Yet these motivations also changed over time. I heard from users who revealed a hope for finding love, after initially using it for entertainment or ego-boost. As the interviews progressed, there was a tendency for wishful thinking to emerge. Sergio put it this way: ‘If I find someone I want to live with on Tinder it’s ideal. But it’s not something that I’m really looking for.’ It worked the other way, too: Reinout, 27, spoke about his use of Tinder with a self-deprecating humor. Like others, he had an ambitious streak when downloading the app that later faded: ‘At first I was really looking for a girlfriend. And now it’s more like yeah, I just enjoy dating.’ He had learned how to play the game, but when asked to articulate his ‘ultimate goal,’ he returned to a relationship mindset: ‘The ultimate goal is to meet this one perfect match who will be my best friend for the rest of my life.’
Impression motivation in a stigmatized environment
Motivations for using Tinder are not clear-cut. Tinder’s reputation as reported in the media varies from a ‘hook-up’ app 5 to a serious tool to finding relationships. 6 An emerging issue related to motivations was a still-present stigma for dating online. Aya, a 22-year-old student, refused any ambitions for love or a long-term relationship from Tinder. She said: ‘I still feel it’s strange to search for people online if there are so many real people out there … I know some people who have a relationship from Tinder but … I actually think I would feel ashamed.’
Colin agreed. He explained how the stigma of having a Tinder profile impacted his reluctance to initially pair his real Facebook account with the dating app: ‘First I had a fake profile. Then I thought, why not? Everyone’s doing it. It can’t possibly hurt me.’ Colin revealed his actual identity, but would not go so far as to wish you can find out more for an actual relationship from a Tinder match: ‘I have friends who have relationships from Tinder but I think it’s more shameful than something to be proud of … Yes, you’re a lovely couple but you met on an application on your phone.’
If a Tinder user has different motivations for using the app, and her motivations change over time, this can present challenges for impression construction. Blackwell et al. found something similar in their study on the dating app Grindr: Users ‘can have a range of norms and expectations, with little evidence in terms of visible cues from others to confirm or refute these expectations’ ( 2015 , p. 1128). Despite such complications, a Tinder user must choose particular photos and text to present her-/himself in a desired way to potential partners. The next section will look at how Tinder users make these decisions.
Constructing a desired impression
Impression construction is about choosing the kind of impression to create and deciding precisely how to go about doing so (Leary Kowalski, 1990 ; Toma Hancock, 2010 ). For my interviewees, impression construction on Tinder was a carefully chosen process. As with online dating websites, construction of the Tinder profile is of utmost importance: it represents ‘the first and primary means of expressing one’s self during the early stages of a correspondence and can therefore foreclose or create relationship opportunities’ (Ellison et al., 2006 , p. 423). On Tinder, whether one is using the app for entertainment, seeking an ego-boost, or an eventual relationship, success is defined by an attractive profile, validated through mutual right swipes.
All interviewees had at least two photos on their profile, and some chose not to include any accompanying text. All said they had chosen pictures they liked or pictures their friends liked. For some, friends’ approval was communicated in person or via liking a photo on Facebook: The number of Facebook ‘likes’ pictures received played a big role in determining what they thought would get a positive response. Wildon, 43, stated: ‘I chose these pictures because they have likes on Facebook. I don’t know myself whether I look good in a picture.’ Johanna, 32, put it like this: ‘I chose these photos because that’s the way I want men to see me. That’s the way I see myself. The best way.’ Ideal yet authentic was important to interviewees. Erwin agreed: ‘Your Tinder profile should be realistic. There’s nothing more annoying than someone saying, “I expected you to be different”.’ Johanna added, ‘Yes I have pictures with my children. This is me, this is the total package, take it or leave it.’