So I’m on Tinder, and this guy messages me: “Mmm.” Not sure what that’s supposed to mean, but I go ahead and respond, asking him if the cat in one of his pictures belongs to him. He responds that yes, it is his cat, and then follows with, “You dtf?” (“Dtf” meaning “down to *expletive.”) Ah. Hm. I do have to give him props for being so direct, but I don’t know of many people who would respond positively to that inquiry. Still, I decide to give him the benefit of the doubt, and I attempt to revive our pathetic conversation. I ask him about the dog that is featured in one of his other pictures. Apparently laughing at my question (extrapolated from his use of the acronym “lol”), he responds that yes, it is his dog, and then proceeds to ask me AGAIN if I was “dtf.” This time, I don’t bother responding.
Now, I would like to explain something—this didn’t happen to me. It happened to Cass.
Enter Cassandra. According to her profile, Cass (as she likes to be called) moved from Georgia to Colorado, enjoys listening to the Beatles, and is “looking for an adventure.” Exactly what type of adventure Cass is looking for remains to be seen however, as we really don’t know much else about her besides her physical appearance: pink hair, average height, blue eyes.
I created Cass. She was born out of a conversation with a friend about what it means to be a stranger, and how online dating is just a streamlined form of interacting with strangers. I decided that I wanted to make a Tinder account to explore this phenomenon, but I didn’t want the person in the profile to be me. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I just didn’t want myself and my life advertised online in that way. I also wanted to see how feasible it would be to create a completely fake person, and use that fake account to interact with (supposedly) real people. So, hello Cassandra! I wanted to know how authenticity plays into creating relationships, specifically romantic relationships. And for this particular endeavor, I wanted to delve into online dating. So, I decided to use the application known as “Tinder.”
Thus began the Cass Project. After acquiring a bubblegum-colored wig and borrowing some of my housemate’s clothes, Tucker (my profound, beautiful, and devoted editor for this article) and I staged the pictures that we were going to use for Cass’s profile. We wanted to make it look like the pictures were from different places and times, so we experimented with flash/no flash, outside versus inside, and costume changes. Tucker, being the dedicated editor that she is, even made a guest appearance in one of the pictures that shows us holding drinks and sitting on a sofa, seemingly at a birthday party. We added a bio, and ta-da! We were live.
Popular folklore asserts that Tinder was created as a way to facilitate easy hookups between desperate (or not-so-desperate) single (or not-so-single) people who live near each other. Keeping this in mind, I wasn’t too surprised to discover that Tinder is often served hot, with a strong peppering of sexual flavor. This is evident in people’s bios, pictures (so much skin!), and messages. One guy advertised: “I may not go down in history, but I will go down on you” front and center on his bio, while another reminded us that: “You can’t choose your father, but you can choose your daddy.” One man even offered free healthcare: “Not a gynecologist, but I’ll take a look,” while another asked the question that has been plaguing us all: “On Tinder, why can women say ‘I only swiped right for your dog,’ but I can’t say ‘I only swiped right for your pussy?’” Another fine sir suggested: “Wanna play Barbie? I can be Ken and you can be the box I come in … I’m a sweetheart.” Thank goodness he redeemed himself with that last part. Another guy displayed his knack for fatherhood: “I’m a father of 2 beautiful kids so you know … 1) I’ll pull out 2) My pull out game is weak af 3) If you act like a spoiled brat, we will mostly likely get ice cream afterwards.” I send my condolences to those two children.
As I became more familiar with navigating the app, I wanted to know more about how Tinder actually worked. After a quick Google search, I discovered something called the “desirability score.” Basically, Tinder scores the “desirability” of people and then tries to match up people with similar “desirability scores.” How do they make these scores? Based off of what? It seems like this scoring system is meant to display “attractive people” to other “attractive people,” and “ugly people” to other “ugly people.” Not only is Tinder deciding who is attractive and who is not, but they then use that information to manipulate and influence their users.
One particular evening I was sitting at my dining room table, focused on a jigsaw puzzle. While I puzzled, Tucker sat across from me, holding my phone and concocting messages to send to random boys on Tinder. She was concentrating on formulating exactly the right thing to say, and we were laughing as she sent the same message to multiple guys: “Just made some homemade dumplings!” Never mind that it was really my housemate who had just cooked dumplings, the Tinder boys were impressed!
