I set up two profiles on the dating app, identical apart from the fact one was a smoker, the other a non-smoker. Here’s what happened.
There are precisely three scenarios in which re-downloading Tinder while you’re in a relationship is ok:
You’re in one of those spooky couples who float around dating sites soliciting threesomes.
You’re doing a social experiment to see how smoking impacts your chances of getting a date.
I was going for option three when I downloaded the little red flame again last week. I’d read online that 70 percent of women are put off by smokers when searching for a date, and 56 percent say they wouldn’t date a smoker, and I was intrigued. Is a smoking habit really that much of a deal-breaker?
I started digging a little more, but everything I found pointed in the same direction. Data from Hinge showed men who identify themselves as smokers get rejected almost 90 percent of the time, and a survey in the US showed two out of three non-smoking women will swipe left on a smoker.
It had been a while since I’d earnestly used Tinder
But I was a little skeptical. Firstly, there were some gaps in the numbers. Most of the findings were pretty heteronormative, written for straight men to try and work out how to approach women, which left question marks over what LGBTQ+ men might think of cigarette smoking.
Then there was the fantasyland hugeness of the numbers. They seemed implausibly dramatic. So I decided to scrutinise them the only way I knew how - by desperately attempting to chat up total strangers on the internet.
It had been a while since I’d earnestly used Tinder for the traditional purpose - trying to find someone to play pétanque with in the hope they might want to sleep with me after. I needed to remember what worked (manically swiping right) and what didn’t (pétanque) in finding matches.
I had to create two characters, Smoker Francis and Non-Smoker Francis. For the experiment to work they had to be exactly the same, bar cigarettes. So I asked my girlfriend to take identical photos of me by a window, one of me smoking and the other doing a wholesome equivalent - cradling a lemon and ginger tea.
Then I asked her to Photoshop cigarettes into two other photos of me, both of which ended up with slightly bizarre perspective that defied physics to keep the cigarette in place, either floating between my open fingers or on top of my closed mouth (thankfully you can’t zoom in on Tinder).
Slightly perturbed by the experience of Photoshopping cigarettes into old photos of her boyfriend so that he could semi-catfish people on the internet, she nonetheless agreed to let me use her phone and I set up a second account there.
With maximum geographic span, and maximum gender span, I began to swipe frantically, but also, this time round, methodically. I swiped as much as I could every day (since I last used Tinder, it has switched to a kind of budget airline model of trying to mug you off with upgrades at every turn, so you only get about 90 free swipes daily).
Once the pics were in, I needed a bio so I solicited the help of my favourite relationship consultant, WikiHow, to see what advice I could glean.
“The easiest option, which also provides good conversation starters and date ideas, is to include the types of activities you enjoy,” it read. “For instance, write something like, ‘Likes to float in rivers. Also very into eating Korean food.’”
I popped that into both bios and added “Sometimes at the same time”, (WikiHow is also adamant that you should have good craic, and this line was sure to have people rolling in the aisles). Then I added a reference to cigarettes for the smoking profile, which ended up reading: “Likes to float in rivers. Also very into Korean food. And cigarettes. Sometimes at the same time.” It was, I simply had to admit, fantastic patter.
In the first couple of days the two accounts were roughly equal in terms of matches, then the non-smoking profile started to pull ahead.
On Sunday it had 34, then leapt ahead with 59, then 94, while Smoker Francis lagged behind on around 70. People slid headlong into my DMs asking about bibimbap and kimchi and different flotation techniques. One person offered to push me off a bridge to see if I’d float in some kind of 2019 reimagining of the Salem witch trials, but clarified this was meant as flirting and they didn’t intend to actually do it, which was a nice touch. I was definitely on track to line up a date before the week was through.
But people were more hesitant about the smoking profile. Dan (whose name, like all of the matches mentioned here, has been changed for privacy) said he liked “the versatility of your hair. Buzzcut or shaggy you look nice. Good crouching ability suggests a healthy muscular-skeletal situation. Arm round the shoulder signals warmth and affection.” It was all looking good until he dropped the clanger: “Not a massive fan of the ciggies though.”
Jake said “you must love cigarettes, they’re in all your photos”. When I asked if he smoked himself he said “I quit. It was making me feel very ill and my heart palpitate.” He said he would date a smoker, but would prefer a non-smoker. Meanwhile, Sarah just facetiously asked “Do you smoke?”, and Elliot, who must have noticed both accounts and point-blank refused to piss about, weighed in with a simple but effective: “I think I prefer non-smoking Francis”.
For the final couple of days I tried altering the smoking bio to a simple “Smoker”, in case the slightly unhinged image of a man belly up in a canal eating chilli-pickled cabbage was skewing things. But it didn’t make a difference. It ended up on 103 matches to non-smoking’s 157.
When I first re-downloaded Tinder I hadn’t quite expected it to wind up that way. In spite of the survey findings, I thought people’s unconscious associations with cigarettes — especially with the smell removed — would help me look better. As embarrassing as this is, I’d tried to method act edginess over the years by smoking the odd cigarette, suppressing the inconvenient rising feeling of an itchy cough, or sour nausea that would turn up uninvited mid-way through. It was a ham-fisted attempt to counter my naturally boyish looks and soft demeanour, long after a teenagerish flirtation with smoking as “cool” should have given up the ghost.
The all-pervasive cliché of having a post-coital fag has been around for decades
Cringey? Most definitely, but it’s easy to see where the idea comes from. The all-pervasive cliché of having a post-coital fag has been around for decades. It originated with savvy ad men marketing cigarettes to liberated modern women, which was picked up by filmmakers who used cigarettes as a euphemistic symbol for sex when 1940s and '50s censorship prevented them from showing the real deal. Films like The Graduate or Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless helped cement the connection, and it went on to become a kind of meme that spread into people’s everyday lives.
Long after those ad execs and Hollywood moguls lit their last smoke, the stale smell of their work is still around. In one American state, “smoking” was last year revealed to be the most searched term on PornHub. There’s even an ambient rock band called Cigarettes After Sex who make very... libidinal music. (The frontman sings like he’s about to have slow, languid sex with the microphone right there in the studio, but it’s doubtful this has anything to do with a smoking habit, which has been shown to negatively impact sexual performance).
On one level I was surprised to see just how clearly the association between smoking and sexiness is fading, evaporating into distant memory like the allotted smoking tables of pre-smoking ban gastropubs. People really do find it nicer and simpler when smoking isn’t part of the equation at all, so while a fag won’t put everyone off, it’s certainly not a draw in itself.
There was the grand conclusion to my pseudo-scientific experiment. Plenty of people would think I was a terrible ghoster, embarrassingly impressed by my own ability to smoke, but I’d come away with some kind of knowledge at least. If I wanted to get a date I was better off switching the snouts for a lemon and ginger tea. And maybe some kimchi. So brb, off to float on some rivers.