Swipe Me If You Can
“So where did you two meet?” a cuddly brunette sitting across from me asks while snuggling to her boyfriend. Mine left the table a minute ago.
“Let’s tell everyone we met at a library,” pops into my head from one of the many whimsy male profiles I’ve been scrolling through for months. It surely had a nice story that would come in handy.
“Only our chicks can turn a mere online app into a parody of a quest for a soulmate,” wrote in the ‘About me’ section of his profile one perky young man whom I never choose or, as they say on Tinder, “never swiped right.” This couple will think exactly the same!
“Uh.., on Tinder!” I shot out (avoiding embarrassment in front of my boyfriend for lying).
“Oh, high five, we too! Been together for seven months, not too long but still. And you?” happily relates the girl.
Six months. Soon after this friendly get-together we’ll break up. But each of us will now know how to cure loneliness quickly.
In a few days, my ex will update his picture and re-download Tinder. So will I.
Kyiv at Play
When in 2014 Olha Melnyk pondered over a topic for her second thesis, she would hardly imagine what followed. As a media and visual culture researcher, she decided to study Tinder—at the time, a novel dating app in our climes. Unlike traditional and by then retarded Badoo, Tinder just needed your name. And some photos, of course—their choice determines success.
Nothing nasty, no one in the nuddy. Instead, plenty of artistic and not so artistic selfies of faces and abs, showing off fancy cars and expensive watches, shots of chilling in the mountains, on a beach, in a club. Sometimes against dingy wallpaper or green trees. It all depends on the purpose. As shown in Olha’s research, for the Ukrainians registered on Tinder, it is quite specific.
The app was designed to help those looking for a one-night stand. And right enough, such queries prevail in the USA and Europe. Yet there are other motives. One of the main in Ukraine—to find (why not?!) your other half. In their mini-bios haughty Ukrainian men and women are pretty upfront: “serious relationships only”, “I’m not here for a quickie”. But that’s not the whole story.
Olha interviewed many friends who use the app and discovered that Ukrainian women often veil their true motives.
“In our culture it is not yet customary for women to be open about wanting just sex,” the researcher says.
When she started working on her thesis, dating websites and apps were considered a taboo in Ukrainian society. People from Kyiv and suburbs just never used them! Olha used to open the app several times a day from different locations, yet she could only see a dozen profiles. And even those few belonged to foreigners with a penchant for Ukrainian women.
Searching for data, Olha tweedled her European and American friends into using Tinder, along with a good part of Kyiv’s creatives. She now half-jokingly calls herself a Tinder-Evangelist bringing the good news of this culture to the capital.
Tinder-mania also has some objective reasons—the vogue for smartphones, fast pace of life and addiction to career success. There are loads of Kyivans on Tinder these days. It would take weeks to go through all the profiles.
The contact scheme is simple: setting desired parameters for your ‘half’—sex, age, maximum range—and reviewing the selected profiles. When you ‘like’ someone, your profile gets added to his or her list of candidates. They won’t know you ‘liked’ them unless they ‘like’ you too (except for a paid version with advanced features). Once they do, the screen will happily announce “you are a match!” This enables the chat window.
“Hi! How are you?”, a couple of compliments, a few days of messaging, first coffee-tea-wine and then—whatever luck holds. Either way, if you are open to new, albeit fleeting and unhappy, dating—Tinder will be a good guide to the world of opposite sex.
And I got a chance to elicit the dearest wishes of modern young men. As well as ask why people don’t meet on the street anymore.
A House with No Doors
“What girl would like a guy who’s building a house for himself?” Andriy, 27 years old, complains in a message.
Why not? Ambitious, prudent, hard-working, and with assets.
“Fancy to see some pictures of the construction?” the young man asks. “I’m a bit of a dreamer but here’s the room for a family home theater.”
A few days of messaging, and I knew quite a bit about him—his problems, failures, fears and exes. But when we met, he seemed like a different person.
“Come, quickly” untidy, sleepy Andriy barely says hi pulling me to have some ramen. Tells me how he’s made a few bucks this morning. Everyday work is hard and colleagues can’t do without him. His stock of clothes consists of two pairs of pants and a couple of shirts—he’s scraping up for the house. His moves are full of nervous twitches. And he swears too much, out of time and out of place.
