Swiping & Matching: Virtual Hookup Culture at UCLA

Photo by Alexander Lyubavin via CreativeCommons

There’s little argument that hookup culture is one of the defining generalizations of the American college experience. The myth that college students are horny and afraid of commitment triumphs, despite studies indicating that we are, unfortunately, not getting any more casual sexy time than the generations before us (A new standard of sexual behavior? Are claims associated with the “hookup culture” supported by general social survey data?).

The notion of casual sex prevails, and in our tech-dominated capitalist society, someone must profit from our fear of long-term relationships and our future of eternal loneliness, or, if you’re an optimist, indefinite independence.

Thus the birth of Tinder, Bumble, and the like was inevitable, creating a virtual middleman to make finding no-strings-attached “intimacy” and judging others through the LCD interfaces of our smartphones that much easier. Most college students are familiar with the existence of these hookup culture facilitators, and many are familiar with the experience of swiping until your eyes are sore.

In order to investigate the UCLA experience of virtual hookup culture, I, a cis-heterosexual girl, decided to create a profile with some “cute” pictures of myself and the bio, “If you don’t toast ur pop tarts you’re not living life to the fullest.” Hey, I had to be a little bit quirky! The app also allows you to connect your spotify account and instagram accounts so that your fellow matchers get to know a little bit more about you. I personally opted out of instagram because I wasn’t interested in having my fellow swipers know the real me. However, I did end up connecting my spotify, which is dominated with aggressive rap and trap tunes.

While I’m no Tinder veteran, I did go through a short two month stunt with the app in my junior year of high school, which set certain expectations for this endeavour. For FEM’s readers’ sake, I have compiled a list of things that I learned on this three week journey into the social media curated art of blasé sex.


  1. A majority of UCLA boys are surprisingly wholesome.

This may come as a surprise to many, as Tinder is usually assumed to be a f*ckboy’s mancave. However, many of the UCLA students that I matched with were relatively nice. You have your stereotypical archetypes of profiles: engineers, hipsters, frat boys, jocks, frat boy-jocks, kind of creepy dudes, and so on. Most people were generally nice and wanted to have a conversation, however bland it may have been –– there’s only so much room for an interesting conversation on a platform intended primarily for sexual matchmaking. Of course I got my fair share of obnoxious DMs, but that was a minority of the messages in my inbox.

The relative absence of a**holes can either be attributed to the possibility that they’ve caught onto the fact that girls usually do not respond well to vulgar pickup lines, or that UCLA boys are in fact more or less a wholesome demographic.


2. You will encounter the profiles of a bunch of people you know.

It’s surprising how many profiles you’ll come across of people who you’ve actually talked to. In a college with a student body of over 40,000, it’s unexpected to see the profile of that boy you sat next to in political science all of fall quarter, and yet it’s not uncommon.


3. There’s only so much creativity that that first pick-up line allows for.

My inbox is currently composed of at least 90% of conversation starters relating to toasted pop-tarts, my love for Lil Uzi Vert, or a compilation of the two from the over-achieving Tinder users. But, hey, don’t hate the player, hate the game!


4. You’ll begin to recognize people you’ve matched with.

People you’ve only responded to one time will begin to frequent the faces that you see when bee-lining through bruinwalk to avoid the constant flyering and donuts for sale. You’ll make eye-contact and remember the bland conversation and potential hook-up that never was, and you’ll quickly avert your eyes while silently chuckling to yourself.


5. Random people will give you “sus” vibes and you’ll ponder if it’s because you’ve matched with them.

Odds are, you probably did match with them, but had no intention of ever going anywhere with it. It will be a hallmark of awkward interactions that will also make you chuckle, but this time out of uncomfortableness.


6. Swiping is incredibly addictive.

It’s true, especially for the newly initiated Tinder users. The first night after downloading it, there are good chances you’ll “accidentally” spend a few hours swiping as a means of procrastinating the research paper that’s due tomorrow night.


7. Swiping is also incredibly draining.

And also mildly depressing once you begin to question the concept of social media’s facilitation of hookup culture or the principle of constantly judging others based on a maximum of six pictures and a few hundred characters. Hey, I’m just being honest!


8. The number of messages from people pile up and you will eventually give up on responding.

It’s a lot of work to converse with just a few random people and carry on a bland conversation, let alone keep it up once you’ve hit double-digits.


9. It’s really easy to depend on these dating platforms for validation.

It’s extremely sad, but also very true. Both I and many that I’ve talked to have been there, when you’re feeling down and look to Tinder for matches just to make you feel wanted or desired by others. Just like all other platforms of social media, users can try to derive confidence from their fellow virtual users, which is always a failed attempt.


In summary, as pervasive as hookup culture is, it isn’t integral to the college experience, and definitely isn’t integral to the UCLA experience. In spite of the myth that college kids love casual sex, it’s not a universal truth, and if you personally do, Tinder is not your only option. Tinder could be used as a platform to find casual sex, but I know plenty of people who use it as a tool for sociability in order to make friends which is often times relatively successful.

Tinder and other social matching apps are an innovative yet conflicting tools to find intimacy, and aren’t mediums for everyone. If they are for you, then I wish you happy swiping!

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