Finding an acquaintance's profile on a dating app is kind of like bumping into them on the street: You can either say hello and deal with the potential awkwardness, or silently acknowledge that you see each other and move on with your lives. But unlike quickly saying what's up to someone on the street, swiping right on a dating app implies that you want to date this person, or at the very least find them attractive, so it can get tricky.
Clare*, 25, was browsing Bumble when she came across "a friend of a friend that I had met and been cordial with for a few years," she says. "Then, I swiped right to be like, Hi! What's up, hehe, we're both on here." They laughed about the irony, but then he messaged her saying, "Yeah, we should totally grab a drink sometime." Clare wasn't feeling it, and didn't know how to break it to him, so she replied, "I'll invite my roommates!"
He stopped replying, and a few days later Clare ran into a mutual friend who brought up that they had matched on Bumble. The friend asked if Clare would ever date the person she matched with, and she had to break it to him that she wasn't even kind of interested. "I said it in a way where I was like, Oh, I just was trying to say hello! I thought it was funny," she says. "I definitely had to clarify that I just swiped because I knew him, not because of interest."
This sort of situation is inevitable for many online daters, because about 27% of people ages 18 to 24 online date, and 46% of Americans know someone who online dates, according to a 2016 Pew survey. Plenty of people like Clare match with their friends on dating apps just to say hi, or because they're curious whether or not their friend would actually want to match with them. But when one person is intentionally trying to make a move, and the other one is just playing along as a joke, it can be hurtful or, at the very least, confusing.
"You could waste a lot of time overanalyzing whether or not this person swiped by mistake, as a joke, or because of genuine interest," says Samantha Burns, LMHC, a millennial relationship expert. So if you're interested in dating an acquaintance, instead of sending a vaguely sarcastic message once you match, Burns suggests taking action into your own hands and testing the waters. "You could send a casual message, like, Funny crossing paths in the Tinder-sphere. What are your thoughts on dating a friend?" Sometimes platonic relationships do develop into romantic ones, so you never know. "It may just make it more complicated to navigate, but it can be done successfully," she says.
But if you're more like Clare, and really aren't trying to date one of your acquaintances, then Burns suggests saying something like, I don't typically date friends, but I just wanted to say hi. That may sound awkward, but it's not hard to understand that lots of people would interpret a match to mean that you are attracted, or at least somewhat interested. Eventually, you're going to have to break it to them that you're not trying to date them, so it would be easier to do it upfront than to lead them on and possibly hurt their feelings.
Ultimately, it's your choice when you swipe right and why, and you are by no means obligated to go out with everyone you match with. But according to Burns, the most compassionate thing to do when you see someone you know on an app is to just text them. Because when you're on a dating app, you're usually there for a singular purpose: to find love or a hookup. In other words, you're probably not there to make friends.