September 29, 2020 The Newspaper Serving LGBT Los Angeles

Swiping Social

Today’s online dating atmosphere is a far cry from what it was in the early days of Grindr and Tinder. While it’s true that folks looking for love, sex, or whatever else have more options than ever before, those options can be a bit limited themselves. For the average MFM or WFW or TFT, there aren’t a ton of casual, non-aggressive options out there, especially if your sexuality is a bit off the beaten path. The truth is that whether you brave the sexual never-never land of Grindr, opt for a more romantic app like OkCupid, or go full matchmaker matchmaker with Match.com, you’re probably not going to end up having a ton of…fun.

Wingman wants to change that. By making the early, often agonizing process of swiping left and right a bit more social, the new app, created by Londoner Tina Wilson, acts as a safeguard for those trying to dodge dick pics and ill-matched first dates. By letting friends match for you, Wingman manages to do the impossible: Make online dating fun.

We sat down with Tina to talk about her vision for Wingman, and what the queer community can hope to get from the app.

Tell me a bit about “Wingman’s” origin story.

After my breakup, I was so uncomfortable of that space of dating online. My group of friends were the most encouraging and supportive of navigating a different road. So I ended up doing online dating with them. They were literally sitting next to me, forcing my hand. I thought, there must be a way that we can keep our tribe together in that way even if we’re not in the same room. So I started doing some research, and the more that I looked, I found more people who felt the same as me. There were so many people who said they found it far easier to describe someone else rather than themselves. If they had to describe a friend, it was easy to say great things, but when it came to themselves it didn’t feel natural. So I went out to create a space that would mimic the way it happens in real life, where your friends approach somebody for you. People want to help their single friends but they don’t have the outlet to do it. On Wingman, friends are protective of their friends, they’re genuine, they’re funny. I think when you get a situation where a group of friends is surrounding a single person, you get a much more genuine feel for who they are. I sometimes end up chatting with a friend group and I’m like, “His friends are really funny, I want to be friends with these guys!” I think normally on an app, you’ll weed out the types of people that you’re interested in just by reading what their friends have to say about them.

Right. Because the process can be very isolating. I would imagine that when your friends are involved, you get fewer dick pics.

That’s one of the funniest things, because I swear, someone wrote into us being like, “so many times I’ll send a drunken text or something, but on wingman I can’t do it, because even if I nudge my wingman to make a move he’ll be like, ‘no dude, you’re drunk.” It kind of works like a breathalyzer test.

People on regular dating apps don’t really act their best, especially when it’s more sex-oriented.

I have a friend who’s been on Grindr basically since it started, and I put him on Wingman, and he’s like “I feel like such a proper gentleman being on Wingman. I’m minding my manners.” Because on Grindr, anything goes and it’s kind of gritty. Both are great, you can use Wingman and Grindr, but I like that it’s like going to church when you go to Wingman. You can kind of take a slower step forward. Wingman’s matches aren’t going to have to do with a guy’s six-pack. It’s about who a person is.

And friends encourage us to look past appearances.

Yes. And people are showing up who have maybe just come out of a relationship or marriage and they’re a bit old-fashioned about dating. The day you go into a relationship or marriage is the same age you come out. So if you marry someone at 18 and get divorced at 38, you’re basically going back into the dating scene as someone with an 18-year-old mentality of what it’s about. I kind of missed out on that whole experience. One of my recently divorced friends just went out on a date and was like, “the guy made a move immediately. That’s just rude!” She married her husband when she was 18, it’s different now. So I think having some of your friends who have been through it can be great guides and can get you to loosen up a bit. It’s a slightly gentler way of getting people out there. What’s interesting is when you see people talking about Wingman, and you can see a 19-year old college boy’s friends vouching for him, but also his grandmother is on there writing a great testimonial. And of course some people can be a little raunchy, but we don’t censor it, because it’s something people can potentially connect over.

Tell me a bit about the LGBTQ+ presence on the app.

That’s one of the great things about it. When I was doing my research, I was seeing that the options for LGBTQ+ folks were very far apart. There was Grindr and Match.com and I thought, wow, these are really polarizing options. The fact is, on Wingman, you can create settings to see just guys in the area, just girls, or people who identify as whatever they want, including polysexual or pansexual. I think it’s nice that you can write whatever you want or not include any information. You don’t have to be stuck in a box. Because people change what they want every day. You’re not locked into any one identity. You can look for a guy today and a girl tomorrow, you can look for whoever you want and be whoever you want. You’ll be able to say, “I want a relationship, I want kids,” whatever you want, and then you can read what the wingman says about them and get a whole new angle on who they are. You also get hilarious testimonials from these straight, butch guys in London who will write something like “he’s got a great dick and he knows how to use it.” And I’m like, how do you know that?! I read a profile the other day that was written by a brother, and he said: “My sister, I don’t know who she likes, but she’s fucking awesome and you should date her.” I thought, that’s amazing! Even just having that voice is getting a sense of who someone is rather than having to be self-promotional and false. You get a sense of everything, the good, the bad, and the ugly. I’m hopeful that we’re going to have really great success stories about people who may not have met otherwise. Because with your friends, you can see so clearly where they make mistakes choosing partners. So if you’re choosing for your friend, you can give them other alternatives. People they might never have swiped on themselves but who are actually really cool. Dating is hard no matter what. I just know I couldn’t have gotten through it without my friends.

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