The Dating Apps Are For Lovers, Not Lonely Losers (hat tip: Neck Deep)
Preface: While I speak to my experience as a heteronormative male, I do think there’s value in this for all people, genders, and orientations. A lot of the principles and strategies are universal, although they may need some adjusting for your situation. Pardon my at times male-straight-centric language, but that’s the experience I come at this topic with.
When COVID struck I fled New York for the rural mountains of Vermont. Suffice to say, when my social life in New York City disappeared, my dating life died with it. And after months of uh, not getting laid because of the pandemic, I had had enough. So, among many other reasons to come back to New York, I came back to meet new people and respark my social life.
Now, before the pandemic, dating in New York was, more or less, easy. Which is not to say dating is ever easy, but if there were ever a place where you had plentiful options to meet people right outside your door, it’s New York City in 2019.
I knew returning to the city, it would not be as easy.
My first days back in New York City I wandered the streets to see bars where clumps of people used to gather now had each group separated by plexiglass. As if approaching strangers wasn’t hard enough before, now you were literally separated by glass.
Look, I’m an in-person guy. In-person has its own challenges, and approaching people is its own skill set, that’s where I’d learned to be comfortable.
I like to say that my dating style is just like my writing style. I may not draw you in right away with the perfect hook, but if you keep reading down the page, I think you’ll find yourself saying “this guy’s cool.”
But that had to change because that’s just where the world is. Dating apps were the obvious solution.
Now, I’d used dating apps previously with limited success and interest.
I didn’t have that many good photos. I didn’t have a compelling bio. And once I did match, I didn’t put in the effort to nurture the potential relationships.
I wasn’t treating the dating apps the same way I was treating the bars when I went out.
I was treating dating apps like I walked into a bar in gym clothes, and then was surprised when I didn’t have the same kind of success as before. And that’s the first, and perhaps the most important, key to dating in 2020:
Accept it. Embrace it. Start treating the dating apps the same way you treat the bars.
I love bar hopping. You peak your head into a place, see what’s going on, maybe grab a drink. If you feel the vibes, you stay, maybe say hi to some strangers. If not, you head out. Now here’s one of the great things about dating apps: you can be at multiple places at once. You can swipe on one app for a few minutes, then another, then another, and have conversations going on all of them at once.
Fortunately, there are as many options for online dating apps as there are for bars near my apartment.
In the college dating landscape “The big three” are Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge. They all have their positives and negatives.
Tinder’s best advantage is that it has the most people on it. If you live in an unpopulated area then, it’s likely where you’re going to have the most luck, because, you know, math.
Even in small towns, there tend to be enough people (although I’ve definitely run into too many people from high school when swiping in my hometown). Now, fortunately, I live in New York City, so there are more people on every dating app than I could ever swipe through.
Tinder’s stereotype is that it’s the “best for hookups.” Personally, that has not been the case for me. The people I meet on Tinder seem to be looking for the same things as people on other apps like Bumble.
The biggest drawback on Tinder in my experience is that it’s a huge numbers game. Because it is so popular and there are so many people on the app, you can get a ton of matches and send them funny/witty/intriguing messages (which we’ll get to later) and then not hear back. Maybe I’m just ugly, but this happens a lot. And I won’t lie, I’m slightly demoralized when I come up with the perfect joke for a given situation and don’t even hear back. This makes Tinder a lot of work before you’ve even had a back and forth conversation with someone. It’s generally a poor return on investment.
Okay. Bumble’s my favorite. The biggest difference between Bumble and other apps is that the woman has to message first. While I don’t mind messaging first on an app like Tinder, having this feature on Bumble makes it a form of self-selection for me. Because they have to message first, I know they’re more likely to be interested before I have to do any of the work of thinking of clever things to say.
I’m also a fan of the fact that Bumble, in addition to having a normal bio, also has questions you answer. This gives you more data points to go off of before engaging in conversation, and are usually jumping-off points to start them.
Plus, fuck the patriarchy, and good for the women on Bumble who are working to smash the social norms.