A few days later, I received the following message: “Soo you tryna swallow my kids?? [tongue emoji].” Suffice to say, I was thoroughly shook. My first instinct was to ignore this repulsive toad, but then I decided to respond. I asked him about the success rate of that line, and he responded, “Bout 80 percent tbh [shrug emoji].” It seems quite apparent to me that he was bluffing, but I humored him anyway. The conversation didn’t progress very much from there and ended with him asking, “So you don’t wanna?” No response from Cass.
What struck me the most was the sheer amount of confidence that oozed from the men on Tinder. Just for some examples of some of the disgustingly egotistical bios that I saw: “Heard that the world’s bee population is declining, so I hopped on here to snatch all the honey”; “Thicker than a bowl of oatmeal … The size of my calves say it all … Looking for a snack”; “Spend Fitties, Pet Kitties, Suck Titties”; “A 6’5, funny guy with good dick and conversation skills”; and there was even one suitor who documented the size of his penis with “Packing 13 inches … check me out on Snapchat ‘stallion13inch’ if you don’t believe the size.” Another guy informed us: “I’m unstoppable. I like my friends. I work hard and play hard. I like women. If you can cook you can be my friend. Don’t be a dumb bitch and all is well :) my confidence is high and I come across as arrogant … after all I am God’s gift to women.” Why is the default character trait for Tinder boys overconfident douchery? I doubt most of them would say any of this in person, yet it’s the norm in the online world. Why does the disconnect of a screen allow for such distasteful and (seemingly) shameless behavior?
Occasionally my time spent on Tinder elicited a few laughs. One guy’s profile said, “Bio? Nah I’m more of a physics guy.” Other humor was less deliberate: “Yes i know, Im in the Army, but no im not an douche.” Maybe this means I’m a literary snob, but to me, such blatant grammatical errors are hilarious. He really did try though, I’ll give him that. Another guy announced: “I’m ready to stepdad the fuck out of you and your little shitty kids.” I don’t know if his intention was one of comedic relief, but it had Tucker and I laughing for a good few minutes.
The majority of the time however, I felt pretty frustrated about the sheer number of shirtless pictures, douchey bios, and misogynistic attitudes, so I would just go into left-swiping-default-mode. But once, in the middle of my swiping frenzy, I paused and took a second to read this bio: “Have a kid. Was married but my wife just recently passed so I guess you could say I’m just looking for a friend.” I was so taken aback that I almost swiped right. Then I remembered that I had created an entirely fake person for my profile and realized that no matter how bad I felt for this man, there was no way that I ———could swipe right on him. I swiped left. I hope he found a friend.
This guy made me wonder, with the rise of social media, is it becoming harder to make friends in person? Are people turning to apps like Tinder to compensate for a lack of face-to-face friendships? Another man’s bio read, “I’m mostly very comfortable by myself but I’ve been pretty lonely lately. Thought I’d put myself out there …” This honesty also startled me. It’s not even a question or invitation, he simply shares that he feels lonely and that this is his way of putting himself out there. This guy, unlike the others, seemed to be truly searching for a connection. It made me question why I was there.
I would like to preface what I am about to say with this: I have never been catfished. Therefore, I don’t truly understand that particular feeling of deception. In spite of my slightly questionable actions, I never intended to hurt anyone. Nor do most people who catfish—usually they are simply people who are looking for a connection. When we first created the profile, Tucker and I attempted to swipe right on guys that we thought Cass would be interested in (kind of athletic, slightly basic, maybe a little boring). But as the experiment progressed, I began to feel guilty about deceiving (some) sweet boys, and I felt myself start to swipe right only on guys that seemed like jackasses. With their overblown egos and cocky attitudes, they were already slightly delusional and duping them didn’t really seem immoral.
So am I a catfish? I guess I am—a pink-haired catfish. I’m okay with that. Most of those guys seemed like assholes anyway, but maybe they’re just insecure. Can we catfish in the name of art? The pursuit of something more? Maybe the answer is yes.
I didn’t actually ever go on a date. I was so ready to, and I had done all the prep work for going out as Cassandra with some random Tinder boy. By this time, I had even created a whole list of information about Cass to make her believable: she’s from Marietta, Georgia; she worked at Chick-fil-A during high school, she is in her third year at CC (molecular bio major); she has a younger brother named George (nickname Georgie), he’s 17 years old and looking at UGA for college, go Bulldogs! Cass loves pigs and herself, she’s a low-key Christian, loves the Beatles, has had no significant relationships in the past (but had a high school sweetheart) and is experimenting—pink hair, no rules; she has a good sense of humor and an aggressive laugh.
