By Kathryn Tucker
Let me preface this article by saying that I spent most of 2012-2014 in a remote village in Uganda during my first Peace Corps assignment. My dating prospects were rather…nonexistent.
Fast-forward a few months, and one Peace Corps Response Application later. I’m settling into the bustling city of Cartagena, solterita and twenty-something in what has to be the most romantic city in the world. The sunsets are gorgeous, the nightlife is bumpin’, and the balmy Caribbean air is perfect for long evening strolls through colonial alleyways or along the moonlit beach.
I enjoyed my first few months of singlehood by exploring my new home, but I was ready to meet new people and enjoy the more couple-y side of La Romántica.
A friend from the US suggested Tinder, and I made an account.
A quick introduction for those deprived of the dubious pleasure of heterosexual dating in the twenty-first century: Tinder is a fast and superficial dating application for smartphones, made for quantity over quality. You create a profile with up to five pictures and a space to write something about yourself. The app allows you to see the profiles of people nearby and decide if you like them. If both people like each other, a chat box appears to start a conversation.
I began my foray into Tinder with a heavy dose of suspicion, dipping my toe into this new technology for safety and ease. But pretty soon I was swiping like a pro, scrolling through the myriad (ostensibly) single men in my vicinity. In my first swiping spree alone I ‘matched’ with around fifteen men, and started talking with a few of them.
My first Tinder date was with a tall, sunburned redhead from Nashville who was clever, funny and cute. We met for a few drinks and had stellar first-date connection and mind-blowing chemistry…and the next day he was on a plane to Bogotá. I learned the difficult truth about Tinder in Cartagena: most of the users are transient, soaking up the Caribbean sun for a few days before jetting off to their next destinations.
I became more sophisticated in my Tinder use, made ground rules:
Profile picture of what is obviously his own wedding? Nope.
Only has pictures with a woman who seems to be his girlfriend? Nada.
Only appears in picture with his mother? No.
Multiple children? Uh-huh
Only pictures of his car? Why do they think we like that?
You’d be surprised how much that thinned the crowd.
Otherwise, my strategy (which I’m pretty sure men on Tinder hate) was to give the benefit of the doubt if I found something interesting in their profiles, wait for them to send a message, and then ignore them if they didn’t hook me with their intros. I soon had an inbox full of uninspired (and unanswered) messages of “hey,” “hola,” “what’s up,” “cómo estás.”
I mean, come on, Men of Tinder. Every day I am reina, princesa, hermosa, mamacita…the least you could do is try to outdo the catcalls.
The reputation of Tinder in the US is a casual “hookup” application, but I didn’t have that experience. There were plenty of people looking for a vacation fling, but I found them easy to spot and avoid. Looking back on it, my Tinder use was almost entirely platonic. Maybe 75% of my dates were interesting people traveling alone whom I joined for a few drinks as we swapped travel stories. There was a surprising amount of people who shared mutual friends from the US. There were some creeps who sent message after unsuccessful message in a desperate bid for my attention, but they were easily blocked or ignored.
While my Tinder use didn’t bear much fruit in the romantic sense, it did keep me open to new experiences. Sometimes I ended up playing the reluctant tour guide, but it kept my eyes and heart open to fresh understanding of my dynamic, complicated city.
Through Tinder I had plenty of interesting late-night conversations in the Plaza Trinidad, got on the guest list to a private party on an old pirate ship in the Cartagena harbor, found a companion for Carnaval weekend in Barranquilla, made some new friends from around the world, and, after a long stint of being mostly-single, got a healthy dose of the modern dating experience.
My Tinder venture lasted about three months, as novelty faded to tedium. I decided to look for something more serious. And I’m happy to report that a few months after ceasing my Tinder escapades, I met my boyfriend the old-fashioned way, or at least without technological intercession.
So I am now exploring La Fantástica in my third phase of romantic evolution: still finding new nuance in the sunsets and new adventure wandering the cobblestoned streets, but now I have a hand in mine that won’t be wrenched away with a return ticket.
It was worth the wait.