I’m not a huge fan of Hinge, although it has some benefits. Because you only get five swipes per day, when someone swipes you, you know they’re interested. And, Hinge alerts you when someone wants to match with you and gives you the option to match with them or not. This makes it a super low time commitment. I now never swipe on Hinge, but if someone swipes on me, I’ll get a notification and go check.
Hinge advertises itself as more for people looking for more serious relationships. I think this tends to be true but to a negligible extent. I think if you’re not looking for a relationship you can still find people you can vibe with.
One female friend who I used as a consultant crafting this article said that she recommends people download all three, use them all, then after a week stick with the one that’s working best for you.
I subscribe to a different philosophy. Even if you’re not swiping, you’re still having people swipe on you. So I keep them all downloaded. On a daily basis, I use Bumble, only use Hinge when I can match requests, and only use Tinder when I want to swipe on more people (if, for example, I run out of bumble swipes).
Of course, there are many more. I know people in the polyamorous community use Feeld. I’m sure there are tons of others that are more niched down, and with a bit of research, you can explore. The Caveat to these is that they’re really made for big cities. New York is the best US city for these. Los Angeles would be fine except everything’s too goddamn spread out. Maybe Chicago, San Francisco, and Austin. Outside of that, those niche apps are going to be tough. But hey, give it a try.
By this, I do not mean put on your best pair of pants and start swiping. I mean put on your best pair of pants, walk outside with a friend, and take some dope-ass pictures of yourself.
Because it doesn’t matter how much time you put into swiping on the apps, if your profile sucks, you’re not going to get the type of matches you want. Imagine if you walked into a bar dressed like you’re on your way to the gym. You wouldn’t have much luck, or at least not as much luck as if you dressed for the occasion.
Look, I’m no photography expert, and I’m sure you can do some research on the best types of photos to include in your dating app bios elsewhere on the internet. But you get the point.
Go take some photos of you in your cool jackets in front of the cool building you don’t actually live in but kinda live close to so you pretend you live there. Or is that just me taking photos in the West Village… Whatever, you get the point.
The photos are the time to show off the work you’ve put in to get extra shredded and more muscular. But don’t be a douchebag about it. Not only is including a shirtless mirror selfie the ultimate douchebaggery move, but it also just won’t work.
Leave your progress pics in your camera roll and opt for a more casual shirtless moment. On the boat with friends, just finishing up your first surfing lesson. If you’re a model (how to be a fitness model), you can include one of those photos too. In a TV show episode of The Tim Ferriss Experiment Tim found that a shirtless pic with a kitten converted the best out of all his photos, for what it’s worth. I also can’t imagine why you’d need more than one shirtless pic. Pick your favorite one and have other varied photos.
One of my favorite parts of dating apps is the bio. Tinder has standard bios, Hinge has questions you answer, and Bumble features both. This is different, and an advantage, from in-person dating. With bios, you can already know a lot about a person before you even say hi.
And, as a writer, I feel confident in my bio writing, but I don’t think it’s as strong as my conversation game. As I said, I think I get better with more interaction. But I’ve had success by approaching the bio the same way I approach the rest of dating: by going against expectations. As I wrote about in that article, you need something that seems like there’s something deeper to you than the initial glance. A surprising interest, a witty mention. Anything that suggests there’s something more to you than appears.
You can also do this by including your music tastes and other interests that you can easily put on your dating app profiles.
Another way to think about this is: every single aspect of your profile and bio should have something that would raise a question or comment from people looking at your profile. Each aspect should hide something deeper behind it, and encourage them to go want to know more.
Let’s put my Bumble bio up for scrutiny here
At first glance, I look like the typical bro. But then my bio talks about two of my favorite things: Harry Potter and snuggling. Neither of these you’d expect from your typical heteronormative male.
With the cons, I’m just trying to be funny. They might fall flat, but I really am terrible at swimming and I am indeed not Zac Efron.
Imagine swiping left on this guy? C’mon.
