The Secret to Talking to Girls

I am a Tinder veteran.

Naturally this throws up many inconvenient questions in a Singaporean milieu that is (or rather, pretends to be) conservative. I’ve been on Tinder for about a year now, after having joined this app out of curiosity – the anthropological kind, and the schoolboy’s kind.

I mean, I have to first pretend it’s an academic interest right? A detached curiosity?

But paired with that was a curiosity about the connotations Tinder had acquired over the years. People in my circles spoke of it surreptitiously, or jokingly, or sheepishly. In other words, Tinder was talked about very much in the manner in which it was ostensibly for – casual sex. (THERE, I SAID IT). And as a boy, a man, configured and conditioned by my societal norms and expectations, I was indeed curious about the possibility of casual sex. Did I crave it? Not really. Decades of sheepish sex education in schools had embedded a deep fear of STDs in me. Was I curious still? You bet.

And the best way to learn about something is to jump straight in.

Jumping Into the Buffet

I was quickly disabused of the notion that joining Tinder would automatically grant me access to casual sex. Or 72 virgins. Surprisingly, it didn’t work like that!!! Astonishingly, nobody leapt up from the interwebs to beg me for sex, nor tell me how gorgeously beautiful and desirable I was. I think it’s because I am a guy. Girls have a very different experience.

Girl friends who joined the app (“just out of curiosity”) have told me it’s an ego boost, because it’s so easy to get a ‘match’ there. I am told that as a girl on Tinder, self-validation is very easy to find because of the sausage party that the app is. Guys would swipe right (indicating their interest) on virtually anyone and anything that suggested they had a vagina. This is the stereotype, then: of deprived boys frothing with lust waving sausages around, and nymphomaniacs frothing with lust waving oysters around. It’s supposed to be a buffet.

Yet, while I did not (thankfully) get all the casual sex that my crazy, frothy imagination churned up, I did learn some things from being on Tinder. Many things, really, although this is not the intended space for those stories. Suffice to say that I’ve had my share of stories, however – some were epics, some were satires, some were comedies, some were tragedies; occasionally (rarely) some of them metastasized into romances.

But I’m not here to whine about my ‘misadventures’, because I am not a chick-lit bad writer. I am here to tell you about other things whilst on Tinder.

Ethnographic Surveys

I know it sounds ridiculously trite, or an excuse, but Tinder does offer the curious wanderer a fascinating insight into the less-seen aspects of Singaporean society; any society really.

The Tinder profile basically requires the prospective casual-sexxxer/foolish romantic to condense his/her ‘personality’ into a few sentences and into a few pictures. Squeezed for space, it is interesting to see how people present themselves. What do people think are their most attractive features? What would they say to suggest that they are attractive? Is it a quote? From whom? A picture? Of where? Of what?

After awhile though, patterns emerge. You could virtually play Bingo, or a Drinking Game with the recurrence of particular themes and tropes. It’s surprising how many people claim to like to “travel”, or be itching with “wanderlust”, by brandishing pictures of themselves in easily recognisable European attractions or snow mountains. Or doing some stupid thing with some stupid Leaning Tower. Someone ought to do a class/Marxist analysis of exotic locales on Tinder profile pics. It says a lot about the general affluence (and maybe effluence) levels of Singaporean society, that so many of us can show off so many exotic places in our ‘best face forward’ pictures. For a tropical nation, it’s staggering how many trenchcoats and scarfs there are. A friend says cold countries allows you to hide your fats better. Coastlines, toilet mirrors, some stupid light exhibit at the Artscience Museum…like the crush you stalked on Facebook, you get to know these places long before you actually ever see them in real life. For example, I feel like I already know the Fushimi Inari Shrine at Kyoto intimately, simply because I’ve seen it so many times on Tinder profiles.


People also seem to have a propensity to advertise the kind of beverage they like to drink. Coffee and wine seem to be perennial crowd pleasers. Drinking the roasted juices of fermented plant products is supposed to make us all very attractive. And don’t forget canine buddies! That’s supposed to make you more Loveable and Approachable, apparently. I mean, I did put one up, and it seemed to work…for a given value of work.

Author and his tinder profile picture. Dog from Hway Pakoot, Mae Chaem, Chiang Mai. Boy from Singapore, Singapore, Singapore.

I don’t get a lot of matches on Tinder, perhaps because I don’t have what my friend calls a ‘fuccboi face’; it’s to my everlasting disappointment that I do not have washboard abs nor matching pipes. Nor do I have a very expensive car, and I don’t think my parents’ Toyota counts.

