once belonged to Tinder for three weeks, a short-lived era during which I learned a lot about my potential as a private investigator. At the time I lived with a 26-year-old dude who was also on the app, and he could evaluate entire binders of women in the space of a minute. I used to watch his thumb move back and forth across the screen like an angry cat’s tail, his decisions made in such haste I could only assume his rubric contained a single measure of eligibility: Is she vaguely attractive?
My rubric was far more complicated, like something you’d see scribbled on a window in A Beautiful Mind. I believed it was my responsibility to introduce rigor into a process that had fallen by the shallow wayside. Each candidate Tinder suggested for me was subject to at least five minutes of research on my part, which included but was not limited to an armchair analysis of his Instagram presence. Earnest-looking selfie? That caption better be dripping with irony. Bio that says he loves to travel? I just fell asleep. Blurry photo featuring a rotund animal? We’re getting somewhere.
Over the course of my tenure on the app, I swiped right a total of three times, and I only met up with one guy because he had a corgi named Pauline, whom I never even got to meet. I did gain one important takeaway from the whole endeavor, though: the knowledge that I have a type. And it’s not tall guys or musicians or hypebeasts. It’s men who employ extremely esoteric humor on Instagram. The kind of humor that 90% of people probably do not find funny, and which even I sometimes do not understand, but which tells me something about who he is and what he cares about.
An esoteric Instagram caption may seem like a trivial personality marker, but to me it communicates a modern kind of confidence; a willingness to be misunderstood. The better I come to know myself and the more entrenched I become in the sprawling chaotic metropolis that is the internet, the more I’ve come to appreciate the level of emotional fortitude required of a person who knows they aren’t for everyone.
I’m not talking about close-mindedness — a pretentious or ignorant reference does not a personality make — I’m talking about the weirdo shape a personality can take when it’s freed from the binds of being likable, having mass appeal, or trying to meet certain expectations. And I don’t just find this attractive in a romantic context (although you should check out my boyfriend’s Instagram some time — almost none of it makes sense), I find it attractive in everyone. There is beauty in connecting with an odd bird of any kind. There’s an alchemy to it that can’t be found in mass appeal — it’s too specific to go broad.
However, in a society hung up on aggregated metrics like Yelp reviews and follower counts and Rotten Tomato scores, something a ton of people think is good often ends up beating out something a few people think is fucking incredible. This paradox was explored in a piece by Rosie Fletcher last year about the efficacy of Rotten Tomatoes: “It’s easy to confuse the % number on Rotten Tomatoes for a rating of quality, but that’s not what it is, it’s a rating of consensus,” Fletcher writes. “Therefore Rotten Tomatoes doesn’t work for divisive movies – the ‘either you love it or you hate it’ kind.” In other words, it’s helpful for finding what you’ll like; more challenging for finding what you’ll love.
In a social landscape obsessed with self-measurement, the consensus-driven flattening happening on Rotten Tomatoes can happen in real life, too. Mainstream popularity carries so much social currency that it’s rare to embrace being “not for everyone.” I understand the instinct to water your weirdness down. But there is a joyful kind of connective tissue to be spun by seeking out your own specific tastes — and by being a specific taste of your own. On an app like Instagram, where a like is just a like and a follow is just a follow — regardless of how passionately they’re pressed — it takes gumption to ignore the stats.
That’s why, in the scope of the limited information Tinder can provide me, there is nothing sexier than an unselfconscious Instagram presence. It’s a small way of saying: I’m willing to sacrifice mass appeal for the sake of being truly known. I don’t care if most people think I’m an unfunny moron — I know who I am. And if you’re on my level, we’d probably get along.
My neck is getting hot just thinking about it.
Illustrations by Ashley Jihye.