Not only are the elements of my bio somewhat surprising, but they’re also easy to comment on, as we’ll see in a second. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, it’s easy to say “Nice to meet a fellow Ravenclaw” to get the conversation going. They’re easy doors to enter the conversation.
Another aspect when thinking about what you want to add in your bio is: who do you want to attract?
I tend to get matches with women who like Harry Potter, who therefore tend to read books and therefore be intelligent people. If you want to find someone who likes the same music as you or loves the same sport or whatever, include that front and center in your bio.
We all know that guy who swipes right on everything. Fuck that guy. One, he’s just an asshole for matching with everyone. And two, you run out of swipes very quickly and likely with nothing to show for it.
Respect to the guy who takes a look at every single detail in a person’s bio. But I’ll never be that guy because that takes forever.
I go off first instinct. I look at one photo and the bio, two if it’s not a clear one, then decide. If I’m not sure, I swipe right.
Personally, I’ve found this to be the right balance of time spent and attention to each person. See. Decide. Move on.
Again, the apps are like the bars. I try to dedicate some time in the evenings or while I’m eating lunch to do all the swipes I want to do for that day. It’s blocked out time the same way going to bars is.
The wrong time to swipe is while at work anytime you want a distraction or a quick dopamine hit. In a name of increasing your productivity, don’t swipe while you should be working. Although I’d be lying if I didn’t sometimes swipe during Zoom class.
Once you have a match with someone, now you have to actually talk to them. Your first few messages are especially important. Just like the headline on an ad, you have to stand out right away. As marketing legend David Ogilvy said, “When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.” Well here, a disproportionate amount of your energy should be spent on the first few messages.
Before you’ve started a conversation, it’s so easy to ghost someone. You want to draw them into the conversation, make it easy and fun for them to respond to you.
Please for the love of god, don’t say “hey” or “what’s up.” I, as a general rule, always comment on something related to their profile. And the most successful interactions I’ve had on Bumble, women have done the same for me.
Having something to do with Hogwarts and being a Ravenclaw accounts for a disproportionate amount of my Bumble interactions. The following four screenshots are all from October 31-November 4.
Nerd shit for the win.
Aside from Ravenclaw comments, almost all other Bumble messages are some form of “hey.”
From here, it’s basically like Tinder and you’re going to have to do the work to get the convo going.
If you can weave something about themselves that they mention in their bio into the conversation, you’re much more likely to get a response. Even if they’re still agnostic to you (since they matched with you, there’s some interest) they might respond solely because they like talking about their interests, as we all do.
In the first few messages, you need to avoid anything boring. Ideally, you can keep it related to topics you’ve opened up with.
If other people would ask them this in a dating app conversation, don’t ask it. Do not ask them what they do, what they study, or where they’re from.
I’ve found that asking these in reciprocity is fine, but please don’t make your third text, “what do you do?” That’s lame in-person it’s still lame in the middle of a pandemic. Also, a lot of people are unemployed right now, so don’t be an asshole.
On the flip side, you’ll likely get asked these questions I’m telling you not to ask them. Be prepared and ready for them, and have a not boring response ready. It’s not unlike what John teaches when helping people give presentations.
I have more or less pre-planned and copy and paste responses to the questions.
“Where are you from?”
Avid RFS readers may recognize that I used this exact speel on you in this article.
“What do you do?”
“I’m a writer, but it’s a bit complex. I’ll save the explanation for when we meet in person.”
(also: see what I did there.)
This is also my answer to “what do I study.” I emphasize my professional life more than my academic one because it’s just more interesting.
Another note on the initial dating app conversations:
Because the other person at this point is just a stranger from a dating app, they’re going to forget you super easily. If you take 12 hours to respond, expect them to do the same. Within a few days of this pattern, the interaction will likely fizzle out. Respond quickly so you can stay toward the top of their mind.
Generally, this is how I like to approach all text conversations, because I don’t like to play games. My read receipts are on. You’ll know if I’ve read the text or not. If you are one of those people who likes to play games with response times, look I’m not here to judge this. I get the principles behind it. But without a few quick back and forth messages, the other person will never feel like they’re ever talking to you. So, respond quickly.
