In our Love App-tually series, Mashable shines a light into the foggy world of online dating. Just in time for cuffing season.
Let’s be real: Ain’t nobody got time to waste on online dating. Yet for busy single people, dating apps and websites feel like a necessary evil to meeting people. How else are you going to do it?
But if you’re not careful, finding suitable partners (whether for the long- or short-term) in an endless sea of digital fish can turn into a full-time job. And if you’re already working a 9-5 (or worse), you’ll quickly want to give up.
Take it from an accidental expert: There are plenty of tips and tricks to better navigate the potentially time-sucking world of online dating.
Our advice comes with a caveat, though. Ultimately, there’s no definitive rule book for online dating. Above all, it’s about learning what works for you. Here are 10 ways you can start:
1. Know which app will fulfill your specific dating needs
Sounds basic, but this is essential stuff: There are so many options on the market right now, and each has a different vibe and purpose that attracts a different crowd — from DTF hookups on Tinder to the more longterm aspirations of OkCupid.
We won’t go into the subcultures of each dating app here, especially since they often change over time. But do some research to determine which is best suited for what you want out of dating.
2. Don’t put too much stock (or time or effort) into online chemistry
It’s tempting to get your hopes up when you start chatting with a match and find a text-message-meet-cute straight out of a rom-com. But here’s the cold, hard truth: Online chemistry often has zero correlation to IRL chemistry.
There’s a whole host of factors that lead you to be attracted to someone that you cannot gleam from text exchanges. You could waste days or even weeks getting to know someone online, then be devastated to realize within a minute of meeting IRL that the spark just isn’t there.
On top of all that, if you spend too much time getting to know each other before meeting up, you’ve likely built expectations and a concept of this person that can’t live up to the real thing.
Of course, you don’t want to go in blind. So to actually see if an IRL date will be worth your time, we suggest you …
3. Request a quick video chat before meeting up
I know, gross — actual human interaction?
To millennials who have panic attacks at even the idea of a phone call (hi, it me), this sounds like an impossible task. But actually, an awkward three-minute video chat is much better than sinking hours into an awkward real-life date.
A lot of factors go into attraction that you can’t pick up on through photos or even texting. So be bold; ask if they’re up for a quick video chat to see if you’re both into taking the IRL plunge.
Don’t be a creep about the way you ask, like suggesting it as a way to avoid getting catfished. Just acknowledge it may be a bit awk but — hey — you read online that it’s a good first step! So why not give it a shot?
Also, if you’re worried about giving out your actual phone number or Skype info to strangers, use apps like Kik or WhatsApp.
4. For icebreakers, try one of the famed 36 questions
Regardless of whether it happens on video or IRL, the pressure of trying to make meaningful conversation happen between two strangers is real. So why not start with one (or many) of these 36 questions scientifically designed to help strangers get to know each other quickly?
These questions come from a psychological study by Dr. Arthur Aron, made famous by the New York Times‘ Modern Love column. And wouldn’t ya know, they actually kind of really work.
We know what you’re thinking. Isn’t it a little summer camp counselor to ask a list of getting to know you questions? It doesn’t have to feel that way. If you have chemistry, the questions will only serve as jumping off points for more natural conversation. If you don’t, well, better to find it out sooner rather than later.
Just float the idea casually. You can even use it as a way to acknowledge the inherent weirdness and awkwardness of first dates, so why not test this thing you read in the New York Times?
Worst case scenario, your date is impressed that you read the New York Times. Best case scenario, you get to know each other fast and learn whether or not you’re a good match.
5. Many people who make bad profiles are actually awesome dates
There’s a tendency to make quick judgements based on a person’s profile, and that can feel like a time saver. But actually, your assumptions can lead you to miss out on matches that are worthwhile.
People aren’t profiles. And profiles that come across as trying too hard, or seeming cheesy, or arrogant, or just not that interesting, can be indicative of someone who’s simply new to online dating.
