Jason, 22 Hopeless romantic, certified in cuddling, 6’5.
Like “family fun,” the concept of a “healthy social life” can seem oxymoronic. (Sorry, Mom). For many people today, “fun” entails alcohol, drugs, late nights. And to be fair, sometimes these things are fun (again: sorry, Mom), but not only can they be physically unhealthy, but emotionally and socially as well. With nothing but happy hour on the horizon, I began to wonder: In this age of dating apps and drinking culture, how does a health-minded person socialize?
It’s a good question, too. Gyms aren’t the most social environments, classes tend not to be interactive, and the lines at Juice Press move too fast to forge a meaningful connection with the cute stranger beside you. So, how do healthy people meet? Where do they go on dates? Full of questions about life and love, age-old gender politics and modern technological advances, I turned to a natural source for answers to life’s deep questions: Tinder.
My plan: Join the app, seek out men and women with diverse interests and backgrounds, and talk with them about their social lives and healthy habits (or lack thereof). I had had no previous experience with dating apps (or Facebook or Instagram, for that matter), so I was nervous yet excited to embark on this project, much like one might feel before a first date. This was journalism! I would become one of “the people”! As is the case with many first dates, awkwardness and regret quickly sank in.
The opening line of conversation carefully considered by my first match? “Are you the SAT? ‘Cause I’d do you for three hours with a ten minute break for snacks.”
It was going to be a long few weeks.
Adam, 25 Avid reader, burger aficionado, prefers Mozart over Machiavelli.
However, because I am of strong, resilient spirit (and had already told my boss all about the project), I soldiered on. Armed with a few fail-safe talking points in my arsenal, I began to swipe. Eventually— and this is just between you and I, of course— I started to enjoy myself. My matches were incredibly diverse: a Parisian transplant newly arrived to the city, a self-described “mutt” with roots in Puerto Rico, Japan, and Guyana among others. Men, women, couples. Straight, bi, curious individuals of all different backgrounds and ethnicities. Somehow, Tinder had managed to compress all of New York City into the screen on my phone. For the first time and with the same illuminating thrill of a caveman discovering fire, I understood my generation’s proclivity for living life online. Turns out there was something to this whole “social media” thing after all. Who knew?
Of the many matches I made, only a portion translated to productive conversations. My opening line for all of these (you know, ’cause the SAT one was already taken): Why are you on Tinder? What are you hoping to find? Casual hookups, meeting locals, finding “The One”: it was fascinating how one question could elicit such varied responses. Kevin*, a twenty-five year old Vietnamese immigrant and bike-enthusiast, shared his experience searching the app for a friend with benefits, a relationship dynamic he described as “dating lite”. Our French fresh-arrival, Kyle, spoke of a much different search. After bonding over my crappy French and his bad English (he was being modest; I was not), he spoke of his struggle to form meaningful connections since arriving to the city. Apparently, and perhaps ironically, he was not alone.
The settings in which Kyle (and Xavier, Li, and Theo, for that matter) had been socializing were yielding mainly superficial connections, the sort that don’t last past closing time. In fact, none of my matches had had much luck in clubs or bars, yet when asked where they tend to socialize in person, the answer was overwhelmingly: “a bar”. Naturally, I was confused by this. Why choose to socialize at bars if you don’t have much esteem for that environment? Taking in the guys’ responses, I think they were confused themselves.
Why a bar? Because you assume anyone at a bar or club is a “fun” person, but often both the meeting and fun provide only short-term satisfaction. Because that’s where you go to meet people. And my personal favorite: Because it’s either that or coffee, right?
Bars and clubs have long since been established as good destinations for meeting new people, but is this actually the case? As you might expect by this point, my matches had differing opinions on the subject, all of which you’ve likely heard before. But one response stuck out to me, in the way simply-put truths often do.
“Drinks,” Theo said, “just help get conversation flowing, I think. People feel more comfortable with a few drinks in them.”
An obvious statement, a fact most of us have experienced firsthand, but in the context of this project, it struck me as something groundbreaking. He elaborated, explaining that when we drink, “inhibitions are lowered, you’re less nervous, less guarded”. In other words, your personality is transformed; you don’t feel like yourself.
Or, rather, you feel like a more relaxed version of yourself. The consumption of alcohol triggers a bodily release of endorphins, a type of neurotransmitter whose primary function is to combat pain and stress. Meeting new people and socializing in general can indeed be stressful, but many of us forego healthier sources of endorphins, such as exercise and laughter, and rely instead on alcohol as our main stress-reliever.
That was the moment the project changed for me. It was no longer a question of where we were meeting people, but how. What did it say about us as a society that in our go-to environment for meeting new people, no one is fully themselves? Forget, for a moment, about the physical consequences of overindulging in alcohol—what is truly unhealthy about this scenario is the fact we feel the need to alter our personalities to be comfortable in social situations. This unhealthy approach to socializing isn’t restricted to bars alone. How about my first match, who began an interaction with a complete stranger with an inappropriate, impersonal, and frankly, a little lazy pickup line? I’m no psychologist, but that doesn’t strike me as healthy behavior.
Greg, 25 Mr. Steal Yo Girl
So, what is healthy social behavior? From acts of self-care to nurturing our relationships, healthy social behavior comprises many attitudes and actions, the most relevant of which being connecting with others. When asked if they’d ever experienced meaningful connection either in bars or on Tinder, my matches generally answered in the negative. In fact, just about the only point they all agreed upon was their dissatisfaction with both the bar and online dating scenes. As Theo articulated this dissatisfaction, both options tend to leave one feeling “satiated, but never satisfied”. Charged with providing a solution for us all, the name of that elusive utopia where people might meet and connect on a deeper level, Xavier understandably shifted responsibility.
“If anyone knew the answer to that,” he said, “we would all be there”.
Yet, I thought, they were here, on Tinder. Swiping, chatting, trying. And why? I had been so focused on “bars versus apps” and “old versus new” that I failed to recognize this story wasn’t about places, but people. The people I met on Tinder were, for the most part, decent. Not just decent; they were intelligent, funny, honest, interesting. At the start of our interactions, I made it clear to my matches I was using the app for professional, not personal, reasons, and still, many of them remained just to talk. Across the board, there was a willingness, even an eagerness, to share their thoughts and experiences. Here was a group of complete strangers confiding in me about their philosophies, anxieties around their careers, their luck, losses, and loneliness without expecting much in return. Just conversation, just connection. How fucking beautiful is that?
David, 23 Aspiring sommelier, enjoys a nice Cab Sav by the fireplace, has 3 cats.
While on Tinder, I spoke with yogis and bros, seasoned athletes and one man who, at the mere mention of yoga, exclaimed the last time he took a class he “almost died”. There was one vegan in the mix alongside a guy who self-identified as a “vegetable hater” in his bio. Among the many (surprising) lessons I learned from these individuals, I found that a healthy social life has less to do with a fondness for fitness or gluten-free goods than with a positive approach to fun— in all its “healthy” and “unhealthy” glory. After completing this project, I believe more than ever that a healthy social life is about balance— between healthy and unhealthy, old and new, and, if you’re so inclined, real-life settings and online apps. If Tinder was vegan, meeting and connecting with health-minded people would be easier. But it wouldn’t necessarily be healthier, and, I would argue, wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.
So, how, after all, do healthy people meet?
I have no idea, but it sure as hell doesn’t start with that SAT line.
How do you meet and connect with people? Share your opinions, suggestions, and horror stories in the comments below or with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Names have been changed, but you know who you are.