What It's Like to Use Tinder in Shanghai

It is not my intention to write my first blog post in the “Expat Life in Shanghai” section about dating. But then again, dating is such an important, and at times, excruciating part of living in any city, so I think I could take a minute to address it. And more specifically, about using the Tinder app in Shanghai.

I was actually inspired to write this article after listening to the Cosmo Happy Hour podcast and reading about the article Candace Bushnell (the original Carrie Bradshaw) published on cosmopolitan.com. If you haven’t read the article, I suggest that you go and read it. It is a funny and interesting piece. The article focuses mainly on Tinder in New York, so I do find some of the experiences to be quite different to my own and my friends’ experiences in Shanghai. So what is it like in Shanghai?

Casual swiping on Tinder over some blueberry smoothie (circa 2014)

Casual swiping on Tinder over some blueberry smoothie (circa 2014)


The Tinder Game in Shanghai

For the Tinder app to load in Shanghai, you need a VPN. If you’re asking “what is VPN…?” right now, congratulations, you are one of the very few people who are more technologically-challenged than me. But then again, I own a website now so I can’t be that bad. Anyhooooo. Here’s the definition of VPN according to Google:

A virtual private network (VPN) is a network that is constructed using public wires — usually the Internet — to connect to a private network, such as a company's internal network. There are a number of systems that enable you to create networks using the Internet as the medium for transporting data.

In the language of an expat living in China, VPN is the thing you turn on in order to get on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and of course, Tinder. And the fact that many foreign companies in China set up IPs elsewhere so that employees can get on these apps and websites at the workplace really don't help with concentration. Just saying.

The reason why I’m bringing up the topic of VPN is that virtually everyone on Tinder in China need to have a working VPN program. The people who bother to pay for such programs happen to be mostly expats desperate to be on the social media apps so they can be in touch with friends and family outside of China.

So in a way, the Tinder community in Shanghai becomes a self-selected group of individuals.

To me, this is a great thing because it means you’re dating in a smaller circle, so most of the people you get matched on Tinder are probably just a friend of a friend. In fact, I see a lot of people I know on Tinder, and I’ve had guys who told me that he talked to our mutual friend about me before he decided to ask me out. So in a way, that makes me feel safer using the app to meet people. Also, the fact that most of these peeps are expats as well ensures that you have something to talk about on your first date – Shanghai expat lifestyle.  

And since VPN connection has its good and bad days, people who hit it off quite well in the beginning of the conversation would exchange their WeChat (the WhatsApp of China) ID, and they would talk on that app instead. This process also forces people to be proactive in the beginning of the conversation to get a feel for the chemistry, so there are less of those incidences of long pauses in between conversations.


What kind of guys is on Tinder in Shanghai?

In my opinion, 5 main categories:

  1. The exchange students
  2. The guys who just moved to Shanghai
  3. The guys who is about to leave Shanghai
  4. The guys who are on a business trip to Shanghai
  5. Other expat guys
Typical profile of the guys on Tinder in Shanghai - who also happened to be my high school classmate!

Typical profile of the guys on Tinder in Shanghai - who also happened to be my high school classmate!

Guys in categories 1-4 are just looking for some fun. I’ve never met up with one so I don't know what kind of “fun” they are looking for, but I think I can guesstimate.

Category 5 is the type of guy I’m looking for. Here’s the thing, if you don't have a game plan, the house always wins. I knew from the get-go that I can’t just go with the flow and let Tinder take the lead. I need to decide what kind of guy I want to meet, so I need to be in the driver’s seat.


A Self-Proclaimed Tinderella

My game plan was to go for guys who are

  1. Easy on the eyes (because why the hell not)
  2. Has a great smile (less likely to be a psychopath, but what do I know)
  3. Includes a tagline describing his work in Shanghai and where he’s originally from (if he has a job and moved to the city for a reason, he’s probably not a professional serial killer)
  4. Doesn’t have a half-naked picture of himself (I’m a prude, and I hope he is, too)
tinder match

As for me, I know I’m looking to meet a great friend, who could maybe turn into a great boyfriend.

Expectation-wise, I’m really not very hopeful.

The swiping was more an exercise for my index finger during my lunch break.

The first guy I met on Tinder was a good guy. I know, I lucked out. At the time, he just moved from Singapore to Shanghai, and he was looking for someone to show him the city. I was the perfect candidate. We explored several restaurants together in Shanghai. Unfortunately, the relationship was short-lived, but it was not bad enough for me to swear off on Tinder forever.

My first date with my now boyfriend, at Franck Bistrot in Shanghai

My first date with my now boyfriend, at Franck Bistrot in Shanghai

The second guy I met on Tinder is actually my now boyfriend. So I guess maybe the app does work, despite all the negative connotations that come with it. We were both hesitant to tell people we met on Tinder,  but I think we’ve come to terms with the fact that it really doesn’t matter how you meet, as long as the relationship keeps growing stronger. We are very lucky to find our Tinder unicorns, and I hope the other thousands or millions of people out there who are now swiping right can say the same one day.

both swiped right