Richard Perry/The New York Times

February 17, 2022

Grieving on Tinder

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A few days after Thanksgiving break — a few days after my sort-of-ex-boyfriend got a new girlfriend — I downloaded Tinder. One of my closest friends, with my best interests at heart, said it could be a good idea — a healing idea — which was all the debate necessary to repeal my long-standing resistance to online dating. Although I hadn’t begun to think of dating anyone who wasn’t my sort-of-ex, she told me that maybe male validation could catalyze my moving on. 

Perhaps it’s because I have a sensitive stomach, but Tinder makes me nauseous, both in concept and in practice. From the first time a boy told me I had “nice tits” when I was fourteen, most of my life problems have been rooted in male objectification. Contrary to the message that my low-cut tops and mini skirts may translate, I’ve since hated (most) sexual attention. Yet, here I was, willingly being objectified, reducing myself to photos that I knew would make someone think “nice tits.” Even worse, I was objectifying others in return. 

Going through Tinder was mindless. Before the next card showed up on my screen, I subconsciously knew that I wanted to swipe left. Most of the time I did. Sometimes I didn’t. A handful of times I accidentally super-liked people whom I very much did not “super-like.” Other times, I swiped right. My best friend reminded me that Tinder wouldn’t be much fun if I didn’t make any matches. The logic was sound. 

After two hours on the app, I had swiped through every straight man aged 18 to 24 in a twenty-five-mile radius of Cornell, including nearly three universities and some graduate schools. The app prompted me to “go global,” making my profile visible to people around the world. I deleted it instead. Morally, emotionally and physically, it didn’t feel right.  

After returning from winter break, I re-downloaded Tinder. One of my closest friends and I were eating lunch together while people-watching through a large window. He thought it would be fun to compare our Tinder matches, and I agreed. We had one match in common, which I thought was a wonderful way to strengthen our friendship. 

This time, I kept the app for a little while longer — longer than two hours. I had some unread messages, and I was provided with another batch of people to swipe through. I responded to some and swiped in a similar manner as before: mostly left. Not because everyone seemed particularly terrible or anything, but I was disinterested in guys in general. I didn’t really want their attention.

One day in particular, a 25 year-old guy (for context, I’m 19) asked me to come over to his place and drink wine. He said he would Uber me there. Another man, coincidentally also 25, offered to meet up with me for dinner after he fixed his tennis racket. Another guy, not 25, said he wanted to, “put a couple of babies in [me] and dip.” I appreciated the transparency. I was also nauseous the whole day. 

In all honesty, I was doing it to myself. I had to swipe right for them to be able to message me. I had downloaded the app. I had chosen not to delete it. I had made the decision to stay on, to open the messages, to feel nauseous and to act in defiance of every belief and feeling I held. While it’s not my fault that men were creepy, I had to take at least responsibility for not setting my own boundaries. They were utilizing the app in the intended way: to find hookups, to go on dates, to meet people. While it’s valid for people to want to participate in Tinder for those reasons, I clearly did not want to. For some reason, though, I stayed.

I didn’t understand why I was choosing to do something that conflicted with my beliefs, my experiences, my emotions. However, wanting to make my therapist proud, I momentarily sidestepped my confusion and deleted the app — knowing that’s what she would have told me to do. I was eager to tell her about this the following Friday at 10 a.m. 

When I asked her why I didn’t immediately leave the app, she told me that grief isn’t confined to death. You don’t only feel grief when someone dies. You feel it when things are lost, taken. 

The fact of the matter is, I was grieving. Even if it feels stupid to admit, the fact is, I was definitely, irrevocably, pathetically, still in love with my sort-of-ex. He didn’t exist in my life the way he once did, and that was reason enough for grief — grief that looked like me trying, and failing, to distract myself with other people. The fact of the matter is, I was grieving the innocence I had lost at 14: something I didn’t fully realize until I went back home for winter break, and the boy who told me that I had “nice tits” told me, once again, that I had “nice tits” (amongst other things). 

Grief is funny, fickle. One second it will be crying. Another, it’ll be anger. Turn your head, and it will be nothing. It’ll be Tinder. 

Grief does not become you, it is informed by you. With the realization that grief can and will be self-destructive, with the realization that maybe I’m the problem, I realized that it doesn’t have to be damaging. Yes, it sucks, and it feels shitty, and it will make you do things you wouldn’t do otherwise, but it also means you felt something (dare I say, loved something) that was strong enough to persist despite distance, abuse, death, a compromising situation, time, a new girlfriend, or anything else more inconvenient than not. 

Kacey Lee is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].