Shot Behind The Theatre

A whimsical and readable blog

The Tinder Dilemma: Encountering Friends on the Most Philosophical of Dating Apps

Arguably the most shallow and conceited dating tools of our day and age, Tinder is a phone-based application that allows you to see dozens of pictures from your romantic/sexual gender of interest and either swipe left for “no” or right for “I want to hook up with you”. Of course, that’s not what the app officially says–if two people swipe right, it simply matches you up and allows you to chat, but many people realize how superficial this decision is, resulting in the “match” to be a mutual communication of “I find you attractive, perhaps we should have coitus”. It can also be just a fun game that tells you who thinks you look nice with no need to chat with anyone.

I’m partially showing my hand here by writing this–I do have Tinder myself. The most interesting part of it, for me, has been coming across friends I know and seeing what picture they decide to have as their main profile. I know many actresses in Vancouver, and it’s of little surprise they all use their visually flattering head-shots (I’m not even an actor, and I use my headshot and various incarnations of me in a suit) as their first impression. As a director and playwright, it was very easy to see, through my parade of swipes, who was an actor based on their pictures. Someday, Tinder will surely become an integral casting tool (cue very depressing music).

As I came across one particular friend of mine, a particularly attractive friend of mine (I have many, so no sense in trying to guess, friends who are reading this), I asked myself, if I swiped “yes” and got no match, that says something about her, doesn’t it? And if I swipe “no” but she swiped “yes” and doesn’t get a match, she’s going to think that I don’t find her attractive, right?

Assuming that friends would swipe yay or nay based on your looks, regardless of its implications of the friendship (people could just as easily swipe “no” to all their friends to avoid any awkward encounters, and trust me, I’ve heard of many), it opens up a whole discussion closely related to the economic and mathematical concept of Nash Equilibrium Game Theory.

The proto-typical example of game theory is called the Prisoners’ Dilemma: two people are are arrested for a crime and are put in jail. Confined to separate rooms, they each have the option to Stay Silent or Betray their Partner. If both Stay Silent, they each get 1 year in prison. If they both Betray, they each serve 2 years. If one Stays Silent, and the other Betrays, the prisoner who Betrays gets 0 years in prison and the other gets 3. The best case scenario, from the perspective of one of the prisoners, is to get 0 years in prison (by Betraying and having the other prisoner Stay Silent) and the worst is to get 3 years (by Staying Silent and having the other prisoner Betray), followed by the chance of getting 2 years if both Stay Silent. If the prisoners made some kind of pact before getting arrested that they would Stay Silent, they’re facing 1 year each but only IF they keep their promise. Not being able to communicate, if one decides he’d rather have 0 years, he could easily Betray while the other prisoner still thinks they are Staying Silent, given their prior agreement. Therefore, because neither prisoner knows what the other will do, it is in their best interest to Betray. If they Betray they are potentially facing 0 years (if the other Stays Silent) or 2 year (if the other Betrays) as opposed to 1 year (if both Stay Silent) or 3 years (if the other Betrays).

Prisoner B Stays Silent Prisoner B Betrays
Prisoner A Stays Silent 1 year each Prisoner B: Goes FreePrisoner A: 3 years
Prisoner A Betrays Prisoner A: Goes FreePrisoner B: 3 Years 2 years each

The idea to take away from game theory is to choose your optimal strategy based on other the player’s thinking, even if it does not yield the best result. Prisoners must assume their partner will cheat them for less jail time so, rather than trust them, they should choose in their best interests given the other person’s incentives. Essentially, this version of game theory teaches us you can’t trust anyone given the incentive to betray.

