Many of us have caved on using dating apps in the last five years or so, frustrated with the lack of connections we’re finding in “the real world.” We may be frustrated to find we’re having a hard time there, too — it feels like we don’t get any matches, or not the ones we want, or once we do, no one even talks to each other. What’s the secret?
While there’s no magic formula, and we can’t control others’ actions or decisions to match with us or not, there’s a lot you can do to make your dating app experience as effective and successful as possible. Here’s where I’d start:
Decide what you want
If you’ve been on dating apps for longer than five minutes, you’ve seen some variations on the phrase “I’m not even sure what I’m looking for…” or “Don’t know what I expect from this…” If you do nothing else differently in your approach to dating apps, make sure you don’t do this.
Making intentional decisions about romance and dating is hard — figuring out what we want, and what that would look like in a relationship, is a lifelong project. You don’t need to have the entire rest of your life planned out or know what you want to buy your future partner for an anniversary gift, but if you can’t name what you’re looking for in a dating context, then you also can’t have any realistic expectation of getting it. And even if your absolute dream person matched with you, if you have no ideas at all about what you want to happen with them and were hoping that a relationship would somehow develop with no input from you, then you’d be out of luck anyway.
Are you looking for a serious relationship — even a marriage? Are you looking to hook up or casually date? Are you nonmonogamous or polyamorous and hoping to find another/new partner? If so, how would they fit into your life and current relationship? It’s okay to be open to more than one possibility — for instance, maybe you’re looking for a fun summer fling but are open to it becoming more serious if it feels right — but your dates need to know what they can expect to be on the table with you.
Make sure your profile has the information that matters
What you’re looking for is arguably the most important thing you can include in a dating profile, but there’s a lot of other information that makes a huge difference in how people think about your dating app presence.
Imagine you’re on a job hunt — you want to find a career you feel solid in and can stay in for years, maybe even forever, but right now you’re at the stage of sending out dozens of applications to dozens of jobs and maybe interviewing with a few of them.
You find two job postings in your field that seem promising at a glance: when you look at the first, it has a detailed breakdown of job responsibilities, expected time commitment, salary range, what qualities the committee is prioritizing in applicants, an explanation of company benefits and PTO policies, and when you can expect to hear back from them with a response. The second job just says, “We’re looking for rockstars who are ready to commit to an exciting opportunity with a team that works hard and plays hard.”
Which one are you applying to?
The latter example is functionally what you’re doing when you create a dating app profile that’s just 2-3 similar selfies and a bio that says something like “Not sure what I’m looking for on here — I’m just a fun and laid-back person who likes music and spending time with friends.”
While it may feel like you’re being rejected or are unappealing when you don’t get matches with a profile like this, the reality is likely that people aren’t finding anything in your profile that they can connect with, because it’s so general and vague. They have no way of knowing if you’re someone they’d like to go on a date with or not, because they know nothing about you at all; certainly nothing pertinent to how you are as a partner.
Here are some things to consider including in a dating app profile instead:
- What you’re hoping to get out of dating/what you’re looking for in a relationship
- Photos that show your life and personality: with your friends, your pet, playing your favorite sports or doing your favorite hobbies — if you don’t have any, take some!
- How you spend your time outside of work
- Qualities that you think make you a good partner or date — loyal, funny, a good communicator, in therapy, etc
- Anything important about your sexual dynamics — for instance, if you’re a stone top, or looking for a BDSM relationship
- Important values that you need someone to be on the same page with you about if you’re going to date
- How you want a relationship to fit in to your life/what would look like a successful relationship to you/what you’re looking for in a partner
- Anything you need a potential partner to be on board with in terms of family or lifestyle
- A question/prompt/invitation to share something to start the conversation if you match
That may seem like a lot, but in reality, it just adds up to a short — but very effective — paragraph. For instance:
I’m a triple Capricorn and power bottom looking for a long-term relationship. Ideally, you’re a kinky top; even better if you can cook (I’ll wash the dishes). When I’m not at work I’m usually in my vegetable garden, looking for vintage furniture on Facebook Marketplace, or hanging out with my dog; I’d love to meet someone who wants to spend Sunday mornings at the dog park with us.
I don’t have kids and don’t drink, but fine with me if you do on both counts. I’m fat and am not planning on losing weight, so if that’s a problem for you, we probably shouldn’t date. Direct communication and supporting BLM are non-negotiables for me; I prefer monogamous relationships but am open to dating someone non-monogamous. Tell me about the last book you read!
There’s no guarantee that the person in the above imaginary example will get tons of matches, or match with the people that they want to date. But at least they can be confident that if someone doesn’t connect with them, it’s because they evaluated that they genuinely weren’t compatible or weren’t looking for the same things — not because their profile was so vague they didn’t even engage with it.
Choose to be active, not passive
The theme of much of this is related: you have to take charge and be intentional about the experience. This is counter to what some of us hope for when it comes to dating apps — dating is already so hard and exhausting, an app and the algorithms that comprise it should take all the legwork out of it so we can just create a quick bio and then watch the relationships roll in. Shouldn’t it?
You likely know what I’m going to say — this is not how dating works, unfortunately, or really anything in life. Dating apps can only ever be a microcosm of dating itself, and so just like in other areas of dating, your quality of life in dating is directly proportional to how much effort and intentionality you put in.
What does this mean in practical terms on the apps? It means most literally that you should commit to actually messaging people — matching doesn’t really do anything but boost your ego unless someone actually tries to make a date. It’s ideal to message something specific about the other person’s profile so they can tell that you’ve actually paid attention to them personally, and ask a question of some kind to get a real conversation going. If that seems too challenging, though, just saying “Hi, how are you” is better than nothing.
Taking an active role also means bringing intentionality to the app conversation (and first date, if you have one). This could mean:
- Having personal guidelines about chatting — maybe you know you don’t like chatting endlessly and want to make a date in person within 24 hours, or maybe you need to chat for a while to build trust, and so you know you want X number of exchanges before making a date
- Specific green flags you’re looking for in the conversation — that they ask personal questions about you? That they’re funny? That they answer promptly?
- Questions you know you want to ask to determine if you’re baseline compatible
- Any personal boundaries about sending photos, exchanging real phone numbers, overtly sexual language, etc
Most of all, it’s important to be active in checking in with yourself about that core question — what do you want, and how is this person stacking up relative to it? Are you having fun and feeling a growing connection, or just getting swept up in the momentum because it’s the easiest option? Does this person align with the green flags you’ve decided you’re looking for — or do they just give the same toxic chemical rush as your ex, and you aren’t actually compatible in ways that matter? They aren’t easy questions, but they’re the ones that will help make sure your dating app journey is heading to the destination you’re looking for.