If the swipe is right; digital dating in Israel

Those who settled down before the online age wonder about the mysterious practice of choosing potential partners by swiping left or right.

Tinder and JSwipe (photo credit: JSWIPE/WIKIMEDIA)
Tinder and JSwipe
(photo credit: JSWIPE/WIKIMEDIA)
In the immortal words of the Beatles, “Yesterday, love was such an easy game to play.” So it was in an age when most people in the world would venture no further than the nearby village in search of a lifelong partner. In premodern times, marriage itself was seen mostly as an economic arrangement, entirely dissociated from romantic love or personal desire.
The liberalization of the individual that began in the Western world in the 1960s has come hand-inhand with a revolution in the way we conceive of romantic relationships and particularly the institution of marriage, whose new centerpiece in our generation has become the all-too-elusive ideal of passionate love.
Bombarded by films, music and an entire popular culture reinforcing this idea, millennials today are all out searching for the very same holy grail: their “one and only.”
The Internet age has empowered bachelors and bachelorettes with a seemingly limitless arsenal of tools for this quest. Dating sites have become the norm in most Western countries, and in some, most notably the United States, over a third of newlywed couples first met online. The advent of the smartphone brought with it the ultimate new platform in the dating game: dating apps.
Tinder made its debut in 2012 as one of the world’s first GPS-based social mobile applications. Based on real-time location, it matches users according to their preferences and allows them to chat if both have expressed a mutual interest in making contact.
This is done by presenting each user with a virtually limitless assembly line of personal profiles belonging to nearby users of the opposite or same sex (depending on preferences), each coming with a few photos and some introductory (often terse) lines of text. The user browses through the various profiles and sweeps either right or left – to express interest, or lack thereof, in chatting with the profile’s owner. If the two users both swiped right, they can start chatting. Let the magic happen!
On the face of it, Tinder is a general-purpose social platform and makes no explicit mention of serving as a dating app. But around the world, the massively popular application processes nearly 1.6 billion swipes and over 26 million matches every single day, mostly by users looking for other users of the opposite gender. (Grindr, an app that employs similar technology, is wildly popular among gay and bisexual men.) At any rate, since users are prompted to swipe either left or right based on little more than a quick glimpse of each profile picture, it is difficult to imagine how anything other than physical attractiveness could factor into such lightning-speed decisions.
It is not surprising, therefore, that Tinder has quickly become synonymous in most countries with casual dating and – dare we say it – a “one-night-stand/hookup” culture that has rendered “pick-up bars” entirely obsolete for those seeking instant gratification. Nevertheless, for many of its 50 million global users, the application is simply the newest and most powerful platform in their ageless search for love.
Needless to say, Tinder has not skipped over Israel, and though official local membership figures have never been released, Tinder management has hinted at relatively high usage rates among Israelis with respect to population size. What is not at all obvious, however, is the way in which the app has embedded itself into local culture. How are Israelis using Tinder, exactly? A virtual excursion through Tinder seemed to be the only effective way of finding out. Brief chats with a wide variety of local users have helped this reporter form a better understanding not only of the way Israelis view the application, but also the dating game in general.
Ronit (a pseudonym), 28 and from Jerusalem, was quick to initiate a chat on the application and seemed eager to exchange basic biographical information as quickly as possible, as if to gather enough data to decide whether the conversation should continue further. Having passed her initial screening, this reporter, himself within the age range typical of Tinder users, moved forward with his own set of questions to discern what she was doing on Tinder in the first place.
“I have a hard time meeting potential partners in my daily routine,” Ronit confesses. “I spend most of my working hours in the office, and as most of my social circle is now married, I have fewer and fewer opportunities to go out and meet guys. Tinder opens a window to hundreds of guys around Jerusalem who are also looking for a relationship, whom I probably would never have met otherwise.”
Asked why it is Tinder in particular, rather than any of the dozens of online dating sites, that became her application of choice, Ronit points to its remarkable efficiency as a platform offering a virtually endless selection of potential partners, sifted through with a swipe of the finger.
“It’s almost like looking over a buffet. You basically waste no time during your search – you chat only with those people with whom you already have physical attraction. Then all you have left to do is find out if there is more depth to the person.”
