$wipe Right: What One Man Learned About the Tinder Wealth Gap

Guest post by Dimitry Yakoushkin

One year ago, a breakup slayed me like a melancholy rom-com montage. I went three days without being able to eat a real meal. I wasn’t leaving my San Francisco apartment, not to mention my bed, lingering upwards of an hour between the sheets each morning.

Finally, two female friends had enough of my moping and skipping our gossip dinners. They showed up to my place uninvited, marching up my three flights of stairs to interrupt another perfectly sorrowful 3 p.m. “nap.”

They had come to build my Tinder profile.

They figured swiping through a sea of potential next ladies would cheer me up. One friend distracted me with chitchat, while the other went to work. I begrudgingly went along with it, and, once she finished, I spent a few minutes re-writing the bio text. I steered clear of boring resume material like my job and education, and instead opted for more lively traits: “Six foot three, outgoing, bright, and adventurous, radically liberal, feminist, tattooed.”

Finally, I added a photo to the mix she’d chosen:

The javelin pic.

OK, OK, in my defense, I still compete in the sport, even if just as a hobby— the photo was taken that year. (It shows a proud, rare moment of great form — most of my throws are poor.) I admit the photo doesn’t follow my own advice. When I work with male clients in my sex therapy practice who are venturing into the e-dating wilds, I tell them shirtless pics are a huge no-no. They lower your perceived class; they confront women with sexuality long before it is appropriate; and it either unconsciously arouses them — which may lead to shame and then repulsion — or it may just repulse them.

I chose the javelin pic anyways. That’s partly because I’m used to dating gay or queer women — they don’t fit into the straight social paradigm, so they’re more likely to make decisions based on their desire rather than stick to a socially acceptable plan of not leading with sexuality. I’m also a bit vain, and I’m 38, and don’t have many years left in my sport. I’d like to make the anatomical side effects of my training (i.e., abs) visible. Usually no one comes to my track meets; at least on Tinder I can have a witness or two.

Beefcake profile in place, I started to swipe.

Swimming upstream: my first month on Tinder

I’m a numbers geek, so I kept track of my success rate. I set the desired age range to 25 to 45 years old, and I roughly chose one out of every seven women in that range. (I’m so choosy upfront because I despise rejection. I don’t want to be rejected, nor later reject them.) During a month or so of heavy daily use, swiping until Tinder told me there was “no one in your area,” I started to notice a dismal trend emerge. Only three percent of women I selected chose me back.


The javelin pic didn’t seem to be working.

The big change: Move a notch up in class and wealth, and watch the matches flow

Not that it was all a loss. In the next month, I had some very good dates. I continued to work at my counseling practice, re-emerged from my apartment to hang out with friends, and my breakup depression waned. Still, the 97 percent rejection rate was haunting me, and getting to a first date felt like defusing a time bomb — any wrong text, scheduling issue, sudden wind change, and everything could blow. This stress and rejection of the roller coaster were hurting almost more than the good dates were helping.

As I was talking to another female friend about all this, she said she could instantly boost my “statistical likelihood of getting laid.” She grabbed my phone, and deleted the “feminist” part. Too charged, too anti-male, she said — and this was a women’s studies major and fierce feminist talking. Out with “radically liberal” and “tattooed.” Out with the javelin pic.

She then added a first sentence that I never, never would have written myself:

Her goal is to imply wealth, a college education, class, and intelligence — the socially acceptable things for which women can objectify men. She uploaded more photos of me wearing collared shirts, which I rarely actually put on in real life. She even told me to get rid of the photo featuring me with a (small) mohawk — rich dudes don’t wear mohawks, she said— but I insisted on keeping at least that in. I thought I looked good, and it represented my non-normative persona.

Part of me also felt disingenuous. Technically, everything she wrote about me was true — I was a mechanical engineer, I had seven approved patents in the United States and twenty-three worldwide, mostly for obscure methods of non-destructive testing of jet turbine engine components, a heat exchanger design, and some cool ideas for early diagnosis of breast cancer. I did “retire” technically, but “burn-out” was a far more accurate term. “Successful” is another highly subjective word — the companies I’d worked for earned the profits from the patents. My severance payouts from my previous job kept me comfortable until I found a new gig, and I can work a bit less these days in my therapy practice. But I’m definitely not rich.

I had mixed feelings about the wealth cues beyond just their dubious accuracy. I wanted to be liked for me, not my pocketbook. Many of my moneyed male clients suffer the money-disclosure dilemma with dating, but most of them choose this route anyways: present yourself as an ample provider, attract as many women as possible to a first date, and then trust they will like you for you.

“Women will love you in the first two minutes of chatting with you,” my friend told me. I could explain the details once I met them.

She insisted her changes would merely help me get in front of them in the first place.

The effect of boosting my perceived wealth on Tinder was immediate.

Bam. In the next few days, my match rate went from a measly 3 percent to 80. And the tenor of the dates changed, too: dates where there was obviously no chemistry led to inquiries for a second date. Second dates, in which there was still no chemistry, led to invites to their place. I was equal parts embarrassed to not be exactly the person advertised on my Tinder profile, and frozen with the morbid curiosity of watching a derailing train.

There was a week I went on ten dates.

There was a three-date day.

There was sex on the first date.

Then, after a few weeks of fun, there was the depression, like a giant boulder in a Wile E. Coyote cartoon, rocketing back to take out the slingshot that launched it just moments before.

The reason was this: These were not the women I wanted to date. They were amazing and accomplished, yes. They were intelligent. They were fun, funny, and kind. But there was no chemistry. They didn’t ask overt questions about my wealth or class, but most of the dates did fall into some familiar rhythms. In the first scenario, the women were off-put by my actual presentation. (“Oh wow,” one said, her voice tinged with disapproval, “I don’t have any tattoos.”) In the second, they accepted my profile at face value, and worked the conversation to show off how compatible and similar we were in our yuppie interests and life plans. (We weren’t.) Again, no allowing for chemistry to develop, no intimacy.

Of course, some of the disconnect stems from the sheer swipe mentality of choosing a potential mate. When you’ve met off an app that prods you to “Keep playing,” what kind of intimacy can you really expect?

After a few months, I couldn’t take the fakery anymore, no matter how many women were coming back to my bed.

Back to the real me — take it or leave it

So I changed my profile back to the original. No more “early success” or “patents” or “retired early.” My bio now reads happily “me.” I am once again “radically liberal, feminist, tattooed.” The javelin pic is back!

The Tinder stats for a radical feminist who throws spears at track meets are terrible. Only one percent of the women I choose actually choose me back.

Still, my dates since the changes are riddled with less anxiety. We can get to a place of vulnerability and realness far faster than I could with women who were chasing my faux riches, consciously or not.

This article originally appeared in Medium.