Tinder Dating: Can You Find Love, or Just Lust?
Exploring why people use Tinder for dating and whether it will work for you.
Posted September 29, 2019 | Reviewed by Davia Sills
People find a date or mate in a number of different ways, although the majority of partners still meet through friends, family, or other social groups. Nevertheless, there are benefits to meeting a partner online, and the popularity of online dating continues to grow as a result. Primarily, people date online because they enjoy having access to a number of potential partners, being able to sort them easily, and connecting with them comfortably too.
As this trend has evolved, however, dating apps such as Tinder have streamlined the process even further. Rather than longer profiles and detailed matching, the process is simply a quick look at a few pictures and a swipe yes-or-no.
Clearly, this approach helps people to meet based on physical attraction—but can it result in finding a long-term relationship as well? In other words, can Tinder help you find love or just lust?
Fortunately, research has started to explore that very question...
Researching Love and Lust in Tinder Dating
Research by Sumter, Vandenbosch, and Loes (2017) explored various motivations for individuals to use Tinder. The team surveyed a sample of Tinder users, asking them to respond to 46 questions evaluating physical, social, and psychological motivations for using the app—on a response scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree).
Those questions were then grouped into 6 categories, expressing the major motivations for users. Those motivational categories were (in order of importance):
- The Thrill of Excitement (M = 2.97): It is exciting, and they get a kick out of using it.
- Trendiness (M = 2.71): The app is new, cool, and everyone is using it.
- Love (M = 2.24): Because it is an easy way to meet someone and to find a relationship.
- Self-Worth Validation (M= 2.22): To feel attractive, get compliments, and improve self-esteem.
- Casual Sex (M = 1.88): To talk about sex, exchange sexy pictures, and find a sex partner.
- Ease of Communication (M = 1.63): Because it is easier to communicate, open up, and find friends.
Looking at these categories and questions in more detail, however, only one item in the "Love" category specifically evaluated a motivation toward a long-term relationship. This was the motivation "to find a steady relationship," and it was the lowest-rated motivation within the love category (M = 1.87). The rest of the motivations in that category were worded more abstractly, asking about finding someone easily in general ("To find someone to be with," and "It is an easy way to meet someone") or finding romance ("To contact potential romantic partners," and "To find a romantic relationship").
Nevertheless, individuals who fell into the category of looking for love on Tinder were most likely to meet other matches in person for actual dates. In contrast, those motivated by casual sex were more likely to meet for a one-night stand instead—with 17 percent of participants reporting that they had a one-night stand with a Tinder match. Users who were motivated by the ease of communication online or self-worth validation, however, were less likely to meet in person for any reason.
Beyond that, men and women showed some similarities and differences in motivation. Both noted that the thrill of using the app and the trendiness of it were their top two motivations. After those top two reasons, women were most motivated by self-worth validation, followed closely by love. Men, in contrast, were next most motivated by casual sex, also followed closely by love.
Subsequent research identified additional trends regarding the motivations, characteristics, and behaviors of Tinder users. An evaluation by Sevi (2019a), for example, identified that Tinder users were more likely to engage in risk-taking behaviors (like having unprotected sex) than non-users. The study also found that users were less averse or put off by various sexual acts, such as casual sex with a stranger (i.e., less sexual disgust), than those who did not use Tinder.
This increased risk-taking and decreased sexual disgust also made Tinder users more likely to engage in casual sex. Earlier research by Sevi, Aral, and Eskenazi (2017) found a similar pattern among Tinder users as well—noting that individuals who were less sociosexually restricted (i.e., more likely to have sex for a variety of reasons besides love and commitment) and lower in sexual disgust were more likely to use the app for casual sex.
Other studies have suggested that Tinder may attract a less trustworthy and more non-committal group of users. Sevi (2019b) found that Tinder users scored higher on dark triad personality traits (Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy) than non-users.
Similarly, Weiser, Niehuis, Flora, Punyanunt-Carter, Arias, and Baird (2018) found links between Tinder use and infidelity behavior. Within their survey of a sample of users, 12.5 percent had used the app to meet and spend time with someone other than their committed partner—and 7.2 percent had been sexual with someone from Tinder, cheating on their partner.
Furthermore, 63.9 percent of the participants knew someone on Tinder who was in an exclusive relationship, 40.7 percent thought it was an effective way to meet people while in a relationship, and 89 percent responded that people use Tinder to cheat sometimes (44.6 percent), often (32.4 percent), or all of the time (12.0 percent).
Should You Swipe?
Taken together, the results above paint an interesting picture. Overall, Tinder users report being primarily drawn to the app, because it is trendy, something "everyone" is doing, and it is exciting to swipe through the options.
Nevertheless, some of those individuals motivated by such social pressure and instant gratification are also more impulsive, less likely to be faithful and committed, and more interested in having sex for casual reasons. Therefore, it may be a good choice for the subset of individuals who are looking for a fling or short-term relationship.
Nevertheless, there seems to be a sub-group of individuals on the app looking for more substantial dating. There are also users who simply want online validation or company too. So, if you do decide to use the app, how can you tell them apart? Looking at the research above, the best way to proceed with a potential match is to be direct—and ask for what you want...
Those looking for short-term relationships and casual sex are most likely to agree to meet a match in person for such a fling. Therefore, being more sexual while chatting and then directly suggesting a sexual meet-up will likely separate those who are interested from those who are looking for something else.
This is supported by research on pick-up lines showing that men looking for short-term flings with adventurous women will likely employ a more overtly sexual line—which seems to interest risk-taking women while turning off almost everyone else. Given that the decision will primarily be made based on a few photos, however, it can help to look your best, strike the right poses, and take a few pictures with friends too.
Those looking for longer-term relationships and romance appear most likely to agree to meet a match in person for a date. Therefore, building rapport and talking in ways that build attraction, along with persuasively asking for a date directly, will be most appealing to users looking for a date. It will also help a person to avoid those looking for a fling, as well as those people who do not want to build a relationship offline too.
In short, although your chances of finding a long-term relationship may be better in real-life social groups, or even on more traditional dating sites, if you are honest and direct about what you want, you might find a lasting relationship on Tinder too.
© 2019 by Jeremy S. Nicholson, M.A., M.S.W., Ph.D. All rights reserved.
Sevi, B. (2019a). Brief report: Tinder users are risk takers and have low sexual disgust sensitivity. Evolutionary Psychological Science, 5, 104-108.
Sevi, B. (2019b). The Dark Side of Tinder: The Dark Triad of Personality as Correlates of Tinder Use. Journal of Individual Differences, 1, 1-5.
Sevi, B., Aral, T., & Eskenazi, T. (2018). Exploring the hook-up app: Low sexual disgust and high sociosexuality predict motivation to use Tinder for casual sex. Personality and Individual Differences, 133, 17-20.
Sumter, S. R., Vandenbosch, L., & Loes, L. (2017) Love me tinder: Untangling emerging adults' motivations for using the dating application tinder. Telematics and Informatics, 34, 67-78.
Weiser, D. A., Niehuis, S., Flora, J., Punyanunt-Carter, N. M., Arias, V. S., & Baird, R. H. (2018). Swiping right: Sociosexuality, intentions to engage in infidelity, and infidelity experiences on Tinder. Personality and Individual Differences, 133, 29-33.