Tacos have only been sold in the United States for about 100 years, when refugees from the Mexican Revolution brought the rolled tortillas with them to the Southwest. In the century since, they’ve become one of America’s favorite food items: Cheap, delicious, and wildly versatile, they’re now widely available everywhere from street corners to fancy restaurants to rural highway rest stops in the form of one of the country’s most popular fast-food chains.
But online, and specifically on dating apps, tacos are more than just beloved: They are advertisements for a stranger’s entire personality.
“I’m just here for the tacos,” reads a typical, somewhat self-conscious bio of a 20- or 30-something city-dwelling single person on apps like Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge. “I’ll take you to the best taco spot in town,” boasts another. When tacos don’t show up in the form of an emoji on someone’s bio, they still might use it as an opening line — “Tacos or quesadillas?” — as if anyone would ever have to choose between those two equally delicious foods. (“Buy me tacos and touch my butt,” is a slightly different but related variant.)
Why is it that tacos, a messy food that absolutely no one looks hot eating, are inescapable on the websites we visit to find someone to make out with? Like most internet phenomena, there are both simple answers and complicated ones. Everyone is on dating apps in search of some kind of connection, after all. Why not align yourself with something 100 percent of people love?
But there are other factors at play here, be the internet’s adoration of snacks or tacos symbolizing a certain type of mildly cultured person. And then, of course, there is the fact that everything we include on our dating apps is a constructed performance with relatively high stakes and an explicit endgame (true love, maybe, or at least a hookup), and that people are, underneath our hard taco shells, all the same.
“Oh, god,” says one friend when I bring up Taco Tinder. Within a few minutes, she’s sent me a handful of screenshots from Hinge mentioning tacos that she’d swiped through at that very moment. Other friends — men and women, most of them straight — say tacos were mentioned in anywhere from a third to 80 percent of bios they see.
This has not always been the case. Years ago, it seemed, a different not-exactly-healthy food item dominated dating apps: pizza. Loving pizza has long been a universal signifier of being down-to-earth, that despite someone’s toned body or expensive vacations, they too enjoy the cheap and caloric combination of sauce, cheese, and bread. Just like 2013’s most relatable celebrity, Jennifer Lawrence!
The ideal woman according to guys’ Hinge profiles pic.twitter.com/iAdy8WaKwH— Gina (@ginadivittorio) July 1, 2019
It was in the early 2010s that pizza (and, to a larger extent, junk food in general) began signifying something different online: Teens and young women on Twitter and Tumblr were incorporating exaggerated odes to pizza into their personas in a kind of backlash to health culture. In 2014, writers Hazel Cills and Gabrielle Noone published a comprehensive guide to “snackwave,” or the phenomenon of junk food as a somewhat subversive internet symbol.
By that point, the language of snackwave had already been co-opted by corporate brand accounts like DiGiorno and Totino’s mimicking the irony and self-deprecation that permeated the junk food internet. The fashion industry, too, started slapping pizza and fries onto clothing, which was then worn by extremely famous celebrities. At the 2014 Oscars, staffers handed out slices of pizza to the A-list attendees, elevating the greasy delight to the highest echelons of pop culture.
It’s not difficult to understand, then, why pizza has since been a popular noun to include in one’s dating app bio. In short, it’s a humblebrag: “Yes, I’m cute and you should date me, but by admitting that I enjoy a food historically imbued with negative implications about one’s consumption habits, I can’t really be that uptight,” particularly if you possess the whiteness and thinness that can shield you from such criticism.
Tacos are an extension of the same phenomenon, an evolution that suggests all those same things but with an added element of worldliness. “They’re just pizza but make you seem a hair more cultured and accepting,” says Dan Geneen, a producer at Eater. As a food industry professional who uses dating apps, he’s accustomed to strangers wanting to talk to him about tacos. But typically, he finds what they actually mean is that they love margaritas and that they want to go to one or two specific trendy restaurants that serve expensive Mexican food rather than going to get a street taco.
“When people say ‘tacos,’ they mean Tacombi,” he says, referring to a restaurant that opened in downtown New York City in 2010 where reservations are still sometimes tricky to get. Around the same time in the same neighborhood, one of the hottest spots in the city was La Esquina, a taco joint with a downstairs club frequented by celebrities, both of which Dan attributes to Taco Tinder. It isn’t just a New York thing — over the past decade, new Mexican restaurants across the country have earned Michelin stars for experimenting and elevating the cuisine, and in doing so changed what it means to “go get tacos.”
No major American cities are as associated with tacos as Los Angeles or Austin, which have high populations of people with Mexican heritage. But on the apps, tacos are still often used as shorthand for a personality trait. “Like, yes, I love tacos, duh, but mentioning it as though it were something unique about me is as mundane as telling someone I bought new underwear yesterday,” says Annie Fichtner, an online vintage clothing seller in Austin.
