The users who reappear after countless left swipes have become modern urban legends.Kaitlyn Tiffany
Alex is 27 years old. He lives in or has access to a home with an enormous kitchen and granite countertops. I have seen his face dozens of times, always with the same expression—stoic, content, smirking. Absolutely identical to that of the Mona Lisa, plus horn-rimmed glasses. Most days, his Tinder profile has six or seven photos, and in every single one, he reclines against the same immaculate kitchen counter with one leg crossed lightly over the other. His pose is identical; the angle of the photo is identical; the coif of his hair is identical. Only his outfits change: blue suit, black suit, red flannel. Rose blazer, navy V-neck, double-breasted parka. Face and body frozen, he swaps clothes like a paper doll. He is Alex, he is 27, he is in his kitchen, he is in a nice shirt. He is Alex, he is 27, he is in his kitchen, he is in a nice shirt.
I have always swiped left (for “no”) on his profile—no offense, Alex—which should presumably inform Tinder’s algorithm that I would not like to see him again. But I still find Alex on Tinder at least once a month. The most recent time I saw him, I studied his profile for several minutes and jumped when I noticed one sign of life: a cookie jar shaped like a French bulldog appearing and then disappearing from behind Alex’s right elbow.
I am not the only one. When I asked on Twitter whether others had seen him, dozens said yes. One woman replied, “I live in BOSTON and have still seen this man on visits to [New York City].” And apparently, Alex is not an isolated case. Similar mythological figures have popped up in local dating-app ecosystems nationwide, respawning each time they’re swiped away.
On Reddit, men often complain about the bot accounts on Tinder that feature super-beautiful women and turn out to be “follower scams” or ads for adult webcam services. But men like Alex are not bots. These are real people, gaming the system, becoming—whether they know it or not—key figures in the mythology of their cities’ digital culture. Like the internet, they are confounding and scary and a little bit romantic. Like mayors and famous bodega cats, they are both hyper-local and larger than life.
In January, Alex’s Tinder fame moved off-platform, thanks to the New York–based comedian Lane Moore.
Moore hosts a monthly interactive stage show called Tinder Live, during which an audience helps her find dates by voting on who she swipes right on. During last month’s show, Alex’s profile came up, and at least a dozen people said they’d seen him before. They all recognized the countertops and, of course, the pose. Moore told me the show is funny because using dating apps is “lonely and confusing,” but using them together is a bonding experience. Alex, in a way, proved the concept. (Moore matched with him, but when she tried to ask him about his kitchen, he gave only terse responses, so the show had to move on.)
When I finally spoke with Alex Hammerli, 27, it was not on Tinder. It was through Facebook Messenger, after a member of a Facebook group run by The Ringer sent me a screenshot of Hammerli bragging that his Tinder profile was going to end up on a billboard in Times Square.
In 2014, Hammerli told me, he saw a man on Tumblr posing in a penthouse that overlooked Central Park—over and over, the same pose, changing only his clothes. He liked the idea, and started taking photos and posting them on Instagram, as a way to preserve his “amazing wardrobe” for posterity. He posted them on Tinder for the first time in early 2017, mostly because those were the photos he had of himself. They have worked for him, he said. “A lot of girls are like, ‘I swiped for the kitchen.’ Some are like, ‘When can I come over and be put on that counter?’”
Hammerli shows up in Tinder swipers’ feeds as often as he does because he deletes the app and reinstalls it every two weeks or so (except during the holidays, because tourists are “awful to hook up with”). Though his Tinder bio says that he lives in New York, his apartment is actually in Jersey City—which explains the kitchen—and his neighbor is the photographer behind every shot.
I had heard from women on Twitter, and from one of my offline friends, that Alex was rude in their DMs after they matched on Tinder. When I asked him about this, he said, “I’m very narcissistic. I own that.”
Hammerli works in digital marketing, though he would not say with what company. He uses Tinder exclusively for casual sex, a fact that he volunteered, along with an explanation of his views on long-term relationships: “Idiotic in a culture where we move on from shit so easily and upgrade iPhones every year.” When I asked whether he’s ever been in love, he responded: “lmao no.” Monogamy, he said, is “a fly-over state thing.”
Hammerli’s methods aren’t exactly harassment, but they do border on spam. They violate Tinder’s terms of service, and the company is supposedly cracking down on the account-reset hack that he so diligently employs. (Tinder did not respond to a request for comment about Hammerli’s account.)
He’s not the only one using this strategy. “I have hundreds of photos of this one guy Ben on LA’s Bumble scene,” one woman told me over Twitter, adding that he seems to have a new profile “literally” every day. She’s been seeing Ben’s photo—always accompanied by a new straight-from-the-box bio, such as “Looking for a partner in crime”—for at least a year, and says “MANY” other women have told her they’ve seen him too.
“Ian in NYC who claims to be a lawyer would show up for me and my roommate at least once a week,” another woman wrote. “It was so frequent that I began to think he was a bot account. So I matched with him out of curiosity once and he was real!” Another woman asked whether I had seen a guy named Craig, who was extremely muscular, was always standing in a swimming pool, and had given his age as 33 for “at least the past five years.” (I had not, because I will date only people who are my exact age or up to 18 months younger.) “I’ve run into him so many times, and so have several of my friends,” this woman told me. Guys like Craig, she hypothesized, “just think they’re being persistent and have no idea they are minor internet legends.”
These legends seem to be more common in large coastal cities, but smaller cities have them too—I heard from a woman in Des Moines, Iowa, who told me about a terrifying profile that had haunted her and her roommates (the bio was about how “girl’s [sic] are shallow”), as well as women from Durham, North Carolina, and Toronto who had recurring figures of their own (“Tights Guy,” a guy who was obsessed with pantyhose, and “New to the City,” a guy who was perpetually in need of navigation help, respectively).
There is something alarming about these persistent men: We live in a culture where persistence is often a euphemism for more dangerous types of male behavior. But there is also something fantastic about them: While the easiest mental response to dating apps is to conclude that everyone is the same, men like Tights Guy and Craig take up space in local cultures, and remind bored daters that people are specific and surprising. It’s odd, and somewhat thrilling, to feel so curious about someone who is only a pile of photos on an app. Hammerli’s stunt didn’t make me want to date him, but it did make me want to know everything about him.
While I was delighted by Hammerli’s theory that love is only appropriate for people who live in the Midwest, I was a little disappointed by the simple and mostly inoffensive reality of his shtick. I feel a bit like I’ve ruined something. The thrill of a Tinder celebrity is the moment of surprise and recognition among people who are accustomed to drudgery. Finding that hundreds of other women had the same fascination with Granite-Counter Guy provided me with a brief reprieve from the bleak, regular chore of looking for someone to date. But talking to the man himself was not the same fun because, in that conversation, I was alone again.
I haven’t seen Hammerli on Tinder this week. It may be because Tinder has finally caught on to him, but Hammerli also told me he was thinking of taking a “sabbatical” from the app. The kitchen wasn’t fun anymore, because everyone expected it. It was time to work on a new gimmick.
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Kaitlyn Tiffany is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where she covers technology.