First, some unnecessary backstory. Pretty much everything I know about Tinder I learned from a classmate's essay in my Creative Nonfiction Writing course. Like all the creative writing courses, this one was uncensored and unfiltered, but this essay was the only piece of writing I ever got from a classmate that shocked me and made the professor be like "Um, that's kind of offensive." The questionable parts of the essay were her claims that she looked on Tinder for guys "who don't look like rapists" and that "Mormon men with beards look like they're part of the Taliban". I wrote in my comments, "What does a rapist look like?" But it was an informative essay nonetheless, and the only meaningful increase in my knowledge came a couple weeks ago when I was forced to take the first sick day of my life and spend it on the couch waiting to die. I somehow got to reading screenshots of funny, weird, and/or creepy Tinder profiles and messages, and that made me think about Mutual.
Mutual, from what I understood, was like Tinder but only for Latter-day Saints. It was named after the Young Men's Mutual Improvement Association and the Young Women's Mutual Improvement Association (formerly the Young Ladies' National Mutual Improvement Association, formerly the Young Ladies' Cooperative Retrenchment Association) because I presume the far superior name "Tinder Mercies" would have triggered an unwinnable lawsuit. I thought about this app because I was reading about all this scummy stuff on Tinder and I presumed that Mutual wouldn't have this scummy stuff. I'm sure it has some scummy people, but I presumed they had to behave themselves while on the app. And then I wondered if the app was free and then I figured it was probably free but with a Premium version required to actually make it useful, and I verified that and then, being very ill and bored, I downloaded it for reasons I still don't know. And I had another learning experience.
So of course you have to start out by making a profile. You have to have at least one picture, and that's where I hit my first snag. I couldn't find any non-group picture taken of me within the last year that I didn't hate, and even if I could have, I would have considered it misleading. I could concievably get a picture taken at just the right pose and angle and lighting to make me look moderately handsome, but I can't stay at that pose and angle and lighting all the time in real life. Nightmares flashed through my mind of women from the app meeting me in person and being disappointed by my mannerisms, voice, facial expressions, and outlook on life. So I ruled out that route right off. I used the picture of my dead dog (who wasn't dead at the time it was taken). I knew nobody would swipe on that and I didn't care because I just needed a picture so I could move on.
You have to set your profile somewhere on a scale between "Down for Dates" (because alliteration) and "Relationship Ready" (ditto). I couldn't be honest because "Barely Browsing" isn't an option. I set myself toward the former end of the scale but since I wasn't planning to get swiped, I didn't stress about the precise placement. You can say whether you've served a mission and if so, where. I said "Korea Pyongyang North" and got away with it. You can select some interests, hobbies and such, from a list and write a bit about yourself. There are a few prompts, but you can only use one. "Most embarrassing moment? Downloading this app." I should have tested to find out how much you can write but I didn't feel the need to duplicate information already available on the internet. So I just put an invitation to my website, but I didn't get a spike in traffic and I didn't expect one anyway so that was fine. And of course there are cool things you can only do with the Premium version, but I wouldn't have sprung for that even if I could afford it. That would be like paying Spotify every month with no guarantee that I would actually get to listen to music.
Then the app started bombarding me with other people's, specifically women's, profiles, and I immediately noticed what I regard as a tragic design flaw. Each profile just comes up as the woman's default picture, name, age and location. Sometimes she has more pictures you can scroll through. Then you can tap on it and bring up her common interests with you, DD vs. RR status, and whatever she chose to write about herself. And most of them didn't write much about themselves. A lot of them just listed their Instagram names in that space, so I went and followed their Instagrams where I could see several more pictures of them and, in one case, her boyfriend. Sometimes they had a little quip that attempted cuteness but gave little information. "I'm not gluten-free." Oh, good to know because that would have been a dealbreaker. Definitely more useful than your feelings on vaccines or Donald Trump. I admit that one of them made me smile, though, and I quote: "Just please don't murder me."
So the design flaw is this: I believe the Mutual app, whether by design or practice, encourages shallowness.
