14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 30 December 2016 — “You have to show yourself like a peacock, with all your colors,” Tito, 22, explains to a friend who just downloaded the Tinder application onto his phone. The social dating network is sweeping the island and among young people it is one of the most used apps in the wifi zones, where it competes in popularity with IMO, Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp.
“I signed up two months ago and I have already met several girls,” a young man with a degree in accounting and a job as a waiter in a private restaurant tells 14ymedio, as he looks for a connection under the screen name Victor Manuel. Every night Tito goes to La Rampa to “hunt for chicks with my cellphone,” he says. In his profile photo he wears a tight T-shirt and a thick gold chain around his neck.
The success of Tinder, created in 2012 in the United States by Sean Rad, Justin Mateen, Jonathan Badeen and Ramón Denia, is due in large measure to that it has simplified the act of making contact
The success of Tinder, created in 2012 in the United States by Sean Rad, Justin Mateen, Jonathan Badeen and Ramón Denia, is largely due to the fact that it has simplified the act of making contact. Unlike other dating tools such as OkCupid, Match, Meetic and eDarling, this tool avoids long questionnaires and algorithms that seek affinity between one user and another.
In its interface, translated into 24 languages and available in 196 countries, you only need to take a quick look to select or remove a candidate. Tinder was chosen as 2014 App of the Year at the Enter.Co Awards. At that time it was estimated it already had more than 50 million users.
Tito’s routine includes reviewing photos and small biographies of network users around him. When he sees a profile he likes, he touches the image with a finger and swipes right to ‘like’ it. If the woman does the same with his photo, then they can begin to interact. With a swipe to the left, profiles that are not of interest are discarded.
Mobile dating apps and erotic chat rooms are gaining ground among Cubans. At first people connected through Facebook Messenger, sent hot photos through Zapya, or chatted in matchmaking forums, but increasingly they use services created specifically “for these purposes,” says José Ramón, an engineer who graduated from the University of Information Sciences (UCI).
Ramón says that “there have been several attempts to make a national application to connect couples, but in the end those that have an international reach haven’t taken hold, because many Cubans want contact with foreigners and with people who have emigrated.”
On several national classified ad sites there are ads for “boy seeks girl” with all the possible variations of gender and number, but José Ramón believes that the Tinder experience is totally different, since it gets the adrenaline flowing because you can the users who are connected nearby and who are looking for a partner.
“From the beginning of the exchange of messages to the first kiss, it can be less than half an hour”
“That means that from the beginning of the exchange of messages to the first kiss, it can be less than half an hour,” he says. “No need to go slowly because everyone who has set up an account on this service is looking to find someone as quickly as possible. Even the timid ‘start off running’.” he jokes.
With the diplomatic thaw between Cuba and the United States, many Internet services have included the island in their services. Now tourists can book accommodation through the popular website Airbnb, and Cubans on the island can download utilities from Google Play while local applications have also flourished.
Country maps, private restaurant recommendations, guides for rental houses and tools for buying and selling products abound among the creations of national developers. But Tinder offers something different: an intuitive and fun platform to flirt, date and get into bed with someone who an hour before was a perfect stranger.
Prior to having Tinder, Tito used to hookup the old fashioned way. “I would stand outside the clubs or on the wall of the Malecon until I would see some woman alone.” But he confesses that getting out the first word embarrassed him and it was difficult to break the ice. Now he seems decided while he right swipes the profile of a nurse, age 23. “This is like choosing a flavor of ice cream: sometimes you are surprised by a good chocolate and other times you have to make do with vanilla.”
Alberto and Andrea Orlandini, authors of the Dictionary of Love, published by Editorial Oriente, believe that when relationships are sought through the network or other digital tools “deception is common” but “it is not unusual to find cases of genuine love which can end in a good marriage.”
“I can only count to 15,” a recently arrived tourist confessed in his Tinder account. It was an ingenious way of saying that he was missing a hand. His sincerity, on a network where exaggerations about physical attributes abound and photos are commonly retouched, earned him several right swipes among a group of young people connected near the Cuba Pavilion.
“Sometimes, when you meet the person, they don’t look like the profile picture,” complains Ana Laura, 19. “It has happened to me several times that the guy was older, fatter or uglier in person.” In her account, the girl shows herself with wet hair, her lips painted a deep red and with the gesture of giving a kiss. She says she is looking for someone to “have a good time with without worries.”
