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Mobile Match Apps Are 'Dating On Steroids'

Matchmaking apps like Tinder can help people find potential dates quickly.
Matchmaking apps like Tinder can help people find potential dates quickly.

It's Valentine's Day, and if you aren't giving roses to someone special — or getting them — you might be thinking ahead to next year.

But OkCupid and may be considered old-school ways to find a mate. These days, whether you're gay or straight, the online dating scene is all about apps. Like a lot of technological change, apps bring efficiency to the process. But that isn't always a good thing.

Kristy Vannatter used to use the online dating service eHarmony, but she says it was a lot of work.

"It was just a lot of time looking at people's profiles," she says. "People write a lot."

Most importantly, she didn't find Mr. Right despite spending more than $250. Then a friend told her about an app called Tinder. "This is just so quick and instant," she says. "It is a little bit like a video game because you can kind of be like yes, yes, no, no."

The app lets you say yes or no to profile photos. If you swipe left, it's goodbye. Swipe right and it's hello. Tinder is also free.

Tinder user Shawn Dempewolff describes the experience as "dating on steroids." He's been using Tinder for a little over a year. It uses GPS to connect you with people nearby, and it connects to your Facebook page — though, happily for many users, no one on Facebook has to know.

If you indicate you like a picture of someone, that person can message you.

"Everybody goes through phases of using it actively and messaging people," says Dempewolff. "And you go through another phase of using it compulsively and not messaging anyone."

Dempewolff says he met a woman and they dated for five months, but it didn't work out. Tinder claims to make more than 6 million matches a day, and Dempewolff says he finds solace in that.

"You want the feeling that there are enough people that they're out there," he says. "Even if you're not going to meet any of your matches on Tinder in real life, the fact that they are there can give you a little bit of comfort."

And with Tinder, that comfort can be immediate: The ability to instantly message someone nearby makes it perfect for short liaisons.

Kyle McCarthy says he would call it "more of a guaranteed hookup app than a dating app."

The 24-year-old travels a lot for work. He isn't looking for a relationship, and he says he regularly finds women like him. "You swipe right, and then if you get a match it's like, 'Hey, how's it going? What do you like to do?' "

McCarthy says a lot of women then hint pretty quickly that they're not looking for a relationship. "I've had a lot of girls that are like 'I like kissing and cuddling and nice beds' — just like the weirdest crap," he says. "But it's more or less their subtle way of being like, 'So do you want to get together?' "

McCarthy says most of his friends use Tinder for quick hookups. In fact, Tinder is modeled like an older app called Grindr that was developed for the gay male community five years ago.

Clinton Fein, an artist and technologist, uses it instead of hanging out in bars. He says Grindr is "quicker ... and more efficient."

"The whole premise of going to a bar is to drink," he says. "And you don't have to necessarily drink to have sex now, because there's technology."

But the efficiency of both Grindr and Tinder has driven some people to delete their accounts. Olympic gold medal snowboarder Jamie Anderson recently deleted her Tinder account, saying it was "too distracting."

Others, like Corey Wesley, think these apps can get in the way of real intimacy.

"You're almost on a search for the better thing," Wesley says. "I always say that gay men have gay ADD, where they're like,'Oh, OK, I like that, that's pretty, but now I'm going to go to that next pretty thing.' "

Wesley deleted his Grindr account.

Terry Kim, a professional recruiter, says she started to have the same feeling about Tinder. "I was using the same method that I use to recruit engineers to recruit my candidate for my mate," Kim says.

And just like a recruiter with a lot of candidates for a job, she got fussier. "I just felt like I couldn't really decide on anyone," she says. "I kept wondering who else was out there that would be really perfect. I realized that maybe the same people were doing that to me — the people that I was going on dates with."

Of course, it may be that Wesley and Kim would have these struggles regardless of the technology. Benjamin Karney, a social psychologist at UCLA who studies the impact of the Internet on relationships, says looking for the next good thing isn't new to the digital age.

People who are going through bad times already look for alternatives, Karney says. "The Internet just means there's more of them. So it does speed things up and maybe makes it easier to act on an impulse."

For some people the apps are fun, but this isn't how they want to find true love.

"Hopefully, I can find a relationship in an old-fashioned way," says Kyle McCarthy. "Meeting somebody in an interesting setting that I could tell a story about down the line rather than we were both online trying to find people and we found each other."

I guess true romantics will always be with us.

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Laura Sydell fell in love with the intimate storytelling qualities of radio, which combined her passion for theatre and writing with her addiction to news. Over her career she has covered politics, arts, media, religion, and entrepreneurship. Currently Sydell is the Digital Culture Correspondent for NPR's All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, and