Why are so many married people risking it all by swiping on Tinder?
“Only here for a short time. Ethically non-monogamous. Potential vacancy for lover, theatre buddy, or one-off fling.” So goes the thoroughly unenticing personal bio of one 39 year-old man I come across during some mindless Tinder swiping on my commute.
In dating app parlance, ethically non-monogamous could be loosely translated as “in a relationship, but greedy”. You see, though they were once the preserve of the young, free and single, looking for love – or at least a no-strings good time – dating apps are now hotbeds for those already coupled up, looking for titillation and an ego boost on the side.
According to one recent study of European and American online dating users by Erasmus University in the Netherlands, 25 per cent of users on Tinder (which facilitates over one million dates in 190 countries around the globe every week) come with many, sometimes hidden, strings attached.
Figures for the UK are unclear, but Elisabeth Timmermans, lead researcher, said “data from the US seemed to imply that over half of users there are already in a relationship.”
Some actively pose as single; some are just browsing for kicks; some, like the chap above, appear to be in open relationships; others are even more explicit: “Yes I’m married, no she doesn’t know I’m on here, that’s part of the thrill…” read another recent gem. Couples have even been seen with joint profiles, searching for “other connections” to spice up their marriage.
Whatever their story, the Erasmus study found that ‘non-single’ Tinder users “generally report a higher number of romantic relationships, French kisses, one-night stands, and casual sexual relationships with other Tinder users compared to single Tinder users.”
All of which means, if you’re single, you could unwittingly find yourself dating a married man or woman. Far worse, of course, is the idea that your spouse could secretly betray you by setting up a profile to talk to (or even meet up with) an endless supply of singles, themselves.
If your thumb is agile enough, you could hypothetically flick through upwards of 500 Tinder profiles on your iPhone while watching the 10 o’clock news. And when swiping turns to chatting, it would be easy enough to secretly have multiple conversations with strangers over WhatsApp while sitting next to your spouse on the sofa. In an era when our entire lives play out on our smartphones, it follows that our affairs are conducted on them, too.
Family lawyer, Nicola Mccinnes says she is seeing more and more clients filing for divorce after catching their spouse on a dating app. “There has definitely been an increase in husbands and wives going onto an app like Tinder and having a bit of a nosey,” she says. “It might just be for a bit of a giggle at first and then it can turn into something more serious. People start looking and before they know it they’re saying things they shouldn’t be saying.”
Interestingly, Mccinnes sees more husbands who have discovered their wives on dating apps than vice versa (she puts this down to women being “more curious”). She believes that people who turn to apps when they are going through an bad patch in their marriage often see it as an easy, harmless way to test the waters, but that it can all too quickly spiral into a more extreme betrayal. “People like attention, that’s what it comes down to. And if you’re not getting the attention you probably need, you look elsewhere for it.
“It’s almost like checking what’s out there before you actually do anything. But it’s not just like going on Facebook and reconnecting with an old friend, because Tinder is specifically a dating app.”
Years ago, clients would hand her envelopes with grainy photographs of cheating spouses in illicit meet-ups – now, she is handed USBs filled with screenshots of conversations snatched from their husband or wife’s iPad.
“Often people will show us pictures of people together or screenshots of their husband of wife’s messages. We get all sorts. People tell you everything when they’re going through a divorce as we’re often the first person they speak to.”
Some find out through old-fashioned snooping – linking Apple IDs and Uber accounts to shared devices has much to answer for – others through genuinely single friends who have made an awkward discovery.
A colleague tells me she regularly sees one old friend’s partner on mulitple dating apps, but knowing they had met online themselves (hence figuring they might be old, undeleted profiles) didn’t tell her – until he took it a step too far and sent her a “Like” on one of them: “At that point, I felt I had to let her know. She was angry and upset but after a showdown he convinced her he’d been ‘acting out’ because she nagged him all the time.
“I’ve seen his profile pop up several times on Tinder since, which suggests he’s actively using it again, but I haven’t said anything. Our friendship has cooled significantly since I last spoke to her about it, and I don’t know how well it would go down.”
The lines are, some would argue, blurred. “Swiping is just a way to pass time sometimes,” says Carl*, 35, who never deleted his Tinder profile after meeting his long-term girlfriend on the app. “Friends and I mess about to see who can get the most matches (I always lose). If someone sends a message though, that’s different.”
But one person’s cheating is another’s innocent chatting, so how far is too far? If your husband set up an account and chatted to a couple of people to prop up his ego, but never met up with them — is that grounds for divorce?
Gurpreet Singh, a counsellor for Relate, the relationship charity, says an apparent rise in open relationships has made attached people on dating apps even more of a grey area. “What is considered cheating is dependent on each person and each couple. For some people, if they suspect an emotional connection they consider that cheating. In other instances, going on the dating app isn’t but if you go and meet someone then yes, that’s cheating.”
The common thread, he believes, is loneliness, and the quick validation fix an interaction with someone on an app can provide – the Erasmus study reported that “narcissism and Machiavellianism were positively associated with using Tinder for an ego-boost”.
“If there’s a gap in the relationship that’s generally what leads to these sorts of things,” says Singh. “Somebody’s not feeling completely like they belong in a relationship, and instead of addressing what the problem is in the relationship they will go outside it and explore their options, because it’s that much easier to do. Creating a profile takes minutes. To get a few responses takes minutes. Between motivation and action there used to be such a long gap, but now between motivation and action there is 60 seconds.”
One app, Hinge, has recently introduced a function which allows users to give feedback on people they’ve met up with, meaning you could notify them if your date turned out to be married. But the “We Met” feature is the first of its kind — most apps have no means of sifting out people already in long-term relationships, let alone a way to alert other users that someone is posing as single.
It’s hard to imagine that beyond that initial ego boost, being chatted up online provides any real gratification, even for the loneliest of spouses. It’s rare to make real connections on a dating app, even when you’re single and above board. But as Nicola Mccinnes says: “Life is quite mundane at times and this is just not real life at all” — and that, surely, is all part of the appeal.