Tinder and the perceived intimacy of online relationships


Online dating was once stigmatised as a service designed for those who were desperate for love, and for those who wanted to deceive other people (Ramirez, Bryant Sumner, Fleuriet & Cole, 2014). Digital technology has changed this, and now approximately 15% of Australians are using mobile-dating application, Tinder (Bruce-Smith, 2015). Smartphones and applications have changed the way people approach romantic relationships (Newett, Churchill & Robards, 2017). There is an increase of teens finding relationships and sexual partners through social networking websites (Blunt-Vinti, Wheldon, McFarlane, Brogan & Walsh-Buhi, 2016), and middle-aged to older individuals are using the internet to meet a greater range of people (Vandeweerd, Myers, Coulter, Yalcin & Corvin, 2016). Unfortunately, due to the popularity of Tinder, online dating now involves less courtship than ever. This paper will analyse how communication over the internet is negatively affecting the intimacy of relationships, and more specifically the affect that Tinder has had on the online dating industry and intimate relationships.

Social networks have grown increasingly popular with the spread of the internet and mobile devices (Baym, Zhang, Kunkel, Ledbetter & Lin, 2007). Interpersonal communication is an important way that people choose to use the internet, and there are now a multitude of different ways that people can do so (Cummings, Butler & Kraut, 2002). The use of online social networks has changed the way that people connect with their friends and personal networks (Boase, 2008). Communicating through instant messages, group chats, commenting on Facebook threads, and interacting through other social media applications such as Snapchat or Twitter has become prominent, and is gradually replacing face-to-face and telephone communication (Baym et al., 2007).

Personal networks are defined by Boase (2008) as ‘the set of social ties that an individual knows and communicates with’. Social ties have two key functions: cognitive and behavioural (Boase, 2008). Both the cognitive and behavioural elements of social ties are affected depending on what type of communication medium is used for interpersonal relationships. The cognitive dimension of a social tie is the belief that the social tie does indeed exist, the feeling of closeness that the social tie provides, and memories and past associations with the social tie (Boase, 2008). The behavioural dimension of a social tie is construed by the communication that transpires by way of mediated and unmediated communication (Boase, 2008). Therefore, the mode of communication can partially define an interpersonal relationship.

When comparing social relationships that have been built through communicating offline (face-to-face and over the telephone), to those built online, it has been found that offline relationships involve more effort and result in a greater level of closeness and intimacy (Cummings et al., 2002). Intimacy in this regard, relates to concepts including love, support, attachment, and sexuality (Lomanowska & Guitton, 2016). Although the internet has provided a way of communicating with loved ones overseas or interstate, and allows asynchronous and synchronous communication, when it comes to establishing and sustaining new relationships, the internet is less effective than face-to-face connections (Cummings et al., 2002). This has also been discovered through studies with students learning online versus in the classroom; the students in the classroom find it easier to connect with their peers than those communicating solely online (Cummings et al., 2002).

Online dating is as old as the internet, however, there is now a lot less stigma attached to finding love online as the online dating industry grows (Rosewarne, 2016). In May 2017, of a reported 54,350,000 single Americans, 49,650,000 (91%) had tried online dating (Hance, Blackhart & Dew, 2017). Online dating allows users to choose which elements of themselves they want to represent, and allows people to be more selective in their self-presentation (Hance et al., 2017).  There are many reasons why individuals turn to online dating sites as opposed to more traditional methods of finding a relationship. Adolescents between the ages of 13-19 are the most engaged users of the internet and social networking websites (Blunt-Vinti et al., 2016). Adolescents have reported that they are more satisfied when they find a sexual relationship offline rather than when they find one online (Blunt-Vinti et al., 2016). It is also reported that online relationships in adolescents are less likely to result in long-term commitment compared to offline relationships (Blunt-Vinti et al., 2016). In other words, adolescents predominately use online dating to find a sexual partner. Middle-aged individuals use online dating as it becomes harder to meet people as you age (Aske, 2011). In older adults aged between 50-64, the desire for companionship has led to an increase in online dating popularity (Vandeweerd et al., 2016). Vandeweerd et al., (2016) have also found that older women chose online dating as it allows them to meet a broader range of people.

This leads to how the social networks stream ties in with the argument of this essay: how the social application Tinder has changed the nature of online dating and how this change has negatively influenced the perception of intimacy within online relationships.  Tinder is a social network that has grown popular, resulting in a lot of individuals utilising the application to seek relationships. As online communication does not create as much closeness as face-to-face communication (Cummings et al., 2002), and assuming that Tinder users have not previously met each other in person, relationships established through Tinder will change the intimacy of relationships in an undesirable way, and relationships for Tinder users will be perceived as less satisfactory.

