Recently, a lovely reader wrote in with a query: “I’m considering online dating for the first time (during a pandemic, no less), and I’m overwhelmed! Building a profile, talking to people — where do I begin?” So, here are some words of advice from seasoned daters (and please weigh in with your experiences, too!)…
First, leave any stigma at the door.
“Back in the day, couples would lie about how they met, making up a meet-cute when it was really just the internet. Now, nearly everyone I know has met someone online, and I’ve been to a number of weddings where the couple met on apps. Online dating isn’t just normalized, it’s the new norm.” — Caitlyn
“Apps are great, and they’re also the only way you’re going to meet people right now. You can’t go to house parties, you can’t go to bars. Plus, these days, the stakes are low. When you first meet them, if you don’t like them, you can just turn off the Zoom call and go watch a movie!” — Meri
“I’m divorced with two kids, and until recently I never had any interest in online dating. My friends were constantly telling me to do it, even threatening to sign me up behind my back, but I had every excuse in the book — I don’t have time, it’s too scary, it’s not for me. Last spring, I joined Match, just to get them off my case, and over the summer I met someone! It’s early days, so I don’t want to jinx it, but for anyone who is apprehensive, you might be surprised.” — Nydia
Find the platform that works for you.
“You can tell a lot by just looking at each platform’s marketing. When I was younger, I was on Tinder, because I didn’t have an agenda other than to go on lots of dates and meet people. Then I gravitated towards Bumble and met a few people that I liked and dated for a while. Now, at thirty-three, I’m on Hinge, where it seems the people I match with are more within my age range and looking for something real.” — Emily
“If you’re serious about dating, cast your net wide. Join Tinder, OkCupid, Hinge, Bumble… Why not? You just never know.” — Meri
Show your true colors.
“Choose an assortment of profile photos — at least one close up and one farther away. If you can, highlight different sides of your personality, by showing activities or places you enjoy. For example, I have one photo of me with no makeup on where I’m hiking, a photo with my dog, and another dressed up at a wedding. The key is to have a balance.” — Jenna
“It’s good to run your profile by your friends. I’m a person who naturally has a bitchy resting face, and in a lot of photos I can look more intimidating than I intend to, so I’ve found it’s always helpful to get honest feedback! Your friends know who you are and what you want, sometimes even more than you do.” — Meri
“I reached out to a bunch of my girlfriends for photos of me, because I didn’t want to just post a bunch of selfies or mirror shots. I knew my friends would have some from different places, doing different things.” — Olivia
“Make sure you include at least one relatively current picture of yourself! Many times, I have gone on a date only to find that I expected to see a version of that person from five or ten years ago. For example, there were men whose profile photos showed a full head of hair who arrived at the date with absolutely none. Meeting a new person is nerve-wracking enough without trying to mask your surprise upon seeing them.” — Brittany
Create conversation starters.
“Some apps, like Hinge, come with actual prompts, where you answer questions that people can react to. For ones that don’t, I’ll put my own prompt in there, like ‘Tell me the best thing you’ve read or listened to lately,’ so it’s easy for people to reply.” — Meri
“One person wrote their own version of ‘two truths and a lie’ in their profile and dared anyone who saw it to guess the right answer. I sent a message right away! I couldn’t help myself. Things like that make it so much easier to connect.” — Sarah
“Sharing fun facts about yourself is helpful. Someone once said they were an extra on Gilmore Girls, and I was immediately curious what episode they were in, and if they played so-and-so’s boyfriend. You definitely get more responses if you put more specificity into your profile.” — Emily
Go ahead, say hi.
