What to Do When You See Someone You Know on Tinder

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I saw a longtime friend on Tinder recently. Once I got over the shock of seeing a picture in which he has a visible penis line (and the shock of realizing he’s the kind of guy who posts visible-penis-line pictures on dating apps), I laughed and swiped right. We matched. “HAHAHAHAHA hi hottie,” I said. He replied with three cat-with-hearts-for-eyes emoji. The next time I saw him, we laughed about it. And then he made a pass at me.

I thought we’d swiped right in a sort of friendly, mutual acknowledgment — the equivalent of waving hello across a crowded bar when we are both busy flirting with other people. But he thought the wave itself was a flirtation, that my right swipe indicated a desire to add “benefits” to our friendship. I’d given positive feedback after seeing his penis line, after all.

Though online dating’s been around for a while, the etiquette around it is still evolving. (And now that Tinder has introduced a Snapchat-like photo-sharing function, the stakes are higher than ever!) And so, after inspecting my own habits and questioning others about theirs, I’ve concluded that there are six main strategies for reacting to a familiar face on an online dating app.

1. The Wave-Hello Right Swipe: This is one of the more popular default choices between friends, due mostly to the gleeful novelty of running into a buddy in an unexpected place. An unspoken (or barely spoken) acknowledgment created by swiping right on Tinder or Hinge, rating someone with five stars on OKCupid, or simply clicking and viewing their profiles in apps where you can view lists of “visitors.” “If it’s a friend, I assume he doesn’t want to bang me, because we would have done it by now,” my friend Maya explained. “So usually we’re all ‘hahaha hiiii.’ If we actually want to fuck, we’ll figure it out some other time.”

The wave hello becomes a problem only when you’re interacting with someone who is not waving hello. Someone who is engaged in activity like ...

2. The Narcissistic Right Swipe: Because I am extremely curious and ruthlessly self-centered when it comes to dating, I right-swipe everyone I recognize on Tinder. I want to know if they think I’m cute! This is a cruel tactic that confuses people and unfairly toys with their hearts, and I freely admit that if I met a man who admitted to doing this, I’d call him a douchebag and hate him. And still, I would right-swipe.

Narcissistic right-swipers have one of three options when they “match” with people they know in real life and don’t actually like: one, block them immediately if you truly hate them. Two, ignore messages or flake strategically if you need plausible deniability. Three, feel so guilty that you end up going on a string of ambivalent dates “just to see.” All three options are horrid and inexcusable, but love is a battlefield and sometimes it’s every bitch for herself.

3. The Principled Avoider: Though “I never date people I work with and/or live near and/or share friends with” tends to be an excuse, it is true that some people categorically avoid known quantities when dating online. Sometimes this is to avoid entanglement. Other times, it is a simple acknowledgment that, if you liked each other enough to date, you’d be doing it already. You’re dating online to meet new people, not the same old ones, right? Men who already had (and perhaps messed up) their chances with you must go, in the words of Beyoncé, “to the left, to the left.” You can have another him in a minute, with the help of vast online databases of eligible men.

4. The Nervous Avoider: Other times, avoidance is driven by fear. What if you both swipe right, but don’t know what to say? What if you date, but it doesn’t work out, and it’s awkward for the rest of your lives? Dating is socialization gone nuclear — powerful but explosive. “I saw this guy from college on OKCupid, and even though I SO SO SO wanted to click, I couldn’t let myself,” a female friend said in a Gchat. “He was in a lower social strata than me in college, and if he saw me in his ‘visitors’ list, it would lower me to his strata and I can’t deal with that.” Single and unlucky in love, she needs to cling to something.

5. The Screen-Grabber: Any of the above options may be combined with screen-grabbing, usually for gossip purposes. (Or to text it to the person in question, as a variation on the “wave hello” right-swipe.) Screen-grabbing is a little cruel — we are all at our most vulnerable when advertising romantic availability online — but, ultimately, not so different than garden-variety dating gossip. Hell hath no fury like a girl whose BFF comes across her ex-boyfriend’s online dating profile but fails to take a screenshot.

6. The Person Who Doesn’t Play Games and Actually Swipes Right to Indicate Sexual and/or Romantic Interest: Before my emoji-cat friend made a pass at me, I’d assumed this type of person did not exist. When using apps that treat dating like a game, is it even possible to cut the game-playing and relate to one another in earnest? Can a preexisting friendship blossom into something more, with the help of an app designed for superficial hookups?

“Here's the thing,” my visibly penised friend said. “You can't look at someone you know on Tinder and not think about fucking them, if only for a split second.” And though we didn’t hook up immediately, once the idea had been planted in both of our minds, well, eventually, we tested it.