Different dating services tend to encourage different types of intimate connections (Newett et al., 2017). For example, application Grindr has been designed as a ‘hook up’ application for gay men exclusively, not an application for gay men seeking a long-term relationship (Newett et al., 2017). Currently, the top 5 most popular dating websites within Australia include Match, Plenty of Fish, Zoosk, OkCupid, and eHarmony (“Top 15 Most Popular Dating Websites – July 2017”, 2017). Match is rated number 1 with 35,000,000 estimated unique monthly visitors at 1 July 2017 (“Top 15 Most Popular Dating Websites – July 2017”, 2017). Tinder currently has 3,500,000 users in Australia, which is approximately 15% of the population (Bruce-Smith, 2015). This data demonstrates that more and more relationships are established through Tinder.

Tinder is a location-based application that is popular with younger generations (Newett et al., 2017). Tinder is free to download, and must be linked in to a user’s Facebook page, which makes it less likely for people to create false Tinder profile pages (Newett et al., 2017).  Tinder has established a reputation as a hook up application rather than an application designed to create long-lasting, intimate relationships. As Tinder is the most popular dating mobile phone application, it is negatively affecting the intimacy of relationships (Sumter, Vandenbosch & Ligtenberg, 2016). Men are more likely to use Tinder to find a sexual partner than women are, which means there might be some imbalance within the application (Newett et al., 2017; Sumter et al., 2016). Other motivations for using Tinder apart from casual sex that have been identified for both men and women include love, self-worth validation, thrill of excitement, trendiness, and ease of communication (Sumter et al., 2016). These motivations for use demonstrate how Tinder has changed the nature of online dating, which was traditionally used to find a long-term partner.  Many online dating websites assess user’s characteristics and goals in life in order to match up potential partners (Gatter & Hodkinson, 2016). Tinder simply presents other Tinder users to the individual that are in their area and in an age bracket determined by the individual (Gatter & Hodkinson, 2016). Users can then either ‘like’ or ‘reject’ one another. If two users ‘like’ each other, they are then able to establish a conversation (Gatter & Hodkinson, 2016).  If one user ‘likes’ a user who does not ‘like’ them in return, they are unable to start a conversation with them.

Tinder has transformed online dating through its interface (David & Cambre, 2016). Many compare swiping for partners on Tinder like a rating system, popularity contest, a game, and even as a way of ‘shopping online for a partner’ (David & Cambre, 2016). As Tinder is image- based, the levels of intimacy are low (David & Cambre, 2016). Intimacy is traditionally characterised as ‘closeness, familiarity, and privacy’ (David & Cambre, 2016). Tinder is not known as a place to really get to know someone and learn their hopes and dreams, rather, people are dismissed with a simple swipe (David & Cambre, 2016). As the majority of people using Tinder’ main motivation is casual sex, the online dating landscape has changed (Gatter & Hodkinson, 2016).

Tinder has had a negative effect on the intimacy of relationships through the normalisation of online harassment. Tinder users are generally younger and more sexually permissive (Gatter & Hodkinson, 2016), however, this has resulted in a lot of negative experiences using the application. It has been reported that females in particular struggle with receiving unwanted graphic images, verbal abuse, and unwanted sexual invitations from male Tinder users (Thompson, 2018). An Instagram account titled “Tinder Nightmares” has been created to raise awareness of the behaviour happening on Tinder, and has over 1 million followers, however, it seems to be used more for entertainment (Thompson, 2018).  Most of the verbal abuse occurring on Tinder towards women is based on their looks and weight, with users sending crude messages that they would unlikely actually say to someone face-to-face (Thompson, 2018).   Ultimately, Tinder is making online harassment more acceptable and commonplace, with individuals becoming desensitized to the content (Thompson, 2018). it has also made the process of online dating all very fast and quite shallow (David & Cambre, 2016). The result of the normalisation and even expectation of this behavior when using Tinder has affected the perceived intimacy of establishing a relationship through Tinder.

Women on Tinder are expected to be willing to partake in casual sex or a hook up, even if this is not their motivation for using the application (Thompson, 2018).  Due to the large amount of unwanted sexual messages and pick up lines, some women are even going as far as putting in their profile page that they are not interested in a one-night stand or sexual encounter (Thompson, 2018). As women are more likely to establish intimacy through conversation, disclosure, and learning about one another, it is less likely they will be able to establish intimacy on Tinder as there is a perceived lack of meaningful communication (Rau, Gao, & Ding 2008). Regardless of this, inappropriate messages from men to women on Tinder is still a large issue, and affects the potential for intimacy between Tinder users (Thompson, 2018).

Tinder has changed the nature of online dating in multiple ways. Whilst Tinder has assisted with reducing the stigma of online dating services. Tinder has affected the intimacy of relationships through the expectation of casual sex from just using the application, and the normalisation of verbal insults, judgements and unwanted comments to women. The likelihood of acquiring meaningful connections using Tinder is low due to the fast-paced ‘swipe left, swipe right’ encounter. Tinder’s reputation in general has resulted in a shift in the way people seek out companionship online.





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Tinder and the perceived intimacy of online relationships by Hayley Jones is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

10 thoughts on “Tinder and the perceived intimacy of online relationships

  1. Hi Hayley,

    This was a really interesting read for me as I’m not a Tinder user and have no desire to be one. I definitely agree with the crux of your argument but have a few questions. Regarding face-to-face communications vs online communications, what category do you feel video chat falls? I wouldn’t expect it to be equal in terms of intimacy, given a lack of physical contact, but would it be considered preferable to telephone communications? Do you think the inclusion of video chat in online dating apps would help to curtail the negative impacts of online dating?