So how?

And here’s the ‘secret’, from a Tinder ‘veteran’: stories.

Games, Questions and Stories

I know, it all sounds incredibly underwhelming doesn’t it? And so condescendingly trite. It’s like the answer you give for a bad class when someone asks you if the module or its instructor was worth attending lectures for – “welllll, he’s a nice person“. This, of course, tries desperately to obscure other things which aren’t so nice.

But that’s university classes. I think relating to people can be the most difficult thing to do, and yet also surprisingly simple. I don’t mean easy, because that would connote a game. I don’t like to play games with people’s minds and emotions, and I am not that kind of person – deliberate emotional manipulation isn’t really my hobby.

One of the things Tinder taught me to do was how to talk to strangers.

Tinder threw me into uncomfortable situations – sometimes virtually, but on occasion, in real-life, face-to-face encounters too. How do you open a conversation with a person you only know at best two lines about, from their ‘profile’? What happens if those two lines are from a shitty song – but she’s so gorgeous? Do you try to flog a dead conversation, or is an inch of make-up supposed to compensate for a dire lack of personality? Is someone who is physically attractive but an utter bore worth a whole evening of your time? Do you listen to your cool brain, your crazy penis, your soft heart, or your wise gut? Or none of the above? Coffee, tea or me?

What are you going to fill the awkward silences with?

These questions, and so many other subtle ones, were questions I had to confront again and again, on the rare occasions someone actually ‘matched’ with me. And since every human being is unique and different, (despite some dreadfully banal similarities) I had to learn how to adapt.

Yet the running theme was this: empathy and consideration. What do I mean by this? Simply the ability to think for and about other people. The ability to take an active interest in someone else’s life – and not only that – but to really listen. To ask interesting, imaginative questions that keep the conversation flowing.

The Secret to Talking to Girls

No, of course it isn’t a job interview. But i’ve found, both from experiencing it and from carrying it out, that girls indeed do respond well when you take an interest not only in what they do, but how they feel about certain issues. About the stories they tell you about themselves.

Likewise, I always feel an affinity with girls who not only ask the standard ‘WAH HISTORY AH SO ARE U GONNA BE A TEACHERRRR’ or ‘WHY ARE U SO OBSASSED WITH DA PAST SO BORING SIA HISTORY’, but seem genuinely curious about the roads and the thoughts which led me to where I am today.

Ask questions. No, not the ones in a Unilever Interview.

Ask for their stories.

Ask for their thoughts and stories. Because everyone has one; some people simply haven’t unearthed theirs yet. And you know what, you may be the first guy or person or demigendered velociraptor who bothered to ask, and ask so deeply. My advice is not profound, nor does it really make sense. My advice is simply: listen to their stories. And tell your own too.

The secret to talking to girls is the secret to talking to everyone. It is not about talking. Conversation is an art, but I think that the first stroke begins with the ear (incidentally a highly erogenous zone).    

NUSWhispers is a wasteland of ‘evergreen’ people with bad grammar, begging for more tips and advice. And the tips come by the cartloads, often arrogant, pedantic and prescriptive. Perhaps even chauvinistic, although that’s probably less now, because of the Social Media Social Justice Thought Police. I do not presume to speak any better than these anonymous sensei fuccboi casanovas (just one ‘no’ from a cassava. This picture below is a cassava.)


I speak only with the thoughts of someone who has seen and felt the glow of a good story. Of someone who has seen the way a girl’s face lights up, telling me about her father, or that one time she got lost in Europe. Of the joy of hearing someone who shares the same bitchy sentiment as me about some awful thing.

I know that our ‘conservative’ Singaporean society likes to pretend that it is shocked and scandalised by Tinder. And maybe there’s something disquieting about how an app like Tinder is giving such unfettered and unprecedented access to human beings and monsters alike (have you ever read the Wiki entry about Albert Fish, an American serial killer and child cannibal? Don’t read it. Here you go.). This is to say nothing about the increased opportunities for exploitation and abuse that human ingenuity is so good at achieving.

But such is the human being, the thinking man, who will use whatever tools at his disposal to achieve some idea he has in his head. It is our greatest blessing and our most damning curse.

But at the root of it all, I can’t help but feel that the more things seem to change, the more they will stay the same.

Human connection, at its heart, remains about stories: myths and narratives about our struggles as vulnerable creatures in an uncertain world, trying to grasp for some semblance of normalcy; for some hope of a Hollywood romance.We are all frightened animals, seeking comfort, seeking hope. Even the sheep. Even the wolves.

So. What’s your story?




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