Andrew Luna was about ready to break it off with Tinder.
“I wanted to use it to meet girls, take them on dates, and find someone I wanted to marry,” he said.
But after a few years of searching, the engineering major could only check the first two boxes. He stopped making much of an effort, but used the smartphone app in December to send a winking emoticon to Gloria, a transfer student he had never met.
The young woman surprised him by asking if he had finished his final exams — demonstrating more interest than others with whom he had struck a “match.”
About eight months later, the two Brigham Young University students wed in the temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the bride’s hometown of Gilbert, Arizona.
And they are not alone. At BYU, the location-based app is a modern matchmaker, helping many to meet and later wed.
Some celebrate nuptials before receiving diplomas from the school, where one in four students is married.
Tinder’s wholesome identity on the Provo campus is a stark contrast from its reputation at other colleges and in other cities, where it is known as a conduit for more casual encounters.
It allows users to narrow preferences based on proximity, age and gender, then thumb through profiles with photos and brief descriptions.
And proximity is key. Only profiles within a limited radius can be seen. If two users approve one another’s picture by flicking it to the right, they can correspond — and perhaps meet.
“You don’t have that fear of rejection,” said SaraJane George, a University of Utah communication major who started the blog Right Swiped with her husband, Chris, a BYU alumnus. The pair created the site to help tech-averse family members understand the couple’s initial electronic courtship.
“The hardest part of talking to somebody is that fear,” George said. “And now you’ve eliminated that.”
The service caters to a plugged-in crowd and is not confined to college students. Its effect on young Wall Street workers, for example, is profiled in a September Vanity Fair article titled “Tinder and the Dawn of the Dating Apocalypse.”
But for many at Utah universities, the digital connection is a way to narrow the dating pool — and find a partner.
Tom Graham, a 30-year-old master’s student at BYU, found himself outnumbered by undergraduates in his business classes. The odds of meeting a potential life partner among fellow MBA students were slim, he said, “unless I wanted to try to date someone who was a good 10 years younger than me, which is not what I wanted to do.”
Tinder helped him meet more mature candidates, but it wasn’t until after graduating that he came across a picture of his future wife.
The two agreed to meet for hot cocoa at Fashion Place Mall.
“My sister was going to meet me to come finish shopping and I ignored her calls a couple times,” Graham said.
Graham and the Lunas say the number of fellow “Tinder couples” they know is growing, and some have had children.
After texting through winter break, Andrew and Gloria Luna met in person at BYU’s salsa club in January. They danced and spent much of the next few weeks together.
Gloria Luna, a family life major, had initially thought she wouldn’t need to “go online” to meet someone. She liked her routine of class and time with friends but wanted to go on more dates. Friends urged her to give the app a shot, but she still had reservations.
She consulted her local faith leader, who offered some encouragement. The bishop said she should pay more attention to “where people’s hearts are,” she said, than how she meets them.
“I’m glad I did,” she said.
At the LDS Church-owned university, the heavy Tinder traffic makes sense, said Gloria, citing her faith’s emphasis on family and marriage.
“It wasn’t like there was somebody whispering in our ears, ‘Get married, get married, get married,'” she said. “But deep down, there is that pressure here because people do have that understanding and identity of their purpose on Earth.”
Still, not everyone wants to settle down. Some report that flicking through hundreds of profiles in a week has made young suitors restless — convinced that someone better could soon appear beneath their thumb.
“You have to be careful in your mindset,” said George.
After dating Chris for a time, she said her mindset was: “If I love him and he loves me, there’s nothing else to worry about.”
BYU’s relationship with Tinder has made news in the past. In 2013, pranksters reportedly lured dozens of BYU men to a Provo frozen yogurt shop in pursuit of a 21-year-old blond woman. The fictitious “Sammy” was a no-show, and the meet-up spot was teeming with college men, the Huffington Post reported.
But according to Tinder itself, the balance tilts toward BYU men when it comes to “right swipes.”
The school’s male students are the second most popular of any one group of college men nationwide, behind Georgetown University, the company announced recently. BYU women, by contrast, did not secure a spot in the top 25.
That’s not out of the ordinary. Few had both genders make the list.
Tinder did not release more details or respond to requests for comment.