Also, keep in mind that dating apps aren’t like texts because people don’t all have notifications on for these apps. They’re going on them at their convenience and don’t know or care how long it took you to respond.
Lastly, this also goes for right when you match. Don’t see a match, look through their profile, and then not send them a message. Send the message while you’re thinking about it.
If you’re having fun conversations, there comes a point where it’s just natural to move to text. I usually go for a phone number, but I’m right on the age cusp where people ask for Snapchat. I’m a words guy so I prefer a phone number.
If I get asked for a snap I typically respond, “I’m not cool enough for Snapchat what’s your phone number?”
You don’t need to overthink this. If at any point it feels natural to move to text, just ask for their phone number (or Snapchat or whatever).
Never try to get a date right from the app. That’s creepy. Keep texting, having fun conversations, asking good questions, and eventually, there will come a point where you both have decided you’re cool, and you’d like to meet up. Because you’ve been building a bond just over a text, you don’t need to hard-sell this at all, if fact it should be natural and expected.
Personally, I like to air on the side of texting for a few extra days before asking for an in-person meetup, especially in a pandemic. Once you’ve sealed the agreement that you want to meet in-person, you can move on.
I’ve never in a particular rush to meet them. I’m cool having some fun text conversations for at least a few days. Plus, this weeds out the boring people.
All right, enough about these goddamn apps. What about the dates?
This is just good etiquette. Show up wearing a mask, and stay six feet away from the person you’re seeing until you ask. Your dating life should not have an impact on global public health. I usually say a simple, “Is it okay if I hug you” when meeting somebody.
Sometimes they’ll say no. Because we’re in, you know, a pandemic. Often they’ll ask if I get regularly tested and are avoiding large gatherings. In any case, showing respect for their boundaries at this difficult time will go a long way in continuing to build trust. And, every step of the way you should continue to ask consent for every one of their boundaries.
If they ask who else you’ve seen, disclose that information. Be open, honest, and ready to have conversations about your risk tolerance with COVID, how often you’re getting tested, and how many people you’ve interacted with lately.
I’m very fortunate that New Yorkers are some of the most badass people on the planet, and we’ve fought to make progress on this pandemic. While not perfect, right now (early November 2020) in New York if you’re staying in a small group and one-on-one, the risk is marginal. Basically, if you follow the rules, it should be good. So follow the damn rules.
This also means choosing dates where you’ll be safe. Coffee and a walk in the park. A drink at an outdoor bar. Respecting social distancing guidelines is sexy as fuck. People love people who care about others.
So keep the mask on until you’re in a place where you’re allowed to and can do so safely and you both agree it’s appropriate to.
This is always true. But it’s especially true right now. Every person you talk to and every time you meet up with someone creates a risk for spreading the virus.
Now, I’ve been on a fair amount of these dating app dates. And sometimes, no matter how great the text conversation is, in person there just isn’t the spark you’d hope there would be. Or, they’re just not available for what you’re looking for.
It doesn’t have to be on the first date, but these conversations shouldn’t drag out. Once you know what you’re available for with that person, bring it up. See if it’s a good fit and worth continuing.
“I’ve had a great time talking to you. I just want to be upfront and honest with what I’m available for. I’d love to spend more time with you but I’m not available for x, y, z.”
You know what else is sexy: Honesty and Authenticity. We live in a world where so many people struggle to be open and honest about where their feelings are at, and it’s almost always a breath of fresh air to be honest about it.
Be a fucking grown up and have a hard conversation. Ghosting is a lot easier, but it’s also a lot more childish and leaves both of you without proper closure. If you go on a date and aren’t feeling it and wouldn’t be available for continuing the relationship, have that conversation.
And also, don’t do it over text. Facetime works great.
“Hey, I think you’re a cool person and I enjoyed talking to you I’m just not feeling the romantic spark between us. I just want to be upfront about how I’m feeling.”
