Last year, I worked as a host at a restaurant in Savannah. My job was to greet customers and sit them at the appropriate table. One of my coworkers — the one who was supposed to be teaching me — spent most of her time swiping through pictures on her phone.
I asked her about it. Without looking up, she said, “It’s Tinder. It’s not for gay people.” I downloaded it.
She was partially right: Tinder is not like Grindr or Scruff at all. The thrill of these gay apps — at least for me — is meeting people you don’t know. Anonymity is fun. Tinder, taking a different route, involves your Facebook account and shows you the people with whom you have mutual connections. In other words, it does the work of Facebook creeping for you. Receiving a message from a stranger (only four mutual friends!) on Facebook feels weird — that’s what Tinder is for.
I’ve since spoken with a small number of women, including queer women, who use the app, and a smaller number of gay men who use it. Overall, it seems Tinder has predominantly taken off in a hetero market, and that seems to be its intention.
Using Facebook is brilliant if you like knowing, dating, and presumably having sex with friends-of-friends. After you download the app, you upload six photos from your Facebook account. The app only displays your first name. It restricts the information people can see while using your Facebook connections. The list of people it shows you first are the people you have the most mutual connections with.
If your Facebook says you’re interested in women, Tinder shows you women. If Facebook says you like men, you see men. Frustratingly, Tinder does not explicitly filter gay men from the rest of the hetero masses, so I’m left to precariously message hotties and see how they react.
The real game-changer with Tinder — the feature other hookup apps could learn from — is giving users the luxury of only communicating with people they’re interested in and who show interest back. In doing so, it weeds out all the disinterested parties. What a time saver!
The app presents you with a stack of profiles, each one consisting of a name, some pics, and a teensy description. If you swipe left, you’ll never see that person again — “nope” gets stamped across their picture. Swipe right and you’ve “liked” their profile. If they “like” yours back, boom! You’ve made a Tinder connection.
At this point, you can have conversations with people you actually want to be chatting with, not sifting through all the random hellos from people with no chance of being replied to (god, if I could only do that on Grindr). Tinder spares us from a certain level of rejection by only allowing dialogue once mutual interest is established.
As a result, some queer folks I’ve spoken to say Tinder encourages people to be a bit nicer than they are on Grindr and Scruff. It’s less tempting to be an asshole to someone who’s Facebook friends with your bestie. And for those concerned with safety, Tinder at least presents the veneer of being safer, because total strangers are still scary for some people. Someone may still privately be a total psycho, but they’ve at least been partially vetted by knowing people you know (assuming you know your friends on Facebook).
If Tinder hasn’t revolutionized smartphone dating by the time you read this, it’s going to. To the dozens of apps and websites still professing to find us love: I hope you’re paying attention. Your competition has arrived.
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