Here we are, 2021. Cautiously emerging from a pandemic and a year that slammed many of us against the wall. Dramatic physical isolation, in spite of myriad technological tools for connection.
We want love. We miss sex. And it seems as if those two things — separately or together — should be pretty easy to come by. But for those of us who are living consciously, trying to stay connected to our hearts and our integrity, those two basic human needs can feel tragically out of reach, even as in-person connection opportunities increase alongside widespread vaccination.
Dating apps get a bad rap, for a number of reasons. I’m seeing people considering signing up for the apps for the first time, many expressing trepidation about “how to do it.” I also know people who have tried the apps, but have been so unsuccessful in their goals — and sometimes overtly disgusted by their experiences — that they have quit after a short period.
Myself, I’ve been using dating apps for several years. In that time, despite occasional brushes with the depths of despair for humanity, I have made a few great connections. I have also seen a lot of people unknowingly sabotaging their own success. So I’d like to offer a few pointers. I will use the name “Tinder” here, but my suggestions will apply equally to any similar dating apps.
1) Get very clear on what kind(s) of connections you are seeking. Are you looking for a long-term, monogamous partner? (Yes, some people do use Tinder — successfully — to find such relationships.) Short-term connections? A summer fling? Multiple partners? Fun dates while traveling? A committed but open relationship? Whatever it is, take the time to identify your ideal connection(s) in the present moment.
2) Put in the effort to make a good bio. Upload at least five photos, so people can see you from a variety of angles and contexts. Avoid sunglasses; show your eyes! Make sure all photos are recent, from within the past 2–3 years. (If you fear rejection based on your appearance, consider that it’s better for that to happen on the app before matching, rather than after you’ve both invested any time in the connection.) Make the effort to find flattering photos. If you don’t have many, take some new selfies, or ask a friend to take some photos of you.
3) Write your bio. Do not skip this step; that comes across as aloof, arrogant, lazy, and/or secretive, as well as simply not giving people enough information about you to know whether you might be a good fit. (By the same token, I highly recommend swiping left on anyone who hasn’t made the effort to do this. Whenever I have made an exception to my rule because the person looks so attractive or interesting in their photos, I have always — every single time — found myself disappointed in the ensuing conversation.)
Use the limited text field wisely. Share as much as you can about what is unique to you, and exactly what you are seeking. Use positive language (“I’m looking for a long-term relationship”) rather than negative (“Not looking for hookups!”) That said, it’s OK to list deal breakers (“no smokers, please”) to respect everyone’s time. Write in the first person, not the third. (“I love to read,” not “Loves to read.”) Spend roughly half the space describing yourself, and the other half describing the kind of person(s) you are looking for.
4) The most important principle to follow — even though it can be difficult to remember in our fast-paced, phone-addicted world — is, Don’t swipe absent-mindedly or half-heartedly. Before you open the app each time, take a few moments to close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and feel into the kind of connection you are seeking. Picture a hypothetical person who would be an ideal connection for you. Take a moment to really feel the way you imagine feeling in the presence of this person. Imagine doing whatever things you are wanting to do with a Tinder connection, with this imaginary ideal person. Only after you have spent a few moments doing this, and have really felt the positive feelings you are seeking from Tinder connections… open the app.
5) Swiping: As you browse, remember that each photo and bio represents an actual, whole human being seeking connection. Sadly, many societal factors — including widespread trauma — can lead people to show up on dating apps reflecting less than their full, beautiful human selves. This can be painful to witness as you browse. But, keep your heart open to everyone’s humanity, to enjoy the process as much as possible and be as successful as possible in finding your optimal connection(s).
As you browse, feel for the energy of each person you see. Swipe right only if you sense that this person could genuinely be a good fit for what you are seeking. Also, don’t swipe right until you read their bio. There may be a deal-breaker in there, and if there is, it will be less potentially hurtful for the other person if you don’t match to start with.
6) Matching and messaging: Once you find a match, take a moment to look back through the person’s photos and bio. Feel into who they seem to be, and what you find attractive about them. Then, send them a message. Don’t play games by waiting for them to contact you first: this is not a power struggle, it’s an effort to find intimacy of some kind. So be proactive. Be vulnerable, and make the first move. In the message, start with a compliment about something you saw and/or read. Ideally, include both a visual compliment and a personality-based one. (“I love your smile! And it looks like you enjoy bicycling as much as I do.” Of course, any visual compliments should be respectful and not vulgar.) Keep the first message brief, but end with a question or something the person can respond to. (“What are you most excited about these days?” “Have you been enjoying this beautiful spring weather?”) Or, if possible, ask something related to their stated or depicted interests, especially if those interests overlap with yours.
7) If they don’t respond, don’t take it personally. Remember that not everyone uses Tinder in a conscientious way; some people swipe right carelessly, looking for matches merely as ego boosters, or simply swiping on photos they like, without looking at bios for deal-breakers. If someone doesn’t respond to your initial message, trust that they are not a good fit for you, and move on.
8) If they do respond, notice your immediate gut reaction. When you read their message, do you feel a spark of excitement? A sense of warmth? Or a feeling of disappointment, confusion, or even annoyance? If you get a negative or iffy feeling for any reason, it’s probably best not to pursue the connection. You can either politely let them know you don’t think it’s a good fit (“Sorry, I’m getting the feeling we won’t be a good match. Thanks for the conversation, and I wish you the best in your search!”) or, if their response was minimal, just let it drop. Use your instinct about which is more appropriate in any given case: saying “goodbye” can be overkill if the two of you have interacted very minimally. Conversely, using dating apps can feel very isolating, with people starting connections and then disappearing; so a brief “thanks for this, and I wish you all the best” can go a long way — for both parties — toward humanizing the process. (Of course, listen to your gut and respect your own boundaries. If someone speaks to you in a disrespectful way, you owe them absolutely nothing, so feel free to un-match, block, and/or report anyone at any time.)
9) Meeting up: Once you have chatted enough that you want to connect in person, ask if they would like to meet up. Again, don’t play games by waiting to see if they will ask first; just do it: “I’m really enjoying our conversation. Would you like to meet up sometime, to see how we feel in person?” (Or while we’re still navigating these pandemic times, a video chat can be a good option to suggest.) If you do meet up in person, of course follow basic safety precautions: Meet in a public place, let a friend know you’re going on a Tinder date.
Bottom line: Effort and persistence in the dating-app process are essential, which is why it’s crucial to remain connected to your sense of both your own and others’ humanity at every stage. To a large extent, dating is a numbers game: for every successful connection, there will be a few dates that don’t go as you had wished. For every date, there will be other matches who won’t make it to a date. For every match, there will be some who don’t swipe right back on you. So, do your best to stay present, to stay connected to your felt-sense of what you are looking for, to enjoy the process, and to honor your own, and others’, humanity as you interact.