    You also state ” Other motivations for using Tinder apart from casual sex that have been identified for both men and women include love, self-worth validation, thrill of excitement, trendiness, and ease of communication (Sumter et al., 2016)”. Are these motivations a result of the app or has it simply provided a platform for people with these motivations to seek one another out? If so, could it be argued that Tinder, and other dating apps, don’t negatively impact intimacy but rather enable those who are prone to low intimacy to seek one another out?

    Kind Regards,

    1. Hi Adrian,

      I definitely never want to be a Tinder user myself!

      You bring up an interesting point regarding video chat. I would say it is still online communication, but alike talking on the phone I think it can help build a connection with someone. I wonder if there would be less ‘matches’ on Tinder if communication was required through video chat?

      Those motivations are the reasons why people decide to use the application, not a result of Tinder. I would argue that people have found matches long before the rise of online dating, and perhaps it is a healthier way to overcome low intimacy issues to put yourself out there in the real-world. 🙂

      Thank you

    1. Hi Angela,

      Thank you so much for spending that link! It was an interesting read and something I could have incorporated into my paper. Crazy to think that people are making a business out of trying to create romantic connections on behalf of their busy client!

  2. I really enjoyed reading your paper Hayley! Similar points to mine in the sense of Tinder and how people are perceived by one another.

    Interesting points on the comparison of intimacy offline and online and which one can actually result in more success. Communication offline gages more effort used therefore more intimacy whereas chatting through apps and online although extremely convenient, can have a less level of closest to users as its occurring via a screen.

    Although dating apps are proven to be extremely popular and continuing to rise, they have affected and implemented a shift of intimacy in relationships because of the ease of access and the motives people have to use them such as casual sex etc.

    1. Hi Alexandra,

      I think I will go ahead and read your paper next as it is related to my topic!

      It has definitely been interesting to go through my twenties in a time where online dating used to be something that people were ashamed of and embarrassed about, to people now openly using dating applications.

  3. Hi Hayley,

    You have said “As Tinder is the most popular dating mobile phone application, it is negatively affecting the intimacy of relationships (Sumter, Vandenbosch & Ligtenberg, 2016)” – What exactly do you mean by this statement?

    Although online harassment is a serious issue, can we directly relate it to the lack of intimacy in relationships? I would have thought the mere fact that any sort of relationship through a dating app such as Tinder is restricted to online communication (at least at first) would limit intimacy between partners. I don’t think relationships would be initiated with people who attack or bully other users for their appearance, weight etc, so measuring intimacy in that instance may be unnecessary.

    I do think that the reputation for Tinder to be used as a hook-up application would limit the ability for users to feel comfortable to open up about personal issues, and therefore become closer, more familiar and by definition, intimate. From listening to my friend’s experiences with Tinder, intimacy tends to eventuate after partners have connected and moved on from Tinder – perhaps by text or Facebook, and then in person.

    Interested to hear your thoughts!

    1. Hi Elise,

      Thank you for your comments on my paper.
      What I meant by “As Tinder is the most popular dating mobile phone application, it is negatively affecting the intimacy of relationships (Sumter, Vandenbosch & Ligtenberg, 2016)” is that the intimacy of relationships are being negatively affected because the most popular dating application is mainly used as a hook-up application, thus reducing intimacy.

      I relate online harassment to the lack of intimacy as I believe that applications including Tinder are normalising this type of behaviour.

      I have spoken to my friends who have used to Tinder too, the males seeming to think it is a numbers game (swiping yes on every girl), and female friends who are receiving unsolicited photos.. obviously this is a very limited sample.

      Thank you!

  4. Hi Hayley,

    I discovered Tinder when I was 16, only two years ago. During that time, I have made a handful of friends that I believe have the ability to last for life, and experienced a couple of real relationships. The first was electric, but did not last for long because we were very different people and, well, the first thing you consider when you swipe through Tinder is looks! The second relationship I am still in. We got engaged only five months after first getting together. Today is actually our second year anniversary, and I can say 100% that I am more in love with her than I have ever been with anyone or anything in my life, and that that love only grows with each passing day.

    I am suuuuuper grateful for what that app has given me, because I honestly don’t believe we would have ever crossed paths had I not chosen to download it, and if that had not happened, my whole life today would be very, very different.

    While online dating is viewed with a negative eye in today’s society, you can get a lot from it if you keep your mind open. You can even make friends! I have known a lot of people that have made profiles purely for friendships, and have never strayed outside of this intention.

    Great paper, with very interesting considerations!


    Josephine Gunther

  5. Hi Josephine,

    That’s a very romantic story and you are lucky! Do you know many other people who have found a long-lasting relationship on Tinder?

    I definitely agree that it is a great way to meet people from many different walks of life that you may have not otherwise had the chance to interact with.

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