I ask him if he likes travelling.
“How can you travel if you don’t have an apartment of your own?”
“Then you must be dreaming of travelling once you’ve finished the house?”
“Of course not. Then I’ll start saving up for an apartment.”
“Why would you also need an apartment?”
“Five apartments, actually. Have you heard of passive income? You don’t work but rental money keeps coming in. I will not stop until this wallet always looks like this!” Andriy throws his plump, yet old and shabby wallet on the table.
“But you’ll be 40-plus, and only then will see the world and perhaps realize that you’ve missed out on so much”, I tread carefully as if I haven’t noticed the gesture he’s just made.
“Bah, I’m not going anywhere even then. Will just lie on my couch…”
Still, we spent a few hours walking on the Trukhaniv Island. Even had another date.
On our third date, he invited me to his place in Boryspil. No, not to seduce—for such matters Andriy requires a medical certificate from the gynecologist he trusts.
“Don’t wanna waste it on walks and restaurants. I’d like you to see how I live from the start. And be by my side.”
Way Too Many Children
IT pro Oleksandr initially said he was 22. His Tinder says he is 24—to catch the older girls’ eye.
As a matter of fact, he is 21. “What do I talk about with someone barely legal?” my 25 year-old self was thinking.
He actually turned out being a very interesting person. We meet right after his deception was exposed—soon after his birthday. He’s not keen to tell me how it went. Instead, he talks about his existential crisis. He is very tall, handsome, sweet and a bit stooped. But looking into his eyes of a 35-year-old, you understand he knows what he is talking about.
“I don’t like girls my age because they are immature. They often talk about their mom and have no jobs.”
Oleksandr studies maths and has had a job since his freshman year. Just then he and his girlfriend decided to rent an apartment. He had to go all-out. And so it started—classes-work-home.
Three years later, he signed up for Tinder looking for a new relationship.
“I don’t really know how to meet people in real life. Besides, it’s not always possible. Women are either accompanied by other women or too busy staring at their smartphones.”
Oleksandr has got some 15 dates under belt. He is pretty amazed that three girls got bedded on the first date. A few more “surrendered” later. Perhaps, that is one of the reasons why the relationships never developed. But that wasn’t because these Tinder girls were what some may call “easy”.
“I find it hard understanding what “easy” means. Girls are taught from childhood to be a certain way, and then half their lives they are shamed for not being able to get sex as easily as men can. It’s a type of control and manipulation.”
What surprises him is conventionality, passiveness, inability to keep up a conversation and lack of self-reflection. He is no longer drawn to Tinder much.
“The community is overall adequate but there are way too many children—from 16 to 30.”
— Погано розумію, що таке легкодоступна. Дівчат із дитинства до такого привчають, а потім півжиття соромлять за те, що вони не можуть так просто, як чоловіки, задовольнити свою потребу в сексі. Це такий спосіб контролю та маніпуляції.
“At first it was just a code, if only I knew where it would take me…” annotated his profile a 26 year-old blonde software developer in glasses.
And I bit the bait, writing him a message in the middle of the night.
“Listen, what code?”
“I have no idea myself!”
“Why write about it then?”
“Didn’t know what else to do. My brother has been bringing home a new Tinder date every Friday. While nothing worked out for me. I wrote them “Hi”. Then I wrote them “Hi! How are you?” They never replied. I even tried “Hi! Show me your tits!” Some of them did, but I think they just downloaded the pictures from internet.
And then I wondered what I would fall for myself. What could I write to draw them in? So I thought of this code! And you know what? 150 swipes in a week. And loads, loads of messages.”
I invited Dmytro for a date myself. He told me we would climb the Castle Hill. He took me by the hand and led me, through ice and snow, to the top—his way of “testing new acquaintances for endurance.”
It turns out he dabbles with light drugs. He sketches their classification and properties on the snow—it’s fun. He is also writing a book—and is quite good at it.
“I’m on my way. Will be there in 5 minutes!” he shouts to a friend on the phone while buying coffees for the two of us.
