Tinder, as the app likes to constantly remind you, is a game. Get a match? You can start a conversation with the person, or you just "keep playing." But games are supposed to be fun, and it feels like the ones having the most fun on Tinder are non-single users.
Some have their own accounts and enjoy the ego boost of actual matches (or looking to cheat, but that's another conversation). But more often, Tinder Tourists are your coupled-up friends who squeal with glee when, after several glasses of wine, you agree to pull out your phone and let them swipe along. And suddenly, your life becomes a group activity.
"Does my pathetic dating life amuse you?" For non-singles, peeking into the bizarre universe of online dating could seem like a schadenfreude-driven reminder of how much better their lives are since dating isn't a part of them. But after talking to a variety of non-single people, the sentiment actually seems to be quite the opposite.
"I think the appeal has to do with FOMO," Steven, 26 and living with his girlfriend of a year and a half, told Mic. "There's this whole dating and singles culture that you (hopefully) are missing out on when you're in any relationship, including cultural references that are common among your single friends — swiping right, swiping left. Living vicariously through someone else's dating apps is a way to at least keep current on the dating culture."
Tinder tourism lets non-singles get caught up on a "new kind of socialization," Emily Witt, author of Future Sex, told the Cut. "It's America, so people are always worried about getting old and out of touch and obsolete."
And there's a lot to get caught up on. From the absurd profile photos and the bizarre opening lines to the weirdly revealing profile stats, the world of online dating is peculiar, and many people in relationships wouldn't truly believe it until they see it with their own eyes. Raymond, who is 27 and single, told Mic, "My sister-in-law looks at entries with me and is like, 'Who presents themselves like this?'"
"Easy for you to swipe, when you don't actually have to date them." For single people, swiping through profiles can be entertaining. But what comes next — sifting through matches, initiating conversation, actually going on dates, having those dates potentially end in disaster — is, needless to say, incredibly stressful.
For Tinder Tourists, it's all the good and none of the bad. "Playing around with friends' Tinder profiles is a way to get a guilt-free taste of the good parts without having to follow through with an uncomfortable round of drinks," Steven told Mic.
Perusing the profiles and rating the options is deliciously voyeuristic, a behavior frowned upon in any other context of society but delightfully encouraged on dating apps. "When else do you get to be like, 'no, yes, you're ugly, you're funny,' and have it be socially sanctioned?" Daria, who is 25 and has been married for three years, said. "It's a bizarre wonderland where total snap judgments are acceptable."
Those snap judgments can also be revealing of everyone involved. Swiping with your friends provides an amusing look at their theoretical dating preferences — and how they feel about about yours. "You don't want him," a friend might say, by which he means: "He's not good enough for you." Less comforting is when a friend responds enthusiastically to the "world traveler" who "used to be" a teacher (i.e., is currently unemployed and couch-surfing). That's who you think I should be with, guys?
"This is what it's actually like to be single, guys." Gamely handing over your phone to let your "couple friends" poke around Tinder is a nice gesture for them. But in fact, showing them the deep, dark world of online dating can actually can actually be a passive yet powerful way of getting them to understand your life.
The cavern between single people and coupled-off folks is one that only grows wider and wider the older we get, and the experiences of one group can become increasingly foreign to the other. As Sara Eckel details in her book It's Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You're Single, single people can feel utterly misunderstood and even pressured by non-single friends who see them as desperate or deficient, impatient or overly picky.
Exposing non-singles to the murky world of Tinder, OkCupid and the like might just be one way to earn their sympathy and respect, or at least give them a new perspective. It isn't easy being an online dater in 2014. But that's something a married person can figure out with just a few Tinder swipes.