Last year, I worked as a host at a popular restaurant. My job was to greet customers and sit them at the appropriate table. One of my more useless coworkers stayed glued to her phone, swiping. One day I looked over and saw she was on Tinder, the app I had heard a little about. “It’s not for gay people,” I said when she told me I should download it.
“Not true! I know a few gay friends who’ve found dates on Tinder.” So I downloaded it.
Tinder is not like Grindr or Scruff at all. The thrill of these gay hookup apps, at least for me, is meeting people you don’t know. Anonymity is fun. Tinder, taking a different — dare I say, more heterosexual — route, involves your Facebook account and shows you people who you have mutual connections with. In other words, it does the work for you of creeping and chatting with people on Facebook by relegating all that stalker stuff to a separate and distinct platform of its own. Getting a message from someone you don’t know on Facebook feels weird and invasive — that’s what Tinder is for.
I’ve since spoken with a small number of 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 friends-of-friends. Everyone has used Facebook to creep on strangers’ profiles, but the Facebook interface is not designed for meeting strangers. Tinder took what we were already doing (clicking through the hot profile pics of your high school friend’s new buddy) and turned it into an app.
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 friends with.
If, on your Facebook profile, you have your “Interested In” tab set to “women,” Tinder shows you women. If, like me, your Facebook profile’s “Interested In” tab is set to “men,” it shows you men. Frustratingly, Tinder does not seem to explicitly filter gay men from the rest of the hetero masses, so I’m left to precariously message a hottie and see if he’s gay if he responds affirmatively.
The real game-changer with Tinder and the feature other more explicitly gay hookup apps could learn from is how the app only lets you communicate with people you show interest in, and who show interest in you back.
The app presents you with a stack of profiles — 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” you back by accepting your message, boom! You’ve made a Tinder connection. At this point, you can have a few conversations going with people you actually want to be chatting with, not sifting through all the random hellos from pictureless profiles, faceless torsos, or guys you think aren’t attractive. Tinder cuts out the time and uncertainty 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 teensy bit nicer than they are on Grindr and Scruff, and that’s something we all could use a little bit more of.