Michelle Obama says you can’t, but what does the evidence suggest?
Should you quit Tinder if you’re serious about looking for a long-term relationship? Michelle Obama suggests as much. In her recent podcast, she talks about marriage and choosing the right partner, and she makes the point that online apps are not what you need: “You can’t Tinder your way to a long-term relationship.”
Is this true? Is everyone on Tinder looking for short-term affairs or hookups? Could someone, in fact, Tinder their way to a stable, healthy, long-term relationship?
Do people use Tinder to find long-term love?
Like Obama, many people assume Tinder is an online hotspot for finding partners for one-time sexual encounters, not for finding partners with whom one can build a multi-dimensional, emotionally-intimate, committed relationship.
Tinder is a proximity dating app, meaning it uses geolocation technology to identify other nearby users; it can be used on-the-go (at coffee shops, bars, clubs) and, although profiles are connected to user’s Facebook pages, the app relies heavily on a narrow set of photos uploaded by the user to form matches. Users judge other users largely by their physical appearance and then decide to swipe left (reject) or swipe right; when two people “swipe right” when viewing each other’s photos, they are a “match” and can communicate.
Contrary to its reputation, not everyone is looking for a hookup when they’re swiping left and right on Tinder.
Researchers queried over 3000 Tinder users about their motives for being on Tinder and found considerable variation (Timmermans & De Caluwe, 2017a). While yes, some people use Tinder specifically for sexual experiences or for flirting, this wasn’t the top reason people are on Tinder.
The main reasons participants reported using Tinder were for entertainment and out of curiosity. People also use Tinder to seek relationships, including long-term relationships, finding friends, or connecting with people to hang out with when traveling. Another reason people turn to Tinder is for an ego-boost: they see the app as a way to increase their own feelings of social approval.
Who’s on Tinder?
Are some people more likely to use Tinder than others? This seems to be a yes — at least in terms of key personality dimensions. Tinder users tend to be more extroverted, less conscientious, and more open to new experiences than single people not on Tinder (Timmermans & De Caluwe, 2017b).
One study organized Tinder users into these distinct types (Rochat, Bianchi-Demicheli, Aboujaoude, & Khazaal, 2019).
- Regulated Users. These Tinder users are a psychologically healthy group. They have good self-control, high sexual desire, strong levels of self-esteem, and good secure attachments. They are the folks that many people don’t think use Tinder. They do. These Tinder users run against the stereotype often held by many people: They are looking for committed relationships along with casual partners, and for them, long-term love could be a great outcome.
- Regulated with Low Desire. This group of users has good control over their use of Tinder, but they are highly anxious, have low self-esteem, and have low sexual desire. They are not very interested in any kind of relationship but might be the ones who use Tinder for ego-boosts, as a way of buttressing their self-worth.
- Unregulated and Highly Motivated. These users love the thrill of Tinder and use it all the time. As risk-takers, this group of Tinder users is high in anxious attachment, have high sexual desire, and solid self-esteem. Their use of Tinder can be highly problematic, in part because of strong social motives, the immediate gratification of the app, and low self-control.
- Unregulated Avoidant. This group of Tinder users is best characterized by high depression and high attachment avoidance. They tend to have low self-esteem and poor self-control, at least in terms of their Tinder use, which is often problematic.
These groups reveal considerable variation among users of Tinder. Their profiles reflect different motives for signing up with Tinder, with some more open to a long-term relationship than others. Some people do, in fact, Tinder their way to a long-term relationship.
Long-term love on Tinder
You’re not alone if you are open to long-term love and enjoy Tinder as a way to meet potential partners. A recent study (Sevi, & Doğruyol, 2020) examined Tinder users and the extent they exhibit features of the Light Triad, a constellation of three positive personality traits. The traits that comprise the Light Triad are Kantianism (thinking of others as valuable for who they are, rather than a means to an end), Humanism (respecting each person’s unique worth), and Faith in Humanity (believing people are good). Tinder users who have higher scores on the Light Triad were more likely than others to use Tinder in pursuit of a long-term committed relationship.
Should you quit Tinder?
Obama’s point — that Tinder does not lead to long-term love — is not a universal truth. There are plenty of people who are open to long-term relationships on Tinder, and marriages have come about through swiping right. Her larger point, however, that relationships require risk, work, and investment is consistent with a broad body of research on relationships.
If you pursue Tinder meet-ups because you are afraid to take the risks involved in asking out a person you’re really into, then maybe it’s time to put down your phone. Likewise, if you can’t trust your own worth, and you want a long-term relationship but are settling for casual sexual encounters, then it might be time to take a real risk and approach relationships honestly, with your long-term goals in mind.
Obama argues that it takes effort and practice to say, “I’m going to invest in this other person and I’m going to see where that goes. And if it doesn’t go anywhere, then OK, we’ll break up, because that’s what dating is.” If you want a long-term relationship, dating is a process of taking risks and being vulnerable, knowing you can survive it if the relationship breaks up. A break-up from an honest effort means you’re one step closer to finding the long-term relationship you’re looking for.
By Theresa E. DiDonato Ph.D.
Meet, Catch, and Keep