But in the end, I lost my nerve. Thinking about going on a date, wearing a wig, trying to make my voice sound different; all of those thoughts mashed together in my head and left me feeling too guilty. Guilty for thinking I was hot shit, for making a fake Tinder and laughing about it with Tucker. Cass may have been ready to go on a date, but Clare was not. Even though Tinder itself may be inauthentic and deceptive, I still felt bad playing into its games.
Once I actually sat down to begin writing this piece, I immediately asked Tucker if I could delete my Tinder profile. By this point I felt pretty skeevy about the whole thing and was very ready to remove the evidence of my sins (although if I’m being honest, we all know that Cass and her lies are permanently etched into the Tinder data files; deleting my profile is only a thinly veiled attempt at forgetting that disturbing fact). Although now very prevalent in our society, online dating still gives me the heebie-jeebies, and the fact that I had not just a normal profile, but a completely fictional one, was not making me feel any better about the situation.
Tucker laughed and told me to keep it around, in case I needed some inspiration during the writing process. By this time, Cass had been on Tinder for about a month and a half. I really have no idea how many people saw my profile during that time but I guess we can assume that quite a few did. I wonder how many of those men saw right through my facade. I mean, it was just me wearing a pink wig. Even a few of my friends at CC have come up to me, questioning me and laughing at Cass after seeing her profile on Tinder.
Although Cass didn’t have anything remotely resembling a romantic relationship during this Tinder extravaganza, the exchanges she had reminded me of some of my own dismal romances. If I had to categorize my own romantic relationships, I would say that they have been brief. This experience with Cass only served to reinforce my feelings of romantic transience. I couldn’t even have a simple conversation with the boys on Tinder without wanting to rip off my own fingernails, fry them with coconut oil, and then grind them down with my back molars. While messaging the Tinder boys, I was either disgusted or bored. Many of the messages that Cass received were either vulgar pick-up lines or a “hey” and then nothing else. Even if I did respond to the “hey,” usually the responses were never anything more exciting than a “whats up.” No apostrophe, no question mark. Pursuing any semblance of a conversation felt like pulling teeth.
There was one point amidst all of the mindless swiping on random boys that I had a feeling that I still wanted them to swipe right on me, knowing full well that I had portrayed myself as a completely different person. Even though Cass is not me, not Clare, I couldn’t quite separate her from myself. We did share the same body, after all. Even as a completely different person, I wondered why I still wanted people to swipe right on me? It gave me a glimpse into the feelings of affirmation and being wanted that attract people to Tinder and keep them addicted to it. If you “match” with someone, then surely you’re worth something, right? In a way, programs like Tinder depend on those feelings to secure that they have enough users and that those users stay on the app.
Before this whole experiment began, I assumed that Tinder would be some sort of platform for people to meet and for an easy hookup. But amid the overt and offensive sexual offers, I saw profiles of men looking for friendship, someone to drink beers with, someone to hike with, someone to cook with, really anything. Somehow, Tinder has become a platform for people to find companionship. I thought that online dating would be pretty heavily focused on physical need, but it seems to me that it’s really more about the small intimacies that come from any kind of human relationship. People may create a Tinder profile because they haven’t hooked up with anyone in a while and want to “put themselves back out there,” but people also create Tinder profiles because they are missing the feeling of holding hands with someone on a chilly night and the way that cooking for two is always so much more satisfying than just cooking for one. Online dating isn’t simply the gross sex pot that I had previously imagined.
So then what? Where do we go from here? Is this type of loneliness new or are we just seeing it more because of access to technology and social media? It seems that we are so overwhelmed with images of love and romance and companionship and happiness and sex (in the movies, tv, etc.), and we want it—we want it badly—but are too caught up in our own worlds and our own lives that we go home each night, feeling lonely and wanting more. But nothing ever happens so we turn to other options, like these dating apps, and we give them a go.
Ultimately, the Cass Project was inconclusive because it’s clearly a mixed bag—there are people on Tinder like the schmucks just looking for sex, there are people on Tinder looking for a friend, and there are people that you’ll see on there that you know and respect in person. In the end, maybe I was, in a certain way, authentic on Tinder, because I didn’t actually end up going on a date. I felt too guilty to deceive even the shitty guys. So, yes, maybe people aren’t as authentic online as they are in real life, but is that really so bad? Maybe it doesn’t matter if we are authentic or not when meeting someone, because perhaps people really just want to talk to other people. If that makes people feel less alone, then maybe the end justifies the means.
Final thoughts: “You can be the hot thing of the week or my everything. It’s up to you ;)”
Bad Issue | December 2018