“If you’re at a loss for opening words, sincere compliments can go a long way. I met my boyfriend because I reached out to compliment a past Halloween costume — a giant boxed wine that actually dispensed wine!” — Sarah
“Dating apps can be liberating, because they allow you to fake it ’til you make it. In person, I can be shy. I would never approach someone at a bar and strike up a conversation out of the blue. But on apps, you can be as outgoing or charming as you want to be. Try your hand at being flirty and fun and engaging. In a way, it’s almost like a social experiment, and hopefully you meet someone in the process.” — Leah
“A lot of people’s opening line is ‘Any weekend plans?’ or ‘Hey, how was your weekend?’ So, any message that’s not about the weekend is great! Ditto for a ‘hey,’ with the waving hand emoji. If you ask a specific question about the person’s photos or something they’ve mentioned, that should do the trick.” — Olivia
Don’t be afraid to speak your mind.
“When you sit down to write your profile, think about what you want. Are you in this for something serious or something casual? Don’t be afraid to say whatever it is you’re looking for. If you have political or other views that are definitely a dealbreaker for you, don’t be afraid to put that in there, too. It will weed out anyone who isn’t a match.” — Meri
Google at your own risk.
“I used to exhaustively ‘research’ all my dates before I met them. But then I found myself on dates where I would hold off on asking questions (her job, where she went to school) because I already knew the answers. I once let one of my ‘discoveries’ slip — like someone’s very specific preference for Yerba Mate — and had to pretend she once mentioned it, versus that I’d uncovered it online. It’s okay to make sure people are real and who they say they are, but don’t go too deep.” — Lianne
Be safe and respect everyone’s boundaries.
“In many ways, dating at this moment is a challenge, but there are also some silver linings. The dating scene can be so ambiguous, with people dating around and not being clear about whether you’re in a relationship. With COVID, everyone has been transparent from the start. Right off the bat, they say if they’re looking for a serious relationship or if they’re looking for something casual, and if that’s the case, precautions need to be taken. It’s a serious time, and I’ve found people’s actions reflect that.” — Brittany
“I recently met someone and our first date was a video date. I actually like that these days, many people have a formal video date before meeting. It’s a great way to ‘meet’ someone before you commit to getting together in person. You can’t assess physical chemistry, but you can see if you like them, if the conversation flows, if you make each other laugh. It’s also a little more intimate, because you see the inside of their home.” — Meri
“In my experience, dates are game to meet in person, usually for a socially distanced walk or outdoor drinks. And it seems like people are more respectful and responsible than pre-COVID times. They’ll say, ‘Is it okay if I hug you?’ or ‘Would you feel comfortable if I kiss you?’ That never happened in the past.” — Emily
Try to appreciate the humor.
“I’ve seen some pretty strange things on dating profiles — like a dude sitting on a throne of teddy bears, and more men than I can possibly count proudly holding a fish they caught. My friends and I actually have a collection of screenshots of the wild photos we’ve come across. A lot will make you roll your eyes, but it can also be really entertaining.” — Sarah
“The one thing I would tell anyone who is online dating is that if you’re having a conversation with someone and it suddenly ends, it’s okay. Or if you think you have a great first date and you don’t hear from them again, that’s okay, too. Try not to get too attached to any one interaction. There are many more matches out there! Even if it doesn’t feel that way in the moment, every bad date is an excellent story.” — Olivia
“I was on the apps for YEARS, and I never thought I’d say this, but now that I’m in a relationship, I actually kind of miss them. It’s fun, seeing who else is on there and making connections with different people. Sure, it can be frustrating and overwhelming, but there is also something hopeful about it, too.” — Jenna
Give people a chance.
“At first, when I set my parameters, I only dated people who were pretty close to my own age, thinking we would have the most in common. But then I went on a bunch of dates and wasn’t meeting anyone who I clicked with, so I widened my age bracket on either side. Once I did that, I started to meet a lot of interesting people, including my now girlfriend.” — Leah
“I always tell my friends to give people more than one date before dismissing them. I’m guilty of this, too, but the people I’ve wound up liking were usually the people I didn’t click with right away. Not everyone is super charming right off the bat — some people are a little more nervous or reserved, because it can take a minute to warm up with a stranger.” — Emily
Are you currently navigating the world of online dating? Do you have any advice or stories to share? Please let us know in the comments! We’d love to hear.
P.S. Dating for the first time in six years and how to know your partner is the one.
(Photo from Insecure.)