Tinder isn’t exactly the same as the Prisoner’s dilemma, but it shares similar concepts, assuming both people have encountered each other on the app. Neither person knows at the moment of decision-making what the other person has chosen, like the prisoners, and there are four possible outcomes. You both swipe “yes”; you both swipe “no”; one swipes “yes” and the other “no”; one swipes “no” and the other “yes”. If you both swipe yes, Tinder matches you and you might think “hurray! We both find each other attractive” and suddenly you are laughing it off with your friend or you potentially have fun times planned for Friday night. If one person swipes “yes” and other swipes “no”, the person who swiped “yes” will know the other person swiped no (from not getting a match) and perhaps feel rejected. If both swipe “no”, Tinder doesn’t give you any information as to whether they swiped or not, so there’s no loss of self-esteem. Here is a chart to summarize:

Friend B swipes “yes” Friend B swipes “no”
Friend A swipes “yes” Tinder matches you No match, Friend A knows
Friend A swipes “no” No match, Friend B knows No match and no information

There are several assumptions we have to make about people “playing” Tinder for the above table to apply. First is that everyone involved will swipe yes or no honestly based on looks. Second is that everyone wants information about what the other person thinks (who wouldn’t want to know if a good looking person is attracted to you?). Third, both friends will not reveal their choices outside the app. Fourth, everyone has to swipe at the same time. The last one might sound odd, but in order to apply game theory, both players must know that the other person has made a decision, this being a limitation to the analysis. Tinder randomly produces the profiles for you to swipe, so if you encounter someone and swipe, say, “yes”, they might not have encountered you yet and therefore assuming they swiped you “no” (if you didn’t get a match) would be incorrect. At some point, both people must confidently know the other person has encountered them.

These are heavy assumptions to be made but it perhaps will lend itself to how people perceive the app and how they use it. Swiping “yes” means you will receive information in some way (be it good that they also swiped you or bad that they didn’t) whereas any time you swipe “no”, you are forgoing information as to if the other person swiped “yes” or “no” and whatever that might mean to you.

Tinder, therefore, is an app not only about dating or hooking up, but about gaining information about other people’s opinions on your appearance (duh). Hypothetically, even if you have no interest in hooking up with your friend, it still would be nice to know if they think you are attractive (who doesn’t want that ego boost?). If they swipe no and you swipe yes, you gain this information and could interpret that in a variety of ways: they don’t think you’re attractive, they don’t want to get involved with friends on a dating site, or any other completely legitimate and fair reasons, thus you are learning something else about the person. But by swiping “no”, you are not gaining knowledge of any kind. Therefore, according to game theory and IF we assume everyone wants more knowledge about their friends and themselves, swiping “yes” every time is your best option when you encounter friends. Even if you don’t find your friend attractive and you both swipe yes, Tinder prompts you to message each other, providing an opportunity to explain why you swiped yes in the first place.

However, by automatically swiping right every time, you would be disobeying the first assumption which is that people will swipe honestly (which, realistically, is not that hard to imagine). Therefore, there needs to be a division of the people you are swiping: people you find attractive and want to get information from, and people whom you don’t care about knowing and thus will swipe honestly. But that would create more tables and more possible outcomes that are far too complicated for someone who is not a mathematical expert on game theory.

For another article on Game Theory and Tinder (and much shorter than mine), you can read this buzzfeed article:

We can conclude, however, that running into friends on Tinder can be tricky business. I’ve noticed no one proudly saying they use Tinder and there is a lot on the app that goes unspoken, perhaps even among friends.  Maybe we need a mutual understanding that, when we do run into friends and friends we find attractive on the app, it does not re-evaluate the relationship and change anything between two people. It is just as silly to try and use alcohol to get a friend you have a crush on to divulge information as it is to use an internet-based app that most people hardly put any time and attention into. It is interesting, at the end of the day, to see that game theory does have a kind of application to Tinder and potentially can supply new information about your friends, but keep in mind what it is you’re using to harvest said information. It would be narrow to put so much faith in such a ridiculous tool.

For those of you who read these posts in their entirety, thank you, first of all, for doing so. Second, I am trying to write with a degree of regularity these days and have two more posts cooking for your enjoyment. The next one should be an analysis on the merits of the NBC television series Hannibal and a meditation on the theatre community dynamics here in Vancouver. So keep an eye out for new material every two weeks or so!


One comment on “The Tinder Dilemma: Encountering Friends on the Most Philosophical of Dating Apps

  1. Pingback: The Tinder Dilemma: Encountering Friends on the Most… | TinderNews

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