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By Emily Parker


Emily tells us how when she got fed up with dating apps, she started to use Tinder in a completely new way. She combatted loneliness, managed to fend off a deluge of dick-pics, and got better at tennis in the process.


I’m shit at sports and always have been.


“I’m a creative person,” I assure friends when they witness my lack of coordination on a bike or my terrible hand-eye coordination trying to catch a ball, “I’ve always been better at music and cooking and stuff - words and that.” This fact hasn’t stopped me ill-advisedly seeking out opportunities to play sports, and sustaining an incredible ability to convince myself time and time again that I’m better than I actually am.


It was one such time that I decided, after watching Wimbledon and remarking to myself how much fun tennis looked if you reached a certain level of proficiency, that I would stop using Tinder for dating (I’d deleted the app and pretty much lost interest by this point anyway), and start using it to find people to play tennis with instead. My thought process was, to me, very clear:

  1. I want to get better at tennis;

  2. I’m a student and don’t have money for proper lessons;

  3. to get better I need to find people to play with who are good at it and can help me;

  4. I could have access to hundreds of guys on Tinder if I reinstall it;

  5. some of them surely have to be good at tennis;

  6. it’s summer - who doesn’t want to get out into the sun and play a game of tennis;

  7. I’m at university with access to free court space - I can play for free.


I thought I was onto a genius idea. Some of my friends treated this new quest with mild amusement and disbelief, but I was undeterred. My newly reinstated Tinder profile read,


24, English Lit master’s student

looking for someone to play tennis with

(no seriously, absolutely no romance whatsoever, just tennis please)

Get in touch if interested and good enough at tennis to sustain a rally

I should just reiterate that there was absolutely no part of me that was in any way interested in securing dates through this new Tinder tennis search. I’d been on a few dates through Tinder, which had ranged from nice but chemistry-less, to downright creepy. I’d received some irritatingly “wacky” ice-breaker intros from guys who clearly spouted the same shit to every girl they matched with by default, without even looking at the profile in question. Some of the worst ones were lines like, “Sometimes I like to go out into my parents' garden, cover myself in dirt and pretend to be a carrot.”


I’d also had to block number after number, owing to the fact I’d received far more unsolicited dick pics from complete strangers on Whatsapp than anyone should have to receive across a lifetime. The final straw came when I was followed home by one of my Tinder dates, who proclaimed, “I just want a casual relationship”, to which I replied, “Well I’m not really after casual relationships, so no thanks,” to which he immediately replied, “But that’s fine too because I’m also looking for my future wife!” to which I replied, “No no, thank you, I’m not looking for a husband either, bye” and sped up my pace of walking; to which he responded, “Wait, wait!”, striding over to me, pinning me forcefully against the railings of the university park, looking at me lustfully and then leaning in to kiss me. At this I screamed loudly, wriggled out from under his arms and ran all the way home. After that incident I deleted Tinder altogether.


So it really was solely my mission to get better at tennis that drove me to download the app again. And with my new tennis-focused profile, things were different than they had been in my previous Tinder escapades, right from the get-go. When guys got in touch, I didn’t care at all about what they looked like - whether they were at university, or how prestigious their jobs were. I wasn’t trying to imagine what each guy would be like when I met them, or attributing them with a complete personality and outlook on life in my head before even meeting them. In fact, in the lead-up to the meet-ups I didn’t think about a single one of them once. I didn’t wonder whether they found some of their other matches more attractive than me based on our profile pictures, or worry that when they saw me in person I wouldn’t meet the unattainable standards of beauty they would no-doubt have in their heads because of the media’s one-dimensional portrayal of women.


In fact, with each person I met, we short-cutted the ‘chat’ on the app altogether. I wasn’t afraid to write the first message when we matched. My first message always said, “Hi - you up for tennis this week? Let me know when you’re free.” Any chat after that would be on the subject of tennis equipment, court arrangements, what the weather would be like on the scheduled day, and our respective levels of tennis experience. Conversation was matter-of-fact, helpful, free from any gameplay and from any over-thought or overwrought emotional sentiment.


I met up with around ten people that summer, some multiple times, and my tennis really did begin to improve. Did any of them think I was after more than just tennis? Of course. A couple of guys approached me at the net with a knowing smile as our game came to a close and said, “So, shall we go for a drink now?” (one actually winked at me, as if we’d both been in on some big secret together for the duration of the game). To which I would reply, “No no, seriously, this is just tennis.”


Some looked a bit put-out by this, and I didn’t end up playing with them again. But a couple of them took these meetings as they were intended - at face value. I ended up playing multiple times with these guys over the summer, and towards the end of the season I did end up going for a drink after games with some of them. On one occasion I actually invited three of them to the court for a game of doubles, after which we all went to the pub together.


What I loved about these times was that all pretence and expectation had been removed from the dating situation. In one-on-one situations, neither of us was analysing our discourse for signs of romance or chemistry. We were quite happy to chat and swap interests, tips, experiences of the university, and to part ways after the drink without anxiety about where things would go from there. I got to meet people I never would have had a chance to meet if I’d been judging their suitability and character based on a tiny two-dimensional online profile. And some of the people I ended up having the best times with and learning the most from were the people I’d have been least likely to swipe right on otherwise.


This experience convinced me that the enemies of dating are expectation and preconception. Friends who use dating apps today tell me that they believe the biggest problems with the dating scene in big cities are:

  1.  People are too impatient.

  2.  There are too many options constantly.

  3.  We’re all afraid to make the first move, or to follow up - in other words, to be  vulnerable.

It strikes me that when Tinder became for me about meeting people with a mutual interest, I felt totally liberated from all of these constraints. Everything became less personal, and my ego was no longer involved. It wasn’t about me, or the person I was meeting. It was about tennis. I didn’t meet anyone that I ended up on a romantic level with, but were I to return to dating apps now, I would still take a similar approach. I’m convinced I’d have more chance of hitting it off with someone on a romantic level that way than through calculatingly using the app to look for “the one”, whatever that ridiculous phrase is supposed to mean. And though the whole thing may have been a laughable idea to so many of my friends, I played more tennis that summer than I’d played in my life. And I met some lovely people I wouldn’t have had the chance to meet otherwise. And that’s got to be a win.

Gif via James Curran via Pinterest

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