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All Tinder, No Spark: Unspoken Dating App Etiquette

Updated: Feb 9

A stroll down Market Street is nothing short of a minefield for a student who has explored the dating app scene.

Someone who liked you on Hinge might be in the queue at Pret. Worse yet, your Tinder match might walk past you without even glancing in your direction.

But if a “match" implies you’ve passed the first test of physical attraction, why do potential pairs often fail to acknowledge each other in public? Some say it’s because that was never part of the plan.

Dating apps are more about entertainment and finding self-esteem boosts than anything else, students say.

While he no longer uses dating apps, second-year mediaeval history student Josh Feldman said that he “matched for the validation”.

Meanwhile, second-year German, Italian, and English student Alexandra Barnard likened Tinder and Hinge to any other mobile phone game.

That draw to dating apps aligns with studies that show most people primarily use dating apps to feel better about themselves. That doesn’t mean that people use the apps less, though. Two years ago, Tinder reported that the average user logged into the app eleven times a day.

A study from Nottingham Trent University likens the unpredictable nature of dating apps to gambling. You never know if, and when, you will match with someone you find attractive. The human brain craves an inconsistent reward system. Both slot machines and dating apps fill that need.

But students say that once a match happens, offline interactions are out of the question.

“I’m just bored on my phone and this is a person looking for some level of intimacy”, said Feldman, “I find it funny”.

Second-year film studies and art history student Rebeca Ravara recalled matching with someone in town last year. It was weird when she thought about actually seeing them.

“I ended up really hating the idea that — if this doesn’t work out — I could end up seeing him all the time”, she said.

Studies show that the feeling of romantic ease online dating apps create do away with social etiquette. If you can swipe left on a real-life person on a dating app, then it must be acceptable to stop speaking to them altogether — even without any explanation.

Students in St Andrews are transparent about that disinterest.

“I’m not interested”, Feldman said. “I messaged… out of boredom”.

The only problem is that St Andrews is small. Even when intentions are clearly set, awkwardness is inevitable.

“For some reason, the situation of seeing someone you know on a dating app is just inherently really awkward”, Barnard said.

According to Ravara, that is why so many matches never become realised.

“‘Oh my god, I matched with you on Tinder’ - I’m never gonna say that”, she said.

Barnard recounts seeing some of her matches working in shops around towns. She never said anything, though.

“What’s the point of rehashing something that happened eight months ago”, said Ravara, “You might as well go about it like it never happened”.

In one instance, Ravara saw the same guy that she had ghosted on a dating app working at a local book sale. She said she approached him with peak anxiety.

He refused to look her in the eyes.

“It was just this complete absence of subtext”, Ravara said, “I don’t know if he even thought twice about me”.

Sometimes the matches do work out. That’s not thanks to the apps, though.

Feldman matched with his current boyfriend on Tinder prior to interacting offline. But the prospect of romance only came up a couple of weeks later. They happened to run into each other on a night out. When they met, neither of them brought up the match.

“If it’s gonna happen organically, then it’s gonna happen organically”, said Feldman.

Both Barnard and Ravara agreed that they preferred meeting people in “real life”— that is, from beyond the safety of their phone screens.

That’s why Ravara said she thinks using dating apps in town is a mistake.

“Everyone who you meet on a dating app… are people you could organically meet in real life”, she said. “And it’s not worth taking that risk”.

Despite the fact that Barnard had previously spent time on dating apps, she met her current girlfriend by way of a society gathering.

“Anything that I’ve had, which has developed into something meaningful, has been with someone I’ve met in real life”, she said.

Cities might be a better place for the apps, Barnard added. The urban sprawl can make it harder to meet people with common interests.

“I think dating apps function well in big cities… where it’s quite hard to meet people… with similar interests”, said Barnard.

Barnard pointed out that, in St Andrews, there are constant opportunities for haphazard meet-cutes. That includes chatting someone up in the checkout line at Tesco or sharing academic banter with someone in your tutorial, she said.

Yet, matching on a dating app prevents that from happening, Feldman said.

“We’re not learning how to interact with people our age — organically in person”, he added.

Barnard said she is also uneasy about how dating apps could be hurting the traditional, slow-burn romances of yesteryear.

“On dating apps, if you’re not immediately attracted to someone you can just get rid of them”, Barnard said.

The three-street layout of St Andrews makes getting away with bad dating behaviour exponentially harder. If you choose to ghost someone, you just might run the risk of bumping into them on your late-night Tesco run.

Yet, as second-year mathematics student Tom Dunlop — Feldman’s boyfriend — pointed out, most people who try out dating apps in St Andrews are aware of the risk.

“People still use [dating apps] anyway”, he said.

Dating app-culture continues to thrive in small St Andrews regardless, but only because student users have accepted the inevitability of frequent cringe-worthy run-ins.

“If you want to stay on a dating app”, said Ravara, “I’d say don’t set it to St Andrews — because there is a chance and a possibility you might just meet someone going to Pret”.

Illustration: Ahira Varkey

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