The Tinder ‘Super Like’ Hints at Illusions of Control


Swipe-based dating apps like Tinder are a novelty of our digital age. They are extremely popular: global dating app users rose from 198.6 million in 2015 to 250 million in 2021. As if playing a game, Tinder users are presented with a deck of cards representing other users’ profiles. Swiping left on another user’s card rejects the match, and swiping right indicates an interest in matching. As with Instagram and Tik Tok, users can become trapped in a pattern of endless swiping. Although addictive, the experience is ultimately not very interesting. Apps like Tinder “gamify” love in a way that reduces romance to an exercise in left- and right-swiping.

Several years ago, Tinder added an element to the game: the “Super Like.” With “Super Liking,” another user makes your profile appear on top of their card stack with a bright blue border and star. Tinder claimed that “Super Liking” makes it three times more likely you’ll match and that your conversations with matches will last 70 percent longer.

But since twenty-three percent of Tinder profiles have no words in their bios, and over sixty percent of profiles contain 30 words or less, “Super Liking” the typical sparse profile will often be a matter of becoming invested in a mirage. This is where the unconscious becomes relevant.

We find at least two ways in which the unconscious emerges in love. First, some instances of love are best described as an unconscious search for lost objects from the past. When someone is in love, it can be as if they are “re-finding” a person or aspect of a person they were once deeply invested in but have since lost. Second, in other cases of love, the object of love is actually one’s own ego ideal. What is loved is the perfection one sees in the other. This is a way of loving what one would like to be, making it a kind of self-love. Both of these dynamics unfold beyond consciousness. This is why it is hard to know exactly what is happening as one is falling in love. The truth can often only be more clearly discerned after the fact when emotions have cooled.

Dating apps are especially able to bring out these unconscious dynamics because the profiles are so sparse. They foster the widespread projection of unconscious fantasies that emanate from within. The user sees what they most wish to see so that what is “found” in the digital dating pool can turn out to be imaginary.

Endless left- and right swiping on dating apps feed into the belief that it’s possible to be in full control over love. The presence of unconscious factors at the heart of romantic life means that the sense of control over love that dating apps foster is more illusory than real.

Even within the “game,” as the user is swiping away with seeming authority, events inevitably occur that shatter illusions of control. The most striking is the “accidental Super Like,” widely considered an “awkward” phenomenon. This happens when the user’s finger unintentionally presses the “Super Like” button or the card in the deck is mistakenly swiped upward rather than left or right.

Given the monotony of swiping, one of the few interesting things that can happen on a dating app is an accidental “Super Like.” The accidental “Super Like” is interesting–and awkward–precisely because it shocks the user with the realization that there will always be factors in romance that exist outside of conscious control.

In the end, these are actually valuable accidents because they break up the tedium for a generation of daters whose romantic lives have become defined by endless swiping.

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