Weeks ago, I woke up and found my roommates laughing and staring at their phones, showing each other pictures of boys, exchanging their opinions and boasting about their number of matches. What they were doing was, what I later came to call, a Tinder binge-swiping marathon. When I said that I couldn’t join them because I didn’t have the app, indeed no other dating app, they stared at me strangely.
Back in my country, Peru, dating apps aren’t popular, probably because overall the population isn’t as engaged on online platforms as Americans are. Several dating apps operate there but, considering the limited number of users, there is no point in using them to meet people. My roommates admitted that they hoped to meet their future partners in a real-life situation, but swiping profiles is fun. So I decided to give it a try.
I downloaded Tinder and Clover and in a matter of hours, I got dozens of likes. I never considered myself overwhelmingly pretty, just an average Latina with brown curly hair and almond eyes. The first days, it was comforting to find out that boys my age actually found me attractive. Using dating apps became my “confidence-boosting procrastination” activity, as I would spend hours swiping profiles instead of doing my homework or daily activities just to see my number of likes and matches increasing.
Problems started when the boys started messaging me. I would immediately unmatch boys that would use ridiculous opening lines like "I wanna see those Latin moves" or "A white guy and a Latina meet in New York, sounds like a good story." Sometimes they would start just by saying "Hey" and as the conversation kept going, they would try to prove me that they knew about Latin culture and my country.
"I learned Spanish in high school," "Despacito is my jam" and "I've been to Peru, it's such an exotic place!" were some of the typical phrases. If I would get a dollar for each Tinder profile that I've seen in which a boy is posing in front of Machu Picchu, I would be a millionaire. Probably the craziest coincidence was with a Russian boy I matched with who told me he had been adopted by a Peruvian man. Although I felt that they were actually trying to get along with me, something about their comments seemed too fake and always related to the fact that I'm Latina.
In Clover, you can get a premium account and do an advanced search of profiles based on different physical and personality criteria. I imagined these men adjusting the settings of their app to look specifically for Latinas and then finding my profile. The idea troubled me. Just like a customer that goes to a grocery store and specifically gets the product he is looking for, by going into the online dating world I had turned from a woman to an "exotic product."
But then I reminded myself that I should have seen this coming. Dating apps promote a culture based on appearances, where we are attracted to pictures rather than the individuals behind them. It doesn't matter if I am a smart and responsible student. It doesn't matter if I am a passionate painter and writer. It doesn't matter if I am a strong advocate for women rights. It only matters the fact that I'm Latina. Who has time to read the bios anyway?
Although having hundreds of likes brought me instant gratification, at the end of the day I was still single. Worse, I was single and disturbed by the several racial and sexual messages I had received online. I started doubting myself, fearing that no one would ever like me for more than my appearance. After being an avid user for a couple of months, I decided to eliminate my accounts and never go back to the online dating world.
As we live in the digital era, it is absolutely impossible to completely disconnect ourselves from the online world, but dating is a realm that can’t be dominated by apps. Maybe we should stop oversimplifying our search for a partner by relying on algorithms and start seeking for happiness in reality.
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