With so little to go off of, I was basically supposed to decide based on a woman's appearance whether I would bother messaging her. And yes, this is a natural human tendency, and like most humans I am more inclined to want to get to know humans who have certain physical traits that humans have evolved to find attractive in the opposite sex mostly for reasons of genetic fitness, but I feel very guilty about that. I don't want to be encouraged in it. Aziz Ansari in his book Modern Romance acknowledged that Tinder encourages shallowness, but decided that's fine because it's just like real life where people only gravitate to the people they find attractive anyway. Okay, but what if we harnessed the power of technology to make ourselves be better? What if we took the opportunity to look past the physical with greater ease by actually having access to a bunch of pertinent information right off the bat? For example, I would give virtually anyone a chance if she gave the right answers about vaccines and Donald Trump.
I mean, you've surely had the experience of talking to someone that at first you regarded as rather plain-looking, only to find that she grows more and more beautiful with each moment of conversation, and before you know it three hours have gone by, and she asks you out, and you're not sure at first if that's what's happened but you figure "Dinner and a movie, my treat" is pretty unambiguous, so the day approaches and then an hour before you're scheduled to go she texts and says she can't, she's sick, and you try to reschedule but her responses are kind of evasive and it occurs to you that this isn't a postponement but a cancelation, and you ask her directly if that's the case, and she says yes, you seem like a nice guy but she's just not interested, and at this point you become just a little teensy weensy itsy bitsy bit confused, so you calmly and politely inquire why she asked you out in the first place, and she says something to the effect of "I could tell that you liked me, but I figured you would be too shy to ask me out, so I thought I'd help you" and you feel like the next time she wants to "help" someone she should just, like, not, but after crying for a while you decide to forgive her but then - this is the strangest thing, you don't get it at all, but her appearance changes again, like she has the same face as always but now she looks like a literal gargoyle, and you don't get it at all because you're not mad at her, you don't hate her, and there are plenty of people you do heartily dislike but they don't become "ugly" to you just because of that, so you know this isn't just some psychological perception thing on your part, and when you go with the missionaries to help teach her because she's going inactive you mention that bit to them in case it's relevant to her spirituality, only you try to be polite by calling it "almost a physical change" even though there's no "almost" about it, and they seem to know what you're talking about, and she always seems super awkward and uncomfortable being alive, too, which you never noticed before, and you don't know if she was like that before or you just didn't notice, but you confide in a close friend who happens to be her Relief Society president and shares some probably confidential information about her mental illnesses, and you understand that in her mind she really thought she was being helpful and with that reaffirmed you're able to let it go completely. We've all been there, right? Right?
So I knew right away that I was in over my head. Unlike Tinder, instead of choosing the right, you swipe up to indicate your approval of someone's profile, and down to indicate that they aren't attractive enough for you. And I couldn't bring myself to swipe down on anyone. It seemed to me such an act of wanton cruelty toward a perfect stranger. If there had been something in any given profile to indicate that our personalities or political views or astrological signs weren't a good match, I could then have passed her by with a clear conscience knowing that it was no reflection on her. But there never was. The only real filter I could get was age. I decided a while ago that most 18-20 year olds aren't really adults and I don't want to deal with their crap, so I swiped down on those, but that still left so many more. And you can't just skip one and move on. You have to make a choice. You can go back to your own profile, you can close the app, you can turn off your phone, but as soon as you return to Mutual the same profile will be in your face demanding to know your verdict on her corporeal frame.
I kept the app for two weeks, up until the day I saw somebody from my stake. I haven't seen her since she left on a mission a couple years ago but now apparently she's back. I've never spoken to her and she's probably grateful for that. I didn't want to swipe her one way or another. But seeing her here now drove home the futility of having this guilt-trip of an app that I had no intention of using for its intended purpose and which I believe is fundamentally flawed in its execution. So I deleted it, but as I type this I realize that I should have done something fun like a. swipe and take a shot of Dr. Pepper for every blonde until my stomach dissolved, or b. make a fake profile, an attractive one, to see what caliber of messages it received and test my original hypothesis that Mutual filters out the unsavory aspects of Tinder. But like I said, I didn't really think this through in the first place.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, so you can't, unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.