Laura*, a 28-year-old New Yorker who works in media, was at an engagement party about six months ago when a friend introduced Laura to her new boyfriend. The new couple, it came out in conversation, met through the mobile dating app Tinder.“Wait a minute,” Laura thought. “They met on Tinder, which matches users based almost entirely on a profile picture? Isn’t that something people just use for casual hookups? No one actually meets a boyfriend on Tinder, do they?”But the new boyfriend was attractive—adorable, even. He had a job. He seemed normal. “I’m standing there looking at him and thinking this is someone I would date,” she said.That was the push Laura needed. She downloaded the Tinder app soon after the party. Flash forward a few months and Laura is regularly dating men she meets on Tinder, with one guy in particular in the forefront. She uses the app at her convenience, including during random moments of downtime, such as on lazy Sunday mornings, and even during tedious work conference calls.“I had a Tinder date last night, and I have another one tonight,” says Laura. “And the funny thing about the guy I’m dating is that he lives in my neighborhood. We could have—should have—met a million times before, but we go to a different gym, a different grocery store and a different dry cleaner. This is someone I should have met and never would have met [without Tinder].”For Laura and scores of people who use Tinder, mobile apps have transformed online dating as we know it. Tim Loving, Ph.D., an associate professor at the University of Texas and co-editor of “The Science of Relationships,” says mobile apps were bound to be the next step.“The increasing popularity [of mobile dating apps] primarily reflects the dramatic changes we’ve seen in technology over the past couple of decades as well as the fact that people have generally become more isolated given job demands, urbanization, etc.—and in no small part to the increasing technology,” he says. “As a result, people need to take advantage of any tool they can use to meet others, and the use of dating apps is a natural approach given how wired people are these days.”How It WorksBased on GPS technology and a Facebook profile, Tinder users log on and see profile pictures of other users up to 100 miles away. Along with a photo, users see first names, ages, possibly a few descriptive words and mutual likes pulled from Facebook.Not into the profile pictures you see? Swipe left to continue looking at user photos. Ready to make a match? Swipe right to like. If the cutie in the photo has swiped on you, too, a match is made. (If he hasn’t, he might, so be patient.) Matched couples can start a chat, and eventually take the relationship offline (or not).Tinder does not disclose the number of its users, but claims to make 10 million matches per day. More than half of its users are between the ages of 18 and 24, with 32 percent between the ages of 25 and 34.Although Tinder and other mobile dating apps are relatively new, Laura sees them as something closer to how people meet in real life. On Tinder, users browse through photos and stop on the most attractive images. In real life, we might browse the faces in a room and stop at the most attractive faces.“In a way, it’s more organic than online dating,” she notes. “It better replicates the process of seeing someone and getting interested in them. It’s like, you glance at their picture and they’re cute, and you scroll to the next picture and you’re like, okay, they’re really cute. You see something else you can talk about, and then you proceed to your conversation. To me, it mirrors more closely the way someone would strike up a conversation.”But judging whether or not someone is worth a chat based on a simple profile photo—isn’t that what we’re always told not to do? It seems shallow, right?Not necessarily, says Rachel Sussman, a New York City-based therapist and relationship expert who frequently counsels single clients. Dating apps started to take off amongst Sussman’s clients about a year ago. At first, she wasn’t sure what to make of a dating method that puts the initial emphasis on looks, and like Laura, Sussman assumed Tinder users were just looking for casual hook ups.Sussman has since come around. “If people are using these apps for dating and to meet new people with the possibility of romance, I’m all for it,” she says. “Everything is technology-based today and young people who want to be in a relationship leading to marriage are trying all different resources to get that going. How can they take control of their own destiny as opposed to sitting around, waiting to be matched up?”For Tinder users like Laura, mobile dating apps are so attractive that they’ve stopped using full-profile dating sites such as and Laura, in fact, had joined—a full-profile site for people interested in Jewish singles—but says she’s barely used it in months. For some, the immediacy and convenience of the app is more appealing. Who wants to fill out a long dating profile with dozens of probing questions, some of which feel like they require a college-entrance essay’s worth of thought, when singles can meet with a few simple Tinder swipes?“Something I like about the apps is because there’s not that much information, when you sit down with someone, it might make it [feel] more spontaneous, whereas with you already know about the person,” Sussman says. “Sometimes you have too much time to obsess over a profile [online] or to be too judgmental regarding someone else’s profile. The fun thing about Tinder is that you know a little but not too much.”Josh, a 22-year-old Boston University graduate now living in New York City, first used Tinder for fun, inviting girls to fraternity parties or just to pass the time with friends. Now that he’s moved on from college life, he is more interested in using Tinder to suss out potential dates. “The people I select on Tinder now, it’s not a game anymore,” he says. “Now, it’s a way to meet people.”Both Josh and Laura have found there are more men using Tinder than women. In fact, Tinder says 55 percent of its users are men. There’s no clear reason for that, although Sussman thinks men are generally more impatient with having to fill out the long profiles often required on dating websites.“They don’t want to sit and write about what they’re looking for in a girl or the last book they read, and the apps just seem really quick, easy and fun,” she says. “If you did start off with the [idea] of this being a good way to hook up, clearly you’re going to get more men. But I would say, if there are more men out there, then girls should go for it!”The Drawbacks—DownloadedBut every app has its pros and cons. Because Josh has noticed there are so many more men than women on Tinder—“I feel like I’m just one in a long line of guys,” he said—he has gravitated toward an app called Hinge, which is also Facebook-based. Hinge only suggests matches with whom users have a second- or third-degree Facebook connection, so there’s a shot of having friends in common.“I think it’s a little bit more of a reasonable and easier way to meet someone than, totally random, there are a million people in NYC, let’s just match up based on pictures,” says Josh. “I think that’s kind of a shallow way to do it.”Laura also uses Hinge, but hasn’t been as successful with it. Now that her friends, also in their late 20s, are starting to get married, she has a smaller pool of single friends connected through Facebook so finding dates can be just as challenging as it is in the real world.Another thing dating apps have in common with the real-time dating world: weirdos and creepy moments. Although Josh has never met anyone in person after chatting with them on Tinder, the aspiring stand-up comedian recalls one instance during a friendly Tinder chat with a woman who suddenly steered the conversation in a sexual direction. “We were having a normal conversation and then all of a sudden she started getting overtly sexual,” he says. “She was like, ‘I just got home from a long day—do you want to have some fun?’ I thought that was pretty weird considering I didn’t know her. Eventually, she said. ‘By the way, we can talk on my webcam—don’t worry, it will ask you for your credit card number but just to verify your age.’ ” That, he says, was the end of that chat.Laura is quick to put a stop to anything in a chat that makes her uncomfortable. Chats that open with questions about her breast size, for example, are immediately shut down.“I probably get the same frequency of incredibly creepy messages that lots women do, but the block feature is very simple to use,” she says. “I think a lot of it is how much you’re willing to entertain from people, and I’m not willing to entertain a lot.”While far from perfect, Sussman believes that dating apps are a good thing overall—think of them as another option in your dating arsenal. “I’m a big believer that everyone needs dating experience,” she says. “These apps are quick and easy for twenty-somethings to get out there, meet a lot of people, date around and learn what you like and what you don’t like. It’s really good to cut your teeth on that kind of stuff.”