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Tinder-ing, IRL

Tinder is planning to double its number of live events this year. But can the dating app bring its matchmaking skills offline?

I’m ashamed by how bad I am at introducing myself to women on Tinder, a weakness rendered all the more embarrassing by the fact I’m supposed to be, you know, somewhat competent at writing.

But Tinder demands too much of me. The opening line has to be the perfect combination of intelligent and funny; incisive and playful; charming but self-deprecating. And I have to fit all that into a succinct message tailored to the woman’s personality (which I have to glean from just a few photos and a three-sentence autobiography).

I always wilt under this pressure. Most times the best I can offer is a timid, “Hey there, how is your [insert day of the week] going?” It’s so basic I want to bury myself in a grave after reading it.

Note: Not from an actual Tinder correspondence.

But why not a simple hello? If we match on Tinder, it means we’ve already established that we’re attracted to each other (theoretically, at least). The awkward part is over and basic chitchat would seem in order. Besides, I’m not really being witty if it took me 30 minutes and a dozen rewrites to craft that one-liner.

I’m much better in person than I am corresponding via Tinder’s texting system. So when Tinder announced it was hosting a singles mixer in Los Angeles on Valentine’s Day, I couldn’t resist seeing how I’d fare Tinder-ing in real life.

I have no idea what to wear. The Tinder “Not So Lonely Hearts Club” event is being thrown at E.P & L.P. in West Hollywood, a restaurant Google Maps describes as “a swanky rooftop bar and indoor Asian eatery.” I’d describe my style as one part preppy, one part lumbersexual, one part “hip English professor” and three parts “straight white guy who’s just trying his best not to look like an asshole.” My wardrobe is definitely not swanky, and I’m already regretting my RSVP. Eventually I settle on black jeans, black socks, black shoes, a light gray V-neck t-shirt and a dark gray military-jacket (aka the coolest piece of clothing I own).

On its face, Tinder hosting an event for singles is antithetical to Tinder’s very existence. The app’s success is predicated on letting people vet potential mates without having to endure the annoyances of clubs and bars.

But the event makes perfect sense in that it addresses Tinder’s fundamental flaw: For a dating app, Tinder produces precious few dates. Tinder might have streamlined the mutual attraction process, but it sucks at helping users transition their matches into real-world interactions.

Image via @angelinacindy / Instagram

Checking my Tinder account, I’m shocked to realize I have more than 100 matches, a staggering number considering how few Tinder dates I’ve actually gone on. Usually, my matches and I never contact each other at all, our attraction fading the moment it’s reciprocated. Of my matches, approximately 12 have led to texting outside the Tinder app, and only a handful of those text threads — six or so — have resulted in dates. (And exactly none of them have evolved into a substantial relationship.)

So IRL Tinder matching seems a shrewd, albeit curious, move for the company. Us singles would probably spend V-Day either at a bar or Tinder swiping on our couches, otherwise. Combining the two is a natural marriage.

I arrive at the event an hour late (I’d sooner wander into LA traffic than show up on time to a singles mixer) and instantly my worst fears are realized. Just outside the entrance are four bros bro-ing out while looking sharp. They all have cool haircuts and well-kept facial hair and smartly-cut blazers (ugh, I knew I should’ve worn a blazer). Worse, they have that palpable confidence that comes with going out in a pack while I’m here alone like a doofus. I wait around the corner to play with my phone, gather some of my newfound chill and wait for the bros to go back inside.

Once on the rooftop, my nerves subside. I’m not underdressed at all — there are dudes here in shorts, sandals, boat shoes, ball caps. Nearly all the women are in dresses, however, proving MEL editor Tierney Finster’s theory that men generally don’t deserve the women they court.

Other than the Tinder logo glowing in a red neon sign, there’s no indication that this is indeed a Tinder-sponsored event. Despite having to RSVP, no one is checking in attendees, and there’s no wristband indicating who’s here for the Tinder party and who’s just here. There’s a Tinder specialty cocktail, The Swipe Right (half off, at $6), but it’s really just a Moscow mule with an insufficient amount of vodka. If anyone should know the importance of alcoholic lubricant, it’s an online dating app.

I approach the bar for a second time when a short brunette woman, Lena (not her real name), asks me, “Back again already?,” saving me from being alone. Lena’s pretty excellent — she’s sweet, has a fabulous smile and wants to get into political consulting for the Democratic Party (arguably the most attractive thing a woman’s ever said to me). I spend the next two hours with Lena and her two friends, Rebecca and Amber, discussing an array of topics including Making a Murderer, conspiracy theories, whether JFK or Bill Clinton was the more charming president (“For sure JFK,” says Rebecca), The People v. O.J. Simpson, the show’s portrayal of the Kardashians (she does not approve), whether the Kardashians would have become famous were it not for the Simpson trial and whether their rise to fame makes the Simpson saga any more or less tragic.

As with everyone I meet, Lena and her friends ask me, “Is there a Tinder event going on?” It’s unclear if people are genuinely oblivious or just embarrassed to admit they came here for some face-to-face Tinder-swiping. Even after I cop to being here for the event, Lena and co. insist they’re here on their own accord.

Image via @mplno / Instagram

The two men sitting next to us are obviously here for the Tinder event, though. They’re both wearing red shirts — one is in a Lacoste polo, and the other has on a T-shirt that reads “I’M WITH CUPID” with an arrow pointing to his left. At one point the man in the cupid shirt pulls a blonde woman to his table from the bar and says to his friend, “Look what I’ve found.” Minutes later, while walking into the bathroom I overhear a man tell his friend, “Hell yeah, I got a date with her. We’re gonna walk our dogs together.”

There’s definitely a sense that people are inspecting and judging each other, but I suppose that makes it like any other night out in West Hollywood. The laziest criticism of Tinder is that it’s superficial because it encourages users to make snap judgments about potential mates, but it’s not so different than the mental calculus people engage in when scanning the crowd at a bar. If anything, Tinder might be less superficial — in real life, people don’t walk around with a list of interests written on their chests.

The only truly awkward moment occurs when a bartender interrupts my conversation with Lena to tell her the shaggy-haired gentleman sitting against the wall — a dude who has been stalking the crowd since I first arrived — would like her to have a glass of water. I stand there stunned by the man’s audacious creepiness. A fucking water? He might as well have sent over a Rohypnol on a gleaming silver platter. Lena quickly and elegantly rejects the drink and asks the bartender to say that, while it was a sweet gesture, she’s hydrated just fine, thank you.

Near the end of the night, I’m at the bar when I’m distracted by an engagement ring that’s far too gaudy for my Midwestern sensibilities. Its owner is Tinder’s Director of Events Lauren Probyn, who tells me the company facilitates 1 million dates a week. But when I ask her how Tinder knows when a match leads to a date, she has no answer.

Her silence might be why Tinder is doubling its investment in live events this year. Tinder hosted one event per month last year in cities across the nation, and would like to host twice as many this year, according to Probyn.

And, honestly, I would go to another one. I leave the bar with Lena’s number and a tentative plan to have her take me hiking. So I guess Tinder played its host role successfully. If only it could now convince her to return my texts.