You CAN have a normal interaction with people who recognize you in person from online dating sites. Tinder

How to behave when you run into people you've rejected on Tinder, Hinge, OkCupid...

I was at a restaurant in Chicago with a young woman I had just met for the first time—a family friend's daughter. I went up to the bar to get us a round and noticed a guy smiling and waving at me. Wait: Did I know this guy? I was sure I didn't, so I returned a polite smile and went back to the booth where my new friend was sitting. As I was setting down our drinks, I caught my reflection in the nearby window—with Bar Guy right behind me, a ghost in my own personal horror movie.

"You're the girl on OkCupid right?" (The girl on OkCupid?)

"Excuse me?"

"You're on OkCupid. I sent you a message, why didn't you message back?"

Oh. Oh, no. Over the next 30 seconds I mumbled awkwardly, made bad jokes, lied, got caught lying, got mad at being caught, and finally, got super-apologetic. It was bad, and the rest of the evening with my new friend didn't really recover.

Perhaps you are smoother than I. But for the rest of us living in constant terror of running into a rejected Tinder or Hinge match, here are some rules we can refer to in the harsh light of IRL.

You've been recognized:

  • If you recognize them, too, don't pretend like you don't:  "It's going to be awkward," says Crystal Bailey, director of The Etiquette Institute of Washington. The objective is to power through the awkwardness, not pretend it doesn't exist. Plus, if you pretend not to see them, they may call you on it—much more awkward. (See 3.)

Definitely don't do this:

  • Be polite: Even if you don't recognize the person but they recognize you, there's no need to be confrontational, Bailey says. If it's a creepy person, she says, there's a fine line between being firm and being rude. Keep the conversation short, and once it's over, sign off with a clear, "It was nice to meet you," Bailey advises.
  • Try not to lie: Sometimes it's necessary, Bailey says, but most of the time it's easier to just go with the truth. In my case, I could have avoided the ensuing fiasco by telling him the truth: I was new to the site, I was not very active on it, and probably not seen the message(s) he sent.
  • Use humor: Try to be light-hearted about the situation, Bailey says. (And hope the other party can summon a sense of humor, as well.)
  • Don't apologize: Women, especially, tend to apologize for everything, Bailey says. There is no need to explain yourself on why things didn't work out.

You recognize them:

  • For starters, don't go up to the person and say, "You're the OkCupid/Tinder/Hinge person, right?" Even in the world of Internet dating, some people do like to keep their business private. And even if they are open about it, they might not want to discuss it in the company they're in or at that moment (you may have stumbled upon their work-related happy hour). So consider their position.

In a Facebook discussion on this topic, here's what one of my male friends had to say:

  • If you really do think it's an appropriate setting to have a conversation, open with something unrelated to where you know them from: Ease into it, Bailey says.
  • Graciously take the cue when the conversation is over. Please.

For both parties:

  • There's no need to literally run away: A friend was talking to someone on Tinder and shut it down when he said something inappropriate. She ended up seeing him at an antique store in their city a few weeks later. They both stopped and looked at each other—and then he bolted out the door.
  • Don't give up hope: One fine evening in D.C., I ran into a person from Tinder that I had briefly dated. This time I managed to be super chill. We shared the bus back to the neighborhood we lived in and chatted about our summers like two seemingly normal, grown-up individuals.

Normal: It could be you.

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