“The biggest mistake people make is looking for a checklist instead of a connection.”
Interacting with a dating app––tweaking your profile, replying to intriguing messages, ignoring messages from idiots––can feel like it’s own job. Sure, it’s exciting at first to be matched with a semi-attractive local. But after a few awkward dates and brushes with legit weirdos, the disappointment and frustration from using these apps can make even the most optimistic person turn jaded about modern romance.
It turns out using dating apps is more complicated than one might think. You’re not only marketing yourself to potential partners—every word and image on your profile will be scrutinized—but you’re using apps designed to grow a vibrant user base, not necessarily find you true love. It can be overwhelming if you don’t approach the experience prepared with the right mindset. That in mind, e asked dating coaches, sex educators, and relationship podcast hosts––people who spend their day pondering how to navigate dating apps successfully––to give us their best advice for when we’re swiping and chatting so we don’t lose our mind (or soul) in the process. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
It’s important to show people in your life what your dating profile looks like. Have them suggest better photos of you. Sometimes we have weird ideas of what we look like. A friend can quickly be like, “Wait, that really hot photo you posted on Facebook last week, why aren’t you using that one?” Just the act of showing people your profile is putting an intention out there in the world. It’s letting your friends know that you care about meeting someone and you’re ready to start putting work into that process, which could also lead to all kinds of setups in your life.
And you should definitely look at the dating app from perspective of person trying to date so you can understand the experience from the other side. There are a lot of cliches you might unwittingly include in your profile without realizing it.
The biggest mistake people make is looking for a checklist instead of a connection. It’s not shopping on Amazon, but it feels a lot like that, so we approach it that way. I recommend getting to the in-person meet as quickly as possible, because the online experience of someone is not always what it feels like to be with them across a table.
Your goals should also line up with your behavior. If you’re looking for a long-term thing, make that apparent in your responsiveness to messages, your follow up to dates, by being authentic and vulnerable. If you just want a casual thing, be clear on that and don’t confuse people by being misleadingly romantic or familiar. Be honest about who you are and what you want. That might require some soul-searching to figure out first. There are folks who go on without any intention of meeting anyone, just to get validation and maybe small talk and sexts. There are people looking for marriage. They’re both fine, but everyone should be clear on that, so that no one gets needlessly hurt or has their time wasted.
Because online dating is so superficial by design, you have to make sure you understand how to do photos right. If you have bad photos, no one is even going to swipe on you so you’ll never get to the part where you send or receive messages from people. There are so many failure points in the entire process: there’s photos, having a good profile, sending the right message. You can’t send the “Hey, what’s up” messages. That’s won’t get you a reply. You can’t just compliment people on their looks. That’s what everyone else does and there’s only so many messages––”Hi beautiful!” or “Hey sexy” ––that women can receive before they’re like, “Oh my god, get me off this horrible platform!” Send them the right message. Pitch a really creative date based on insights you’ve gleaned from someone’s profile. That can help you beat the competition.
Be earnest and open about who you are and what you want. Many people using dating apps are so concerned with seeming cool and casual. But that doesn’t give you a chance to show off how weird and fun and unique and cool you are, or what you actually want from a dating app.
Make sure you’re on the right app. There are nuances between the big ones—OkCupid, Tinder, Bumble, Match. You wouldn’t go looking for a husband on Feeld, for example. Have the right strategy going into it and keep purpose to platform in mind like you would any other online strategy.
The other thing to keep in mind is to take your time. Value yourself and your safety. Don’t feel obligated to meet with someone out of politeness if they’re making you feel uneasy or are making you feel rushed. And do your research! I try to make sure I have at least one friend in common with the person I’m going out with. It’s awkward to do the vetting but could save you some trouble.
I wish someone had told me how it is to strike up an interesting conversation with a stranger. In my experience, a specific compliment about a picture or something in a profile seems most effective to get people to open up. And everyone should, of course, listen to Swipe Out. I’ve interviewed a few couples who have met through dating apps and have had some successful dates off Tinder, so if nothing else it could give people hope that the sometimes-icky process of swiping is worth the trouble.