that little bit longer before flashing someone a smile.

The only logical conclusion to all of this is that online dating – like modeling and bartering in shops – is best left to beautiful people.

Me? I’m going back to the traditional British approach to sex, the one that has served us well for centuries, where success sometimes springs from the jaws of certain defeat and the cruel winds of rejection are buffeted by a balm of inebriation: I'm going down the pub, and hoping for the best.


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