He is lively, smart and sociable—shouldn’t have problems with girls. Once in college he joined a blind date marathon, and in a few minutes had an astonishing success: got 10 out of 10 phone numbers. Never called any of them.
He had no Tinder dates before me. Didn’t even text much.
“In fact, I should delete my profile. If you ask what I was looking for,” he fell into a muse. “If I only knew!”
But researcher Olha Melnyk knows even the rough number of such “don’t-knows”: up to 5% of app users. They are just having fun and not looking for anything.
Personal growth trainer and social technologist Dmytro Wolf, who, among other things, for 10 years has been offering pickup courses for men in Kyiv, is even more point-blank.
“People mostly use such apps to feed their egos. Say, a girl gets liked by 150 guys. She has absolutely no wish talking to them, learning about them or dating them. The fact that she got liked is enough for her to close the app and log back in three days later when her ego needs more pleasing.”
Over the past five years, Wolf has been noticing a further negative trend: fast-food in relationships. To meet someone, you no longer need to spend hours getting ready, make yourself up, go somewhere and smile. You can now do it sitting on a couch wearing socks and having a pizza.
“Social contacts are expanding yet getting flatter. Sated with quantity, people are skipping the get to know stage and immediately demanding quality. Delusion arises that everyone is shallow, “incomplete”, Wolf explains. “People want to be absolutely sure that this date will lead them to a lasting and happy relationship. Yet they are afraid to explore.”
My Worst Stand-Up
At some point I started getting concerned by the profiles that said, “I never message first”, “I don’t pay for a date”, “pay for your own coffee,” and the arrogant “I seek out no one.”
27 years old Valeriy exuded confidence. MC, entertainer, and comedian—with a mic and smiling on all his sunny photos. He invited me over to a pub for a stand-up show he would participate in. Said he would meet me there.
I call him—he’s running late. Has no plans to be on time anyway. Nor any idea how to find the unfamiliar pub in the labyrinth of streets. He has also no idea that one should book a table in advance, otherwise they seat you on a stool squeezed in between coats and other people.
I spend 40 minutes waiting for my date.
I am still having fun—comedians are performing, and people are rolling laughing. For some, it is a debut. An attractive young man sitting next to me explains who is who. Why would I call Valeriy every five minutes to ask where he is? After all, he does know I am waiting for him.
And then, someone looking like him arrives. He is short, diffident, and baldish. He is standing less than a meter away from me. “Maybe it’s not him?” I wonder.
The guy plugs in his earphones and starts pacing around. I look at my phone— no calls or messages. But he does know I’m waiting for him!
A few minutes later, all my doubts are dispelled. The host calls my date’s name, and the guy beside me shouts back! He takes out his earphones and runs on stage.
“Hello everyone. Sorry but I was so nervous before my performance that I’ve been playing it ten times on my phone.”
It is the first joke he makes, and the best one it seems. The audience is quiet.
His performance, supposed to last for three minutes, ends after one and a half.
“That’s it?” the perplexed host asks.
But Valeriy is already running off the stage, pleased with himself. He hastens pulling his coat and hat on, standing by my side. I’m no haughty, just curious to watch him—what next?
Off he goes. And so do I, feeling like it was the worst date of my life. The next on stage is my attractive neighbour, he is telling something about himself but I am not listening. Instead, I wonder if I really look that much better in the pictures that in real life he didn’t even want to approach me.
It would all have ended with a fit of diffidence, had it not been for the morning message from Valeriy.
“Hi! Stayed on till the end yesterday?”
“Stood beside you all night.”
“Wow, really? You’ll get rich, didn’t recognize you! Will make it up to you, coffee’s on me!”
Integral Part of a Woman
Who is to blame: me, for not calling and reminding him? Or him, for either forgetting, or being too shy to approach me in a group of people or at least letting me know he was there?
Most messages from men along the lines of “message me first” are the result of a few failed dates, Olha Melnyk is convinced. After a few dates they have come to realize that it was all for a free meal or coffee.
Once a girlfriend sent her a screenshot where a foreigner described in a message how he wanted to find a Ukrainian girlfriend or even a wife but was constantly running into gold diggers.