In reality, those who are bad at branding themselves for an online dating service can absolutely still make for great dates. If anything, you should be more suspect of someone with a perfectly curated online dating persona.
So be lenient when it comes to minor faux pas, like mirror selfies or the dreaded fish pic. It’s most important to trust your gut and at least give ’em a chance to impress in other ways. There are better ways of determining if someone will be worth your time, like …
6. Do your research
It can’t hurt to know more about your date than what they are willing to put on their profile. So there’s no shame in doing a quick Google search before committing any more of your time.
A recent study found that 76 percent of people spend around 15 minutes on pre-date research. You might want to do a Google image search on their pictures to make sure they are who they say they are (or if their name is too common for a regular search).
It’s not creeping if it’s about staying safe and knowing what you’re getting into!
However, take most of what you learn with a grain of salt, because (again) the people we are online are often vastly different to who we are in person.
7. Don’t be afraid to ask to meet up IRL early on
A lot of online dating interactions die on the vine of people being too scared to make the first move to suggest a next step, whether that’s a video chat or real-life date.
If you’re a person with limited time and energy to spend on the whole online dating thing, it’s even more likely for conversation to peter out. What could’ve been a great date that’d save you from spending more time on these awful apps is instead a total waste of your already limited resources.
There are no set rules of engagement, so don’t get stuck in that limbo. Just go for it when it feels appropriate. And if you’re worried about seeming creepy or overeager, explain how you’re bad at keeping up with the app and prefer to make concrete plans.
Usually your potential date will feel relieved that someone’s taking charge in the uncertain world of online dating. Just make sure you don’t frame the suggestion in a way that makes them feel pressured or rushed.
8. Pick a go-to spot near you for quick first meet-ups
Do not — I repeat, do not — commit to a full dinner date the first time you’re meeting a stranger.
For all the reasons listed above, it’s pretty impossible to know whether someone you met online will work out, no matter how much you vet or research ahead of time. And, boy, there’s nothing more painful than sitting through a full-course meal out of politeness.
Instead, have a streamlined process for quick IRL meet-and-greets. Pick a bar or coffee shop near you as a go-to first date suggestion. Aside from saving time, it’s also comforting to meet a complete stranger on your turf.
Before meeting, you can even slip in the set up for an excuse to cut things short if it’s going nowhere fast. We’ve found luck with claims of a busy work week, or a pet or friend who hasn’t been feeling well.
Make sure your go-to spot is conducive to getting to know each other: Choose bars that aren’t too loud or have open tables. Certain places can even make for good ice breakers. A go-to with eclectic art decor, for example, is a perfect way to start a conversation about your date’s taste.
9. Dating is not necessarily a numbers game, but practice helps
By now we’re familiar with the cold calculation that dating (especially of the online variety) is a numbers game. You have a statistically better chance of finding what you want by going on as many dates as possible.
That’s a double-edged sword, though, because going on a bunch of lousy dates will likely only lead to fatigue and an existential crisis. However, it is true that dating is a skill that takes practice.
So don’t treat people like numbers. But do view every date as a potential learning experience. Sure, putting yourself out there more means a higher risk of bad dates. But that’s exactly how you learn what you like and don’t like, and how to avoid it next time.
Bad dates help you recognize dealbreakers. For example, you might find that people who describe themselves as “entrepreneurs” tend to use that as a fancy way of saying “unemployed and living off my parents’ money.”
Next time, it’s a hard swipe left.
10. Be clear and upfront about what you’re on the market for
This one applies to all dating, whether on- or offline. It’s also one of the hardest rules to follow.
We cannot stress enough how much time you save by establishing early on what you’re looking for. That doesn’t mean you have to declare you’re on the hunt for a FWB or life partner (please don’t do that). Just frame the subject in terms of mutual respect and open communication.
When you broach the subject, stress that you’re bringing it up to make sure you’re both on the same page, rather than trying to pressure them into committing or keeping it casual. Even choosing the right platform (see point #1) can help do a lot of this work for you.