Dating apps are a dime a dozen these days. They come in all different styles and flavors, but all essentially offer users the same twinkling hope: love at first swipe.
Maybe you’re thrilled by all the opportunities at your fingertips. Maybe you’re absolutely exhausted by it all or just wary of strangers online. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, dating apps — especially in the past year and a half — have become a bigger part of our romantic lives than ever. In fact, of all the fish in the sea in 2020, some 270 million people were on at least one dating app.
That’s a lot of fish! But it’s also a lot of pressure to stand out and to find the right match.
If you’re stressed about making the most of your dating app experience, “remember the stakes don’t have to be so high every time,” says author and advice columnist John Paul Brammer.
“Putting yourself out there is scary … there’s always something about us that can shake and wobble,” says Brammer, whose advice column ¡Hola Papi!, actually started through Grindr. “Oftentimes we look into that bad date and we think, ‘OK, what’s wrong with me?'”
But a date isn’t a mirror. And a dating app should be a tool for connection, not a portal for our anxieties, Brammer says.
Flipping the script starts with taking control of your narrative. And being willing to put in the work, says certified dating coach Damona Hoffman.
“You can be online and swiping within minutes. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to have a quality experience if you haven’t gone into it with a sense of purpose,” says Hoffman.
Read on for tips from Hoffman and Brammer for navigating the world of dating apps, or listen to the full podcast at the top of the page.
Rethink your story, lower the stakes
Though just about every romantic comedy you’ve seen or dating app success story you’ve heard may suggest otherwise, love doesn’t always happen overnight or find us when we’re least expecting it. Finding a partner on an app — just like in the real world — takes time, effort and openness, says Hoffman.
“We are addicted to our stories, and that is often the thing that keeps someone from being able to be successful on a dating app,” Hoffman says, “Whether it’s the story of I don’t want to tell my friends that we met on a dating app or ‘I just didn’t picture it.’ I hear that all of the time.”
Eschewing old notions of how our love stories unfold and embracing this new dating frontier is the first step to finding success, says Hoffman. From there, lower the stakes of individual online interactions.
“I tell my clients to think of the messages and the swipes like coins in the fountain,” says Hoffman. “You toss it in and you make a wish. And if it comes true, that’s a wonderful thing … If it doesn’t come true, it’s just a penny. Are you going to get upset about a penny?”
Brammer embraces this philosophy with his own dating profile.
“When I open a dating app, I have to think, what do I want out of this situation? And that kind of reveals to me maybe something ulterior that I’m looking for,” says Brammer. He suggests being honest with yourself about your hopes and then managing your expectations: “If I happen to meet someone today, that’s nice. If it doesn’t happen, I don’t need it.”
Your dating profile is your “love lab”
If you already have social media, you’re probably not a stranger to curating your online persona. But portraying an authentic “you” for a potential partner with just a few pictures and paragraphs can feel a lot more stressful than the likes of Instagram or Facebook.
Your profile is the most important piece of your online dating experience, says Hoffman, but you shouldn’t let that intimidate you. Instead, treat your profile and online dating experience as a living document and “a sort of love lab for your life.”
When trying to stand out, Hoffman says to keep in mind the three C’s:
Color: Test out different vibrant, quality photos. Make sure they’re up to date, and make sure to crop out other people. You should be the solo star of your profile!
Context: Do your photos and text tell the story of who you are?
Character: Let your personality shine through!
Curious about what you should steer clear of? Hoffman says avoid oversharing, cringe-worthy bathroom selfies or wasting valuable profile real estate detailing what you want or don’t want in a partner.
“What people tend to do is put their filters up right away … and then you don’t get enough options in your dating pipeline,” says Hoffman. Instead, focus on making your profile a positive portrait of you because it’s “just the entry point” for connection. You can start your filtering process later.
And if this all feels like a lot to manage, that’s OK! Brammer tells us the important thing to remember about profiles is to “put the energy out on the app that you would appreciate attracting.”
(If you’re still struggling to get started, Hoffman actually offers a whole dating profile starter kit for free.)
Ditch the checklist
“I find that there’s too much focus on finding someone who shares interests with you,” says Hoffman. “You’re not looking to date a carbon copy of yourself.”
Oftentimes, Hoffman’s clients come to her with long lists of qualities they want their perfect partner to possess — height requirements, education standards, baseline income, pet preferences. But she says don’t overcomplicate things: a quality relationship can be built on shared values and two or three activities a couple can enjoy together. Brammer agrees.
“To me, chemistry often exists outside of that list of things we want out of a person,” says Brammer. “And that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t have … a certain set of things you’re really hoping for in a partner. It just means the universe isn’t beholden to our demands.”
Of course, everyone has their own idea of “deal-breaker” qualities, and both Hoffman and Brammer say that’s OK: Every person has the right to feel safe and seen by their partner.
But holding every potential match to unrealistic or unnecessarily superficial expectations can be a recipe for disappointment. So instead of adhering to a strict standard of “must-haves,” Brammer says try leaving some room for someone new “to bring something to your table that you maybe weren’t looking for.”
Date with purpose
If you’re searching for a serious relationship, it’s absolutely possible to find one on dating apps but you have “to keep your head in the game,” Hoffman says.
Oftentimes, clients will come to her feeling discouraged after a week or two, or after resurfacing an old profile, but she says you can’t expect real results if you come to the table with a half-hearted effort.
“You have to do it with intention and you have to commit to it for a certain period of time,” says Hoffman. She suggests starting by committing to two or three months of making dating apps one of your top priorities.
From there, stay engaged and be bold. Hoffman cited research showing it’s advantageous to send out messages during high-activity times. (For example, after work hours are a good bet.) Also, women who reach out to men instead of waiting for them to make the first move often get high returns. She says speed and momentum are your friend, and apps can often reward more regular interaction with more options.
Once matches start coming in, Hoffman says do your best not to fall into “robot mode.” While the process can be taxing, getting-to-know-you conversations don’t have to be stuffy or canned.
“We fall into the script of all of the prior dates that we’ve had,” she says, “You don’t have to do that. You control your dating destiny.”
Dating online can be hard, be kind to yourself
Not everyone on dating apps is looking for a forever love, and not everyone who swipes right is going to be the right fit for you — but understanding that doesn’t make getting ghosted or mismatched any easier. Dating apps, like social media-writ-large, can act as a “playground for your anxieties,” says Brammer.
The reality of the search can be isolating and lonely at times, says Brammer, and “loneliness can often feel like a personal failure.” But “loneliness is very common … and it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you,” Brammer continues. “It is hard to find connections that you want to hold on to for a long time.”
Even as someone who people look to for love advice, Brammer says this is something he struggles with too. But recognizing and remembering that you’re not alone in the struggle can be a source of comfort. In the meantime, he suggests trying to approach dating apps with lightness and leaving yourself room for grace.
“It’s just hard to put yourself out there,” Brammer reminds us. “So don’t beat yourself up over it.”
The podcast portion of this story was produced by David West Jr. and Meghan Keane, with engineering support from James Willetts.
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