Even the premise of the group is only half-sincere. Plenty of members aren’t expecting to get a real match when they post, just a bit of attention or a short distraction. But some end up finding love anyway. Murphy shared her first post at the beginning of quarantine, when the group had a huge influx of posts. New members were joining, old members were putting up new profiles, everyone was looking for virtual friends and flirtations. “Everybody was bored,” Murphy said. From there, she ended up chatting with someone from Portugal, with whom she was obviously never going to meet up in person, but who served as a fun fantasy during lockdown. She also learned that several of her Temple classmates were in the group, and ended up dating one of them. They’ve been together for nearly a year now, but she said that if they were to break up, she would post in NUMTinder again. “It worked once,” she said. “I wouldn’t only post in NUMTinder, but I would give that more weight than a match from a regular dating app.”
Others in the group have given up on dating apps altogether. Tasmyn Ong, a 21-year-old law student at Queen Mary University of London and a NUMTinder administrator, has never tried any other form of online dating. “I’ve always been a bit too chicken to go on actual Tinder,” she told me. “I’ve had friends who have had some very terrible experiences.” When she first joined NUMTinder, she lurked for a while, reading the posts and seeing how people responded to them. “I saw that it was such an inclusive, welcome, friendly environment, so I decided to make a post,” she said. That was in April 2019, and she’ll soon be celebrating her two-year anniversary with a boy who responded, offering to teach her how to ride a bicycle. (She’s embarrassed to admit that she still doesn’t know how.)
Ong said the group’s moderation makes it a reliable alternative for people who don’t want to wade through creepy messages on Tinder. Godfrey, her friend and co-administrator, agrees. “On the dating apps, if someone is really douchey, you can report it and unmatch them,” she told me. NUMTinder heads off this behavior by cultivating community norms for public conversations and relying on human moderators who are well known and trusted within the group. “There’s an understanding of mutual respect that’s already established,” Godfrey said. As is the case in many Facebook groups, NUMTinder members are discouraged from using the site’s built-in tools for reporting bullying or harassment on the theory that it’s better to deal with problems internally, rather than risk the group getting deleted (“zucced,” as it’s called) for producing too many reports.
NUMTinder was created in 2018 by Nigel Tate, a construction-project manager and pizza-delivery driver from Flint, Michigan. (He says that he started it as a joke, but people took it seriously almost right away.) In the past few months, Ong and Godfrey have taken over as the lead moderators and admins. They’ve changed the questions that prospective members are asked upon entry to make them more specifically about transit, so that newcomers are aware of what the community is really about. They’ve encouraged members to post about virtual dates, and announced a policy against any posts that promote using public transit as a way to travel long distances during the pandemic.