All photos by Tom Johnson
Tinder's popularity rises with the increasing number of lonely people in the world. Largely capitalizing on the solitude of the city-dwelling 20-somethings who form the majority of the app's users, it has reduced the human romantic experience down to its most basic level. Your iPhone flashes up a picture of a stranger's face. Put your thumb on it and swipe left if you don't want to have sex with them; swipe right if you do. If you're the kind of puritanical moralist who has issues with that, then fuck you. When you're little more than a faceless urban speck, wedged in that sticky interim period between formal education and a living wage, techno-dogging offers a welcome distraction.
However, I was still a little surprised when my friend forwarded me this invitation to an official Tinder "Launch Party" in London, England:
Why was this party occurring over a year after the app's actual launch? Maybe the launch was going to serve as an inaugural huzzah for a sort of Tinder elite, a pool of the most right-swiped people in Britain. Maybe the people who run Tinder just want to renew the hype around it after a couple of months of the media talking it to death. Could it perhaps be an orgy? Obviously I had nothing better to do that evening, so I went down to take a look and find out what Tinder's finest really thought of Jack, 24, Peckham.
The venue was Cirque Du Soir; a West End club that looks like it was designed to give sociopaths somewhere to drink away their hard ons after watching War Horse. I felt like it was really trying hard to nail that Weimar meets Vegas meets Burning Man decadence that rich people go nuts for, and it had drinks prices to match. You got one free vodka Red Bull upon entry, then drinks rose to $15 a beer or $325,000 for a bottle of Aces.
Thanks to a glowing report in the Sidebar of Shame and the bouncers turning away Justin Bieber once, Cirque Du Soir seems to have earned the kind of rep that transforms even the most no-nonsense Amstel drinker into a black-card asshole as soon as they're through the door. Yet weirdly this atmosphere worked as a kind of grand social leveler. Get beyond the velvet rope and you're pretty much on the same social plane as a sheikh's son. It became clear that we were all together as one—universally confused by whatever the fuck is happening in the above photo.
Not even in the world of West End nightclubs, where they still play funky house and twirl around glow sticks, does a "sexy" dancing midget baby make any sense.
After surveying the club, which was so sleazy its wallpaper was the same design as Robin Thicke's suit, I found out that the vague purpose of the night was to recreate Tinder IRL. So I thought I'd better get on with the task of pestering women who looked like they could cause some damage to my ego. Did the girls here think I was "hot or not"?
Who better to first pose this awkward question to than the woman kind enough to put me on the guestlist? Reluctant to give a definitive answer, she politely deflected me in the same way you might a charity mugger. Her smile is a lie, I put this one down as a "not."
Things got worse. As I was being swept symbolically to the left, I realized that I had become the physical embodiment of Tinder, a single dude looking for love, brushed aside by the beautiful people. I felt like subhuman scum.
There's no more emotionally crushing knock-back than "you're not my type." We all know someone who can compensate for their looks with their personality, just as everybody has encountered idiots whose bone structures allow them to get by on a wink and a smile—AKA all models.
"You're not my type," however, suggests that everything about your very being jars with what someone looks for in the opposite sex. That somehow you are innately "wrong," that everything from your political ideology to the size of your nostrils is out of whack with their worldview. It's the romantic equivalent of a bouncer's ice-cold "not tonight fellas" and tonight, these three were the ex-Balkan war criminals condemning me to a world of rejection, FOMO, and loneliness.
It was when I began to empathize with a dwarf in a pig mask that I realized I wasn't having a great time.
Depressed, I slunk off to the toilets.
This guy cheered me up, though. He seemed to be employed purely to radiate good vibes, and he was definitely earning his tips.
Suddenly, things started to improve. This girl quickly decided I was a right-swipe and even planted a kiss on my cheek. This despite the fact that—judging from these pictures—my attempt at "making an effort" for the night had failed. I'd aimed to come across as someone who shops at ASOS and doesn't just buy wine because it's the cheapest.
This girl was Tinder's PR for the night. Not only is she the kinda girl that'd "make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window" (shouts to you, Ray Chandler); she also happened to be the nicest person I've ever met.
That said, she was a PR, which means it's literally her job to engender good relations between people. But even though it was almost certainly wishful thinking on my part, I was starting to enjoy myself in the company of these strangers. Who knows, perhaps a bit of social assertion isn't such a bad thing after all.
Even this chap was starting to relax and attract some female attention, and he looks like an e-fit. It had taken the combined efforts of the sluttiest hetero hook-up app in the game and "Britain's most louche nightclub" to do it, but this guy was really cutting loose.
Then, at 11 PM, Cirque Du Soir asked us to stop taking pictures. I don't know why or what happens after 11 PM at Cirque Du Soir, because I didn't stay around to find out. If the tabloid reports are anything to go by, I think it involves the dwarf in a pig mask outdoing me and actually getting off with someone.
Despite the night being grotesque, ridiculous and incredibly expensive, it has to be applauded for achieving a rare thing: Practically ridding a nightclub in Soho of awkward sexual tension. I wasn't the only one approaching the opposite sex with the kind of repercussion-free bravado usually reserved for the internet, just as I wasn't alone in cheerily brushing off rejections. (You can't say stuff like "you made me feel like subhuman scum" to strangers in public, it attracts the wrong kind of attention.) Even those stuck in the line managed to make a few friends.
I was expecting a lot more hate and—given the exclusive clientele—a macing or two, but the majority of conversations were surprisingly positive. Doubly surprising was that it took a party organized by a dating app conceived by Lawnmower Man to make me remember how great it is to chat up strangers IRL. Triply surprising was that this happened in a club that prides itself on a regular entrance policy akin to social apartheid, but then maybe that's the worst thing about Tinder: its removal of surprise from the "dating" experience. After all, you hit someone up on that, you both know what you're going to get.
By the time you read this, I'll probably have already slumped back into the routine of allowing my phone-thumb to dictate my lovelife. But as I walked home from Cirque Du Soir, the joyous sound of dwarfs being laughed at still ringing in my ears, I searched the eyes of passing strangers for any hint of a romantic connection. At the very least, I'll be doing more of that and less stumbling around the city staring into my phone like a pervert, which can only be A Good Thing.
Follow Jack on Twitter: @JackBlocker
Photos by Tom Johnson: @tomjohnsonuk
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