“Everyone who opens an account does it because they want to get something, because they are looking to have a good time, so you don’t have to try too many times”
Official statistics show that Cubans are increasingly thinking less of alliances in the style of “until death do us part.” In recent years there has been a decline in legal unions. Between 2014 and 2015, marriages dropped from 63,954 to 61,902 nationwide, while divorces increased from 32,934 to 33,174, according to figures published in the 2015 Statistical Yearbook.
Tinder has helped solve the problems of shyness. The application makes the first encounter easier and gives the dates a certain ease. “Everyone who opens an account does it because they want to get something, because they are looking to have a good time, so you don’t have to try too many times,” says Tito, who has introduced several friends to the application which, until a few months ago, was practically unknown in Cuba.
“The more people open a better account, the more the rumor gets out and the more cuties sign up on the network,” he speculates in a macho tone. Having solved the problems of his shyness thanks to the app, Tito already looks like a conqueror and expresses his desire that by the middle of next year, “Tinder will be the talk of Havana.”
Mary, a fictitious name, is Peruvian and this December she came to Cuba for the second time in less than a year. A few months ago she had an intense relationship with a young woman from Matanzas living in Havana and has since made many friendships in the city’s LGBTI community. “The days I spend here I go to many parties and I drink a lot of rum,” she says. But her great goal is “to find sex, all I can, in the shortest possible time.”
This Tuesday, Mary had breakfast in the cafeteria of the hotel Habana Libre while connecting with her tablet to the La Rampa wifi. “I go into my Tinder account and look for women who are closest, it’s a question of waiting.” Her preference is “thin mulattos,” but a few days ago she met “an impressive blonde,” she says.
So far no one has asked for money directly, but the Peruvian has given them all “good gifts and paid for dinner”
Swipe right to accept. Swipe left to discard. “Then I read more details about their biography and see if there is something I especially like.” So far no one has asked her for money directly, but the Peruvian has given them all “nice gifts, and paid for dinner.”
Mary has just discovered the profile of a 20-year-old girl who is studying medicine and presents herself as “very affectionate and ready for everything.” The Cuban has also swiped right on the visitor’s profile and they begin to exchange messages through the application. They make an appointment to meet at the corner of 23 and M half an hour later.
“It’s very good news that this is taking hold here, because it helps a lot to people who come for the first time and want to meet others who have the same interests,” said Mary. Tuesday is her sixth date in less than a week since she arrived on the island. “I have to get the most out of it every day, because I’m leaving on Sunday,” she explains.
Jessica, 28, had to spend more than six months freeing herself from a pimp, who had taken control. The woman has been engaged in prostitution for more than five years and had always done it on her own, but a boyfriend offered her protection and ended up extorting her. Fortunately for her, the man was picked up in a drug raid and is now in prison.
Jessica, has signed up on Tinder so that she can find “another kind of client, a higher level.” Her profile on the social network does not explicity state that she is a “sex worker,” but in the photo she is wearing very sexy clothes, and her description promises “fun without commitment” and adds that she likes “mathematics” as a way of suggesting a monetary transaction. She has already gotten two dates through the application.
While many digital sites with critical content on the government are censored, dating services operate without restrictions
“I do not have to worry so much about the police, I just sit around and connect to the wifi,” she explains. “I then go with the person to some place, not on the street, and the operation is much safer,” she says. She has several friends who are also in the business and recommended the tool. “This is a gain for us because it allows us to sell the merchandise faster and better.”
Authorities have not reacted to Tinder’s progress among young Cubans. While digital sites critical of the Government are censored, dating services operate without restrictions in wireless connection areas, within the Youth Clubs, and one the public terminals installed by the Cuban Telecommunications Company (Etecsa).
At the moment, the application is mostly used by young people between 16 and 30, with a more relaxed attitude towards love relationships. “Not for anything in the world would I put myself on one of those services,” says Monica, age 42 and divorced. Her biggest fear is that they would find out at her work that she is “looking for a husband on the internet.”
A fear that doesn’t even enter Tito’s head, as he has already selected six possible candidates for his next date. “This is incredible, before I had to spend a tremendous amount of saliva and wear out the soles of my shoes to sleep with someone, and now I just need to be here at La Rampa, looking at the screen of my mobile.”