As Elle Lawrence approaches Commons Shop with a friend, the man walking in front of her slows his pace. He enters the store right before Lawrence. Inside the store, the man watches her every move – glancing from across aisles and peering through fixtures.
“I didn’t think anything of it at first,” Lawrence said, “but I eventually felt like someone was watching me more than the closed-circuit television.”
She didn’t know it then, but the man turned out to be one of the freshman criminology and criminal justice and psychology major’s 3,500 matches on Tinder, the dating app that allows users to swipe right or left to approve or decline potential romantic interests or hookups within a specific radius.
At the cash register, the man continues staring at Lawrence. The cashier clears his throat for the man to hand over his university ID, and he does.
Then his attention returns to Lawrence.
“Hi,” he finally tells Lawrence.
She doesn’t recognize him.
“I was thoroughly creeped out,” Lawrence said. “I don’t use Tinder for hooking up, I just use it to meet people that share similar interests with me on campus.”
Tinder, launched in September 2012 by Hatch Labs, has spiked in popularity this school year. Visitor growth rose 737 percent from 2013 to 2014, according to a March 31 Score.com poll.
But Tinder started charging users for unlimited right-swipes last month in an option called Tinder Plus. The feature costs $9.99 per month for users younger than 30 and $19.99 per month for users age 30 or older.
“They’re just trying to make bank,” sophomore mathematics major Vivian Nguyen said. “I think it’s unnecessary.”
Students who would have considered it creepy to message a stranger online over Facebook, Twitter or Instagram five years ago are doing just that in the year 2015. Tinder has made meeting potential love matches online more socially acceptable among college students, for better or worse.
Sophie Grosset, a junior Australian exchange student at this university studying history and theatre, said it would be creepy if a stranger messaged her on Facebook. But Tinder is the exception to the rule.
“On Facebook, you’re not necessarily out there to meet people,” Grosset said, “but you download a dating app because it’s a dating app.”
Grosset did not match with as many people as Lawrence, who has met with dozens of her matches on the campus, but she said Tinder can serve as a useful tool for meeting people. Grosset met with two of her matches, one of which she dated for three months.
“When he messaged me, it wasn’t something creepy,” Grosset said. “He said, ‘Hey! We have mutual friends.’ When you already have mutual friends, you can gauge if they’re weird or not.”
Commons Shop wasn’t the only time people on the campus recognized Lawrence from Tinder. Several men pointed her out to one another one day when they spotted her eating alone at the South Campus Dining Hall, she said, and one of them posted a “moment” of her on the app. Moments are photos users can post for all their matches to see over a 24-hour period. Lawrence felt awkward when she saw the moment on her Tinder feed, but most of her experiences on the app have been positive, she said.
“There’s 30,000 people on this campus, and I have trouble seeing people all at once when they’re in a crowd,” Lawrence said. “Sometimes it is beneficial to have the ability to reach out to people in a way that’s less overwhelming.”
There were 27,056 undergraduates enrolled at this university in the fall semester, according to the university admissions website.
Connor Wellington, who is a freshman enrolled in letters and sciences, said he met with two women he matched with on Tinder. Neither experience yielded anything more than a casual encounter.
“I just feel like if I’m looking for anything serious with a girl, I’ll approach her in person,” Wellington said. “But Tinder is good for hookups.”
Freshman French major Lena Muldoon and freshman environmental science and policy major Hayley Benson both said they don’t have Tinder, and that online dating doesn’t appeal to them. Muldoon said a man has directly messaged her on Instagram once, and that strangers message her on Facebook all the time.
“I met this football player and I answered him [on Instagram] once because it was funny, but I didn’t go for it.” Muldoon said. “I don’t answer anyone on Facebook because they’re all weirdos.”
Muldoon and Benson said the only times they’ve been approached by men on the campus – in person – were at night when people were intoxicated and heading to parties. But both said they would prefer to be approached by a potential suitor in person.
Lawrence and Grosset also said they prefer face-to-face interaction when it comes to meeting men.