There, however, tacos are imbued with far more significance. “That shit can get pretty political here, not just about taste but about who’s running the stand,” Fichtner says. “Is this a white-owned taco chain or a Mexican-owned local stand that’s been doing this for the last 30 years?”
There is also the added irony of swaths of white people claiming to know the “best” taco joint in their city. “Usually the tacos suck,” says Krystyna Chávez, a social media editor in New York. “So many of them are thinking Tex-Mex and just don’t know any better, which is kind of sad.”
Perhaps it’s too easy to judge people who include tacos in their dating app profiles. Those things are hard to write, after all. I also discovered, in the course of writing this story, that more than one of my friends mentions tacos in their profile. And apparently, it works! “It really does start a ton of conversations, so it has a good success rate,” a straight female friend told me.
Fichtner can also understand why people would cling to something as ubiquitous as tacos in her city, particularly if they’re new to the area, as well as the impulse to swipe right on a taco. “I have a few female friends who have had bad experiences on the apps and are now particularly wary of any dude who seems a bit too odd, so they go for these Taco Dudes as somewhat of a security measure,” she says. “Getting tacos is casual and low-pressure.”
But it’s that overly safe, “I promise I’m normal!” ethos that makes tacos in a dating app such an easy target for ridicule. On the subreddit r/Bumble, one post demands, “What is up with ‘I’m just here for the tacos’ and ‘buy me tacos and touch my butt’ and anything taco-related? Has all creativity and originality gone out the window now? We get it. You like tacos. Do you like/do anything else? Or are you just a copy/pasta of every other woman?” In 2017, an Elite Daily writer conducted an experiment in which she put 12 dating app clichés in her profile, which included her dog named Taco, and messaged potential dates with milquetoast questions like “Pizza or tacos?” (The result? A lot of very boring conversations!)
Because tacos are, of course, far from the sole dating app cliché. Phrases like “Looking for a partner in crime!” “Let’s go on an adventure!” and “Here to find the Pam to my Jim!” are so common that they’ve come to signal a specific type of partner-seeker who is defined by their lack of unique interests. That they waste precious keystrokes advertising their love of travel, friends, The Office, or “having adventures” only serves as evidence that these near-universal traits are, in fact, the most interesting elements of their personalities — or at least the only ones they’re willing to share with the internet.
me:— jaboukie (@jaboukie) May 10, 2019
jim & pam tinder: pic.twitter.com/5YZ8irFtSV
“The taco thing just feels so cheap, which makes sense that it would be to hide the fact that this person has literally nothing interesting about them so they are going to latch onto the knowledge that everyone loves tacos,” says Patty Diez, another employee at Eater. “It’s like when they answer [the Bumble prompt] ‘beach or mountains?’ with something like ‘a beach at the base of a mountain’ because they don’t want to outcast the beach or the mountain people.”
In short, people may cling to tacos for a reason that’s perhaps even more relatable than actually loving tacos: because they’re scared of rejection. Says Jackson Weimer, a student at the University of Delaware, “People on Tinder and Bumble or whatever like to think that they are really unique and quirky, but at the same time, they don’t want to appear too weird. A love of tacos to a lot of people on these apps fits in that niche of a little different but nothing too out-there. They’re hoping to attract someone ‘normal’ like they see themselves. I feel people are scared to put in their bios aspects of who they really, truly are.”
Unfortunately, that fear leads to a lot of identical profiles that ultimately end up backfiring. Omar Khan, a fintech professional in New York, puts it more bluntly: “Women use their love of tacos and pizza on their dating profiles in lieu of a personality. There’s a 90 percent chance they also have ‘eat laugh love’ decor and Christmas lights in their bedroom year-round.”
Whether the taco-loving, Office-quoting, adventure-seeking people on dating apps do, in fact, say things like “People think I’m a Ravenclaw but I’m actually a Slytherin” is beside the point. They are, of course, real people with the same complex inner lives as anyone else, with weird tics and funny-sounding laughs and family dynamics that nobody else understands.
No one can realistically be expected to include all those things on a dating profile; the platforms themselves make it practically impossible to do so. And even if they did, how pretentious would it sound? Very! Awash in the terror of crafting a version of oneself online for the world to consume, it only makes sense that in trying come off in the best possible light, you end up looking just like everyone else.
And on dating apps, unlike Facebook or Instagram, there is a clear goal: You’re supposed to actually match with someone, which then discourages us from revealing, say, the stranger aspects of our personalities, even if that information would be far more useful to know in the long run.
Anyway, it’s much more pleasant to talk to a stranger you’re considering dating about Harry Potter and whether dogs are better than cats (they’re not) than to ask someone how much they regularly tip or if they have a questionable relationship with their mother. For that kind of information, you’ll have to buy a girl some tacos first.
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