Give them space to respond and have a proper conversation about it. Ultimately they’ll really appreciate that you were honest and didn’t ghost them or let the relationship drag out, which only makes it harder to break off from.
It’s just hard to gauge someone’s attractiveness if you haven’t seen their whole face. Their teeth, their smile.
For guys like me who can’t grow a mustache but participate in Movember anyway, masks are a godsend. (If you want to donate to my Movember page to fight mental health disease, learn more here.)
For all of us single extroverts, it’s been a long, lonely time. I feel really happy that I’m back in the dating mix. I love conversation and meeting new people, and that includes seeking out intimate connections with others.
Those singles on the dating apps are probably also feeling a bit of that, so remember that we’re all in this together, and be empathic to how people are feeling.
There’s a person on the other side of the screen who’s endured challenging times this year just like you.
We’re not ashamed to admit a big reason for why we workout: so we look sexy as fuck in the bedroom. Because of the pandemic, a lot of people haven’t been going to gyms, and maybe aren’t in their best shape.
This means it’s an area where you can stand out. Show up looking better than your pre-pandemic pictures in your Bumble bio and you might catch an eye.
If you’re in an area where gyms are closed you can read our Home Workout Guide.
Plus (Shameless sales pitch, because we’re a goddamn business around here, we can’t just write these dumb articles about my dating life for nothing), if you’re looking to get in the best shape of your life, check out the Super Hero Workout, which you can get right now for the lowest price ever.
Really, it’s not that different than regular dating. You just have to change to the appropriate mediums to meet and talk to new people. Then just be a good person.
Now, I’m not a dating coach. I’m just a guy who’s been out there getting in the mix, adjusting to this new form of dating. This is based fully on my experience living in New York in 2020. I’m also a straight white dude. Which of course, will skew my experience of dating in a certain direction.
If you’ve found this article helpful, leave a comment letting me know ONE thing you’re going to apply from this into your life.
So I wrote this whole damn article and then sent it to my best friend. He had so many spicy takes on it and alternative approaches. We ended up going on Zoom and doing a workshop-style call for about an hour. What follows are some of those takeaways and potentially different ways of looking at dating in a pandemic and dating apps.
In evolutionary biology, a species is either an “R-strategist,” “K-strategist,” or somewhere in the middle. R-strategists, like rabbits, survive as a species by having lots and lots of offspring and betting on just a few of them making it to adulthood to pass on their genes. They don’t invest as much in raising or protecting the offspring.
K-strategists, like kangaroos (and humans), have very few offspring but take great care of them and raise them and prepare them for adulthood. On dating apps, I am a k-strategist: I try to put time and effort into every first message and craft it specifically for them. But as my dear friend said, you could just be a “high-volume shooter.” I think you get where this is going.
This is where, instead of spending time nurturing each interaction, you put out something generic to more people and see who responds.
This example is from my dear friend who’s handsome, charming, and the epitome of the high volume shooter.
He goes right for the snap. That’s high volume shooting. He’s put no effort into this so he can message more matches, but the downside is he won’t get as many replies. Here, he does. He then follows it up with two just stellar messages making fun of himself, and the door is back open to continue the conversation.
Let’s see if he pulls this together in the next appendix.
Now, dating apps are serious and all, but if you get the chance to make a joke that you think is hilarious, but it might sabotage the interaction, I say go for the joke. You can’t take yourself or these interactions too seriously. Nowhere is this more prevalent in my generation than Spongebob memes. I, and many others’ humor, is foundationally built around referencing Spongebob. It’s a brilliant show and has aged so well, but I’ll save that for another article. Here, we see a Spongebob meme in action.
Now, for context, here’s the video where this comes from.
You either get the joke or you don’t, and you’re either dying laughing for you’re confused. It’s a roll of the dice. In this case, this is where the interaction ends. The SpongeBob meme fell flat, but this joke was so funny it well-worth sending it anyway.
If all you get out of a Tinder conversation is a great joke, that’s a good ROI.
