Tinder was born at a time when Philadelphia looked vastly different. It was September 2012 — Michael Nutter was in his second term as mayor, Hurricane Sandy had yet to strike the Jersey Shore, and the Eagles were led by Andy Reid and Michael Vick.
The dawn of Tinder transformed online dating and made it far more accessible. Instead of searching for love via paid memberships to Match or eHarmony or navigating the web-based OKCupid, singles could log onto a free app and swipe anytime, anywhere, narrowing their search options by age and location.
Tinder is not the only popular dating app nowadays. There’s also app-based Bumble, Hinge, and LGBTQ-focused Grindr (which was founded in 2009 but has drawn controversy in recent years), just to name a few.
Dating app usage has changed over time, most notably in recent years as the coronavirus pandemic made the question “Are you vaccinated?” commonplace and the answer, for some, an indicator of moral compatibility. But the ease of use has remain relatively unchanged.
“The thing about Tinder is it’s easy. It’s simple. You pick it up, you swipe a few times, you put it down,” said Amy Marren, 55, who was single for more than a decade before meeting her husband on Tinder in 2019. “Back in the day, I had to go on Match on my computer.”
Now, all you have to do find a potential partner is swipe right.
On Bumble, the only app-based dating service with publicly available data about the region, more than 1.6 million “first moves” had been made in the Philadelphia region since its launch eight years ago, according to an app spokesperson. Some have bonded in perhaps the most Philly way possible, too, with 1 in 10 Bumble profiles in Philadelphia including the word “Eagles” as of August.
Cara Graeff matched with her now-husband, Conor Lyons, on Tinder eight years ago, when both were Temple students. After a first date at the university Saxby’s turned into a full-fledged relationship and later an engagement, Graeff, 30, said she remembered being somewhat “unnerved” when telling people that they met on Tinder, which to some had a reputation as a “hookup app.”
Graeff, who now lives in Fishtown, said the dating-app stigma has changed in the last decade, at least in her social circle: “It had a different connotation then it does now. There’s been an evolution in people’s forthcoming-ness about meeting on an app rather than in the wild.”
But as more and more people turn to apps to find love, the endless swiping and streaks of lukewarm dates can leave some singles feeling “burned out” and miserable, as the New York Times reported last month. The article cited a spring survey of 500 daters that found nearly 80% of 18-to-54-year-olds said they were emotionally burned out or fatigued with dating apps.
The feeling is familiar even to those who eventually found their person on an app.
“I’d do it for a little bit, get annoyed, delete all the apps,” said Beth Algeo, now 35, recounting the time before she met her husband, Evan Langdale, on Tinder in 2016. “As much as you want to keep it light and fun, it’s hard. It’s a huge time commitment.”
Others have mixed feelings.
“I don’t think [apps are] good or bad,” said Alec Cottone, 27, of South Philadelphia. “It’s just the current situation — what dating is like these days.”
Cottone said he was on the apps on and off for a couple years before meeting his current girlfriend. The pair were once coworkers then lost touch for a couple years. It wasn’t a dating app that ultimately brought them together, Cottone said, but it was a form of social media — a few messages on the professional networking site LinkedIn.
For the 27-year-old, the apps served a purpose when he was a single professional, and he said he can see their appeal for some.
“Why not go meet someone new and have drinks and a good conversation on a random weeknight?” he said. “It was a good way to meet people and be social.”
These Philadelphians found love connections on the apps
These stories have been condensed for clarity.
“I met my now-wife on Tinder and we had quite the first date. The day we decided to meet after talking for about a week just so happened to be the Philly is Baltimore March that took place in support of protesters in Baltimore in reaction to the murder of Freddie Gray. We didn’t really do too much talking, but I remember us being physically close throughout the whole thing. We were holding hands, making sure we were each OK. It was an emotionally charged time and by the end of the night, I think we both felt such a strong sense of closeness to each other. We’ve been side by side ever since.” — Trinique Waters, 28, of East Falls
“My husband and I met on Hinge and matched based on the ‘two truths & a lie prompt’ — turns out we’re both kidney donors to our dads. We had our first date at Royal Boucherie. We were there for maybe two hours, just totally engrossed in each other. He didn’t even see his best man was sitting at the end of the bar.” — Jessica Kolansky, 37, of Fishtown
“My date lived on the Mount Airy side of the Walnut Lane bridge and I lived on the Roxborough side. We connected on Tinder and I was his only match because he had his radius set so low. In 2016, the bridge was shut down for construction but was open to pedestrians. He was like, ‘I’ve been going out there sometimes to watch the sunset. Why don’t you meet me?’ My initial thought was, ‘This is weird. I’m going to meet this guy I don’t know on this secluded bridge at sunset.’ I was in my workout clothes. I took wine in a to-go cup and I had a cup of cherries. He had a beer and his dog. I knew pretty immediately I wanted to see him again. We were pretty inseparable since then. We went on many more dates in the Wissahickon, and six years later we are married with two kids.” — Beth Algeo, 35, of Schwenksville
“I was running a bit late, so I showed up with wet hair. What was supposed to be just drinks turned into dinner, because I didn’t have time to eat beforehand. We met at Birra in East Passyunk and ordered the same beer and easily agreed on a pizza to share. We continued the date at Cantina Los Caballitos where I asked if he wanted to share a pitcher of margaritas. He told me later that made him hopeful that I liked him since that meant I at least wanted to have a few more drinks with him. I didn’t go on a date with anyone else after that.” — Robin Craren, 34, of Drexel Hill
“I matched on Tinder with a really cute guy on a warm February evening. We were both out in the neighborhood enjoying the unseasonable weather. He was at Parc. I was at Rosy’s Taco. We were both fairly new to living in Center City and within few messages realized we were neighbors and decided to meet up right then. He came to Rosy’s and we shared some margaritas and nachos. Turns out he lived directly across 21st Street from me. His fourth-floor apartment looked directly into my first-floor kitchen sink. We got married in December 2019, 10 months after our first date. We ended up having our wedding reception at Friday Saturday Sunday. … We went there for dates. And I went there the first night I lived at my condo and I’m like, “This is too romantic, I can’t ever sit at this bar by myself again.’” — Amy Marren, 55, of Fairmount
“My current husband and I met on Bumble in July 2018. I brought him to a corporate happy hour at the Cira Centre and he pretended to be my colleague to drink for free. We then went to Barcelona bar on Passyunk and drank gin and tonics and had a wonderful meal. I liked him so much I purposely deleted his number so I wouldn’t text him immediately. Luckily he texted me two days later and we got married in Rome this past October.” — Jennifer Gyecsek, 35, of East Falls