It’s a Saturday morning and I’m headed up to the mountains for a hike with friends. Hearing something ding in my purse, I pull out my phone to see that someone has swept right on my profile. I feel noticed! Someone saw me. In my desire to be wanted, I am validated in my femininity. All of a sudden laughter breaks out and, reminded that I am with friends, I turn off the ringer and throw my phone back in my purse.
I distinctly remember the moment I told my siblings I was starting to use Tinder. They nearly keeled over in laughter. They thought I had gone off the deep end. Gone wild. Not an unusual reaction to the various endeavours I have embarked upon in my life. At that point in my life, I was 23 and had been on one ‘date,’ if you could even call it that. A couple of friends convinced me it was time to get into the world and start practising (that is, practising dating and conversing with the male gender). For me, however, going on Tinder dates was less about its infamous hookup culture (of which less than a quarter of Tinder users even have as an intention) and more about connecting, being seen, being validated in the romantic realm of my life.
The emerging adult world is obsessed with swiping, with the novelty that is Tinder. It boasts more than 10 million active users a day, the majority of whom are between 19-24. And nearly each active user averages about 140 swipes (whether left or right) a day. So what in the world is it with Tinder? Why is swiping and meeting up so appealing?
Since Tinder only celebrated its 4th Birthday in December 2016, research is sparse. But what I consistently came across as I ‘nerded’ out on academic journal articles, is that Tinder use has many different motivations. There isn’t one single collective drive for individuals to use Tinder; it is entirely dependent on the demographic, geographical location, and age, among other things. Things like boredom, need for excitement, self-validation, companionship, were just some of the reasons.
As I was reading through the descriptions, one specifically caught my eye. It was the underlying factor in my own swiping endeavours – and behind much of humanity’s quest to find a partner, whether online or in person:
TO CONNECT. Have connection. Feel connected.
Spiritual and committed friendship in authentic community trumps the temporary hope of Tinder.
That word is loaded. We connect with the online world nearly all hours of the day. Through swiping right or left. Liking and saving posts, tracking how many steps we walk, or our circadian sleep rhythms. We connect with our coworkers over the unbelievable case that just got added to the docket. With the barista over the newest full-bodied espresso. Or with the mother waiting next to you at the bus stop with her children in tow as you exchange a knowing smile.
We also often lose connection. Whether it is with that Wi-Fi which never will stay on or the partner that decides one day they just aren’t connected to you anymore, they just don’t feel it any longer. Or with that friend who moves across the country and can no longer feasibly pour into your life in the same connected way as before. Connectedness is key in our lives today.
For myself, I just want to feel connected to someone. Not just connected on a friendly surface level. But connected on an intimate, “I am not going anywhere” level. The problem lies in the fact that engaging in Tinder, like many things, actually gives us a false hope. It’s kind of like gambling. When you don’t have the hope of a relationship or the hope of a prospect, things begin to feel pretty grim. With something like Tinder, you can create a hope that something could happen. Maybe you could find that ultimate connection by just a few swipes on the bus to work. A few swipes at lunch. A few swipes while waiting in line for groceries. A few more swipes before you go to bed.
And maybe just maybe one of those guys posing for a selfie in front of their bathroom mirror, standing in the line of groomsmen or on the edge of a mountain, will be the one that finally connects with you. Maybe just maybe he will finally see you for you. Not only is this statistically unlikely to happen, it is putting hope for connection in something that will ultimately fail us. Douglas Coupland nailed it when he said, “Starved for affection, terrified of abandonment, I began to wonder if sex was really just an excuse to look deeply into another human being’s eyes.” We just want to look into someone’s eyes, to be seen, to connect. Tinder gives us a small glimpse. A brief look.
Tinder’s desire for connectedness and its hope for relationship falls short of the spiritual intimacy for which we are created. God wants us to feel connected, to have a sense of belonging with people and with him.
And while Tinder is fun and, in my case very formative, it only temporarily soothes the longing for connection with a very short-lived hope. Even if our romantic relationships are a success, we are created for a deep connection with God. When we keep trying to fill the need for connection with a hope that won’t sustain us in the long haul, we miss out on what God has for us in the here and now. And what he has for us in the here and now is pretty incredible. When I stop to think about the connections that he has given me in my life today, I am floored.
What I am not saying, and please hear me in this, is “Stop using Tinder you people and just put your hope in Jesus! Then all will be well.” That is not at all what I want you to hear. That is not what anyone’s heart needs to hear – it’s more nuanced than that. Tinder in moderation, with the right frame of mind, can be a good tool for many people. But what it reveals to us is this innate longing for something greater.
What I want us to lean into as a community is that longing. The longing for someone to accept us when we are being goofy. The longing for someone to understand and empathize when we have been bogged down by the same frustrations for years. The longing for someone to come along and share in the sorrow and pain, in the happy and excitement. And the longing to be that same person for someone else. We often misdirect the desire for true spiritual intimacy by pursuing fleeting romantic feelings that temporarily numb the pain. The pain that comes from an absence of true sustainable connection.
I prayed for years for God to provide me with spiritual friends. People who would be committed to seeing me grow and that I could commit to see through their growth. People I could dance with, cry with, spend New Year’s with and go on hikes with. Instead of directing my frustration into a Tinder profile, I let it drive me to become more connected to my community.
St. Peter’s, we have those unmet longings among us. Spiritual and committed friendship in authentic community trumps the temporary hope of Tinder. So friends, let’s swipe right on each other and enter into a connectedness that comes from the Hope of Jesus, the Hope of Heaven meeting Earth in the here and now, and the Hope of finding lasting sustainable connectedness in the Body of Christ.