My stewardess friend has heard similar stories. Sometimes the girls would huddle up on board to discuss their Tinder experience: “he bought me this”, “I tricked him into buying me that”. It comes to the point of ridiculousness, “Listen, can you fill in for me? “Mine” is sitting over there and I turned him down!”
Olha Melnyk has never seen girls in other countries to be so mercantile. This may be part of the reason why Ukraine is not so much affected by the American MeToo trend.
“Ukrainian women will never treat men like their American counterparts. Our vision of men as an integral part of our lives and our complete moral, physical and financial dependence on them are too entrenched,” the researcher explains.
Experts agree that global trends casting doubt on female dependence and male initiative will in time сome into play in Ukraine. However, we have a long way to go to reach Norway, where Dmytro Wolf works. He says, girls there are so emancipated that they would in dead earnest sue a guy who helped them remove their suitcase from an overhead compartment on a plane, implying thereby the owner’s weakness and inequality.
In Norway, girls are often the ones initiating sexually loaded dating—if done by a man, this may be considered harassment and take him to court.
“A man, on the other hand, would never sue for this,” Wolf says. “He just wouldn’t be interested.”
Like in the First Grade
We are also miles away from the West because in matters of dating we are still partly living in the frightened USSR.
“In a country where people were afraid of each other, with all the ratting out, crime, and pulling strings to get what you want, where secret police were watching you, there couldn’t be any sex,” Dmytro Wolf says.
At the same time, thousands of kilometers away from barbed wire, a man notices a woman in a café, on the street or on public transport. He comes up to her, they meet, and right there he suggests the time and the place for their date. This culture of distant 70s is still typical of Europe and the USA.
Yet Eastern Europeans and former Soviets did not have time to acquire this culture and quickly jumped on to online tools instead.
Almost half of the audience at Wolf’s pickup courses are young men who don’t know how to conduct themselves. At school, university or home, nobody taught them how to meet people and start up a conversation. Their only source of information, says the trainer, was cinema with its delusion. Now they likewise don’t know how to deal with dating websites.
Wolf teaches these young men what he himself calls “a vinegret of psychology, etiquette, sociology, behaviour and perception strategies.” There is also a big practical part where guys—separately or together, but keeping distance —go out to meet girls.
The girls’ reactions vary. From Wolf’s experience, they mostly snap at them, grumble “I don’t meet on the street”, ignore, or walk on by in alarm.
Sometimes the boys persist and say something along the lines, “What’s more important to you, the place or the emotions someone makes you feel?” Some of the girls stop.
One Norwegian first-grader liked a boy. She decisively took him by the hand and started walking about. During one of the breaks the teacher decided to talk to the boy.
“If you don’t like it, you can tell me. If the girl’s behaviour is not to your liking, pointing it out would be the right thing to do. If her attitude does please you though, then it’s even better to share your feelings.”
The teacher had a similar conversation with the girl.
Wolf, who witnessed the situation, cannot imagine a similar conversation happening at a Ukrainian school.
Yet, 23 year-old Victoria learned it all by herself—on Tinder. Over the three years in Kyiv, an attractive red-haired journalist was approached no more than twice, while with the app she’s had over 50 dates in the first two months alone. And though only two or three of them were kindred souls, she did learn much from this marathon.
She learned to say “no” if in the first half-hour of the date she saw it was not going well. As well as to take initiative when she saw that her date needed a slight push.
She learned to attract, not only by lively pictures but also by meaningful stories. And realized that attitudes ranging from “I will pay for myself” to “I was born to be worshiped with flowers” will not take you far.
She learned not to take someone’s reckless words too seriously. And not to get bogged down in dialogues that die away after answering to “How are you?”
She learned to avoid toxic people and stop those talking too much and never listening. For their next dates will suffer too.
“Tinder is a roulette,” Victoria says, yet now with no vestige of disappointment.
You bet she is not disappointed—she played it and won. And now leaves me in a hurry to meet her fiancé Artem, disappearing in the crowd of strangers on the subway.
[This publication was created with support of the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Ukraine. The views and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Norwegian government.]