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The unspoken, often broken rules of the dating app that has users swiping left and right

Love Me Tinder

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PHOTO: TINDER
  • Photo: Tinder
In January 2007 iPhones didn't even exist (at least not commercially), much less wield influence on dating habits and anxieties. Seven years hence, according to the Pew Research Center, at least one in 10 young people is using an online or mobile app dating service. The popularity of Tinder in particular has spawned a cottage industry of blogs dedicated to navigating the sometimes tricky rules of what to do, what not to do and how to leverage the app to get what you want — whether that's a quick hook-up or a five-course meal.

For the uninitiated, Tinder is a mobile matchmaking app. Users upload photos, choose their location and scroll through seemingly endless photos of nearby potential hookups. But unlike some other dating apps, users can only chat when both parties "like" each other — indicated by swiping the photo to the right. Many female users say this feature helps weed out creeps.

Though the app is unabashedly superficial, Tinder boosters argue that judging a potential date based on a few photos is not all that different from spying someone across the bar. The app is also tethered to Facebook, so when flipping through pics, users instantly see mutual friends and interests — an element that can make a connection both curious and awkward.

After talking to lots of people who use Tinder and reading unofficial user guides, one thing is clear: There is no consensus on etiquette. For instance, do you swipe left — a way of saying "no, thanks" — when you see your friend's boyfriend on Tinder? Or do you swipe the other way out of jest? Same questions apply to colleagues, distant friends and bosses.

How much meaning is contained in the act of swiping right? It's one of the most profound questions facing the millennial generation today.

"I always swipe right when I see co-workers because I want to see if they like me back because I think it's funny," said a 23-year-old female restaurant server who, it seems, does not take swiping right too seriously. "But one of the servers saw that I was on there and called me out for not swiping right. I just hadn't seem him on there yet."

An English blog called Tinder Etiquette: The Definitive Guide advises against nonchalant right swipes, although it might just be the smartest move. "Don't swipe right on your friends. Unless you fancy them. It is awkward to match for a natter on a dating app and you could be putting a friend in an awkward situation if it was a meaningful swipe for them. However if you are simply being too 'British' about your feelings, swiping right could be the start of something beautiful."

This is a good place to note that Tinder rejections are not always clear. If you "like" someone and the app doesn't say it was a connection, it could mean that person moved on. But not necessarily. It could be that that person, like the server, hadn't yet come across your photo.

Others have adopted more stable ground rules. "Courtesy swipe right for almost all friends or strangers I have more than 15 friends in common with," a New York friend told me.

In the Tinderverse, when you're simultaneously carrying on dozens of conversations with strangers or near strangers, there's a pretty good chance you might bump into one of those people before you ever arrange to meet up. What to do? Act like you don't know each other? Have awkward small talk? Flee? These questions faced a 29-year-old recently as he was dining at an East Nashville restaurant.

"I ran into one of my connections at The Treehouse while I was on another date. It was definitely a little bit awkward," he said. "And she left without saying bye."

Beyond the question of swiping right is the fact that many Tinder users are ambivalent to the point of embarrassment.

"It's uncomfortable to admit that you have to resort to something like Tinder to find dates. There's a real psychological component to it," says a 24-year-old law student who didn't want his name used in this story. "Even though I'm on there, I always lose a little bit of respect when I hear people met online. Like, really? You couldn't do it the old-fashioned way?"

One friend of mine who met her ex on Tinder had two stories about how they met. For her inner circle, it was the truth. To others, it was a party at South by Southwest at which, coincidentally, they were both present but didn't speak. "We kind of joked that that was the better story," she said. "That's the story I told my parents."


Story One: Crazy in Love
Story Three: Magic Man
Story Four: Torn

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