For others, meanwhile, physical attraction is really all that matters. Ben (a pseudonym), 22 and from Tel Aviv, has no qualms admitting that he uses Tinder solely for the sake of casual encounters with the opposite sex.
“It makes it dramatically easier to find a partner for the night,” he explains. “Not only can you reach out to more girls around the city through the application, but most people feel much more comfortable in saying exactly what it is they are looking for, when they are protected behind their screens. No games necessary.”
Like in the real world, it seems not all users swim through the application with precisely the same set of expectations. As Ben himself had quickly discovered, far more girls using Tinder around Israel are there to find a serious relationship than he had anticipated, perhaps reflecting an altogether more conservative or traditional disposition among Israelis in comparison to other cultures. “Abroad there is very little ambiguity about what the application is meant for,” he notes.
“Most users are there to find a one-night stand. But in Israel it is people looking for serious dating that set the tone on the app.”
In fact, it is difficult to ignore the number of married couples around Israel who have met on Tinder.
Though exact numbers are tricky to obtain, the vast majority of users willing to be interviewed can mention at least one personal acquaintance who met their spouse on the application. Asaf, 31, from Rehovot claims the thought of marriage was what brought him to Tinder in the first place. “When I was playing around in my twenties, I never really turned to online dating platforms or applications. When I shifted gears toward looking for a serious partner, I suddenly realized how difficult it is to find someone who fits the right profile; and then Tinder became a useful tool.”
Perhaps to eliminate this ambivalence of the smartphone- dating experience altogether, yet another application has risen in popularity over the past year, and has already won significant traction around Israel.
JSwipe is the kosher version of Tinder, an application using the very same swiping mechanism but catering to Jews looking to date within the tribe.
Already quite popular in the Diaspora as a complementary service to Jewish dating sites like JDate, in recent months Israeli Jews looking for a bride or groom have been making use of the application as an alternative to Tinder, far less definite in its scope of functions.
Sharon, 29 and from Tel Aviv, is a long-time veteran of Tinder, having experienced a few promiscuous months following a bitter breakup from a serious relationship.
Today she searches again for her “knight in shining armor,” using JSwipe as her main application of choice. “I didn’t want to waste time on Tinder talking to guys who are out looking for a fling,” reveals Sharon. “The purpose of JSwipe is far clearer to all its users and its culture is geared completely toward serious dating.”
Danielle, 29, disagrees entirely. “There are plenty of users on JSwipe looking for an adrenaline rush,” she says. “It is not at all obvious when you are talking to a guy what his real intentions are.” In her defense, it will be noted that many users add “For serious relationship only” on their profiles as a fair warning to all, suggesting that like Danielle there are quite a few JSwipers who have encountered similar misunderstandings.
Nor can we rule out the possibility that the way in which singles use both Tinder and JSwipe may vary considerably between different parts of Israel. It is certainly conceivable that in Jerusalem, whose residents are generally more traditional and conservative than Tel Avivians, the dating app scene would converge to a serious platform catering to those seeking long-term relationships.
Tel Aviv, meanwhile, should resemble other cosmopolitan Western cities in this regard.
Ronit’s own experience, having dated in both cities, confirms such suspicions. “Dating around in Tel Aviv when I was younger was frustrating because of the ambiguity of guys’ motives. It was no different on Tinder,” she recalls. “I find myself far less confused as a Tinder user in Jerusalem.”
Ben, quite content with the hook-up culture in his hometown, has had the same impression of the atmosphere on Tinder that is unique to Tel Aviv.
“When you step outside of the city and start swiping, the sample population changes and the vibes change on the app. Finding a casual date just becomes much harder work.”
At any rate, it remains to be seen whether dating applications like Tinder and JSwipe have actually bettered the lives of young singles looking for whatever form of romantic relationship happens to strike their fancy. Some have pointed to the effectively limitless “smorgasbord” of potential partners now available to users at the click of a finger as a true blessing enabled by modern technology.
Others, frightened by the superficial and instant- gratification dating culture such applications might promote, claim it has marred contemporary dating culture.
Be that as it may, what is certain is that dating platforms like these have fundamentally altered the way the younger set approaches the dating scene, including here in Israel.
Sociologists and anthropologists – and hopeless romantics – beware!