To avoid this conundrum, I already have the disclaimer that one of my downsides is quoting Spongebob, so at least they’ll know what they’re getting into.
This will obviously vary based on the age of the person. At 22, I’m on the older side for using Snapchat. Personally, I don’t use it. However, I have clients who are 17-18 years old and they don’t text. They do all their texting exclusively through Snapchat. This is bonkers. I don’t get it and I don’t like it. But that’s their generation.
Where nearly all of us can agree on is Instagram. However, Instagram isn’t particularly friendly for text conversations. It works, sure, but it’s not ideal. It’s also just not enough for most people.
In today’s world, we’re all wearier of who’s actually behind the screen. Just a phone number or a Snapchat or an Instagram account isn’t enough to confirm that the photos you see on the screen and the person sending the messages are the same. That’s why I go through my “and IG so I can confirm you’re a real person routine.”
It’s an extra layer of safety.
So, you probably have one of two options. You’re either a phone number + Instagram person or a Snapchat + Instagram person.
Okay, so as you probably all know, in November 2020 everybody was talking about The Queen’s Gambit. I loved the show and was thrilled by its popularity because I was a chess player (and by the way, the show is much better if you understand chess). In fact, I finished in the top ten in the State scholastic chess tournament my senior year of high school.
(Also, I wrote an article about Fitness lessons from The Queen’s Gambit.)
The point is, chess being popular was the perfect time to showcase another side to me, a side that was all of the sudden cool and trendy. So, I decided to add some chess content to my dating profiles. And, it smashed. The majority of my recent matches have opened the conversation in response to my recently added chess photo.
Also, I have now taught two people this week how to play chess and both sessions have been invigorating and fun.
The lesson here is that it’s important to be involved and able to discuss what’s culturally important at the moment, even better if you have something to add to the discussion (like I do about chess). Specifically for your bio, if you can stay up to date on what everybody is talking about you can create easy entry points for discussion.
(Any chess nerds may even notice that the opening I’m playing on that board just so happens to be the queen’s gambit.)
While I don’t have premium for any of them, the answer is almost definitely yes. The reason I don’t is because my Apple ID account is still my parents (womp, womp). So it would get charged to their credit card. I have no problem telling the entire internet and our 50k email list about my dating life, but for some reason, I don’t want to tell my dad. Or, maybe I just don’t need premium (shrug emoji).
Don’t be an idiot like me. For all of the apps, premium has tons of advantages that save you so much time. With Tinder Gold, you can see who liked you so you don’t even need to swipe. You just swipe on people who’ve already swiped right on you. All of them have “boost” options which means Tinder bumps you up on the algorithm so more people see your profile. Look, you might have to cancel Showtime or Disney+ for a month to pay for it, but surely that’s worth making it easier to meet awesome people? As long as you’re using the services premium provides, it’ll be worth the investment.
And remember, the apps are like the bars. One drink on one night out will cost as much as a month’s membership to one of these. Overall, these dating apps are way cheaper venues.
Update: I’ve leveled up too much as a human being to not be able to have this conversation with my parents. So, I just did. now I have Tinder premium. Stay tuned for another appendix on using premium in a few weeks.
So, Tinder has several levels you can try. I opted for the middle option, Tinder Gold, which gives you unlimited swipes, 5 super likes, 1 gold per month, and the opportunity to see who liked you. The super likes in theory help you, but I didn’t have any extra luck by tossing them out like candy. Seeing who liked me saved some time, so I actually didn’t end up swiping very much, because I could just see who swiped on me already.
The boost, however, has a ton of value if you’re in a city. The boost bumps your profile up on the algorithm so more people see you and swipe on you. In a place like New York, that means a lot of people will see your profile. It only lasts for a few minutes, but it was raining matches for those few minutes.
Since the boost is the most valuable part of gold, I recommend just buying boosts as you want them. They cost $7 each, and a gold membership is $30 a month and it only comes with one boost. I can go without seeing who already liked me and the extra super likes. The boosts, it seems to me, is where the value is at.