By Chelsea Embree
But after taking two stabs at both Tinder and OkCupid, I’m something of a veteran. A slightly embarrassed veteran, but a veteran nonetheless.
And I’ve learned how to play this game — because, yes, it is kind of a game — for those who are playing to date. It’s not the easiest thing to find someone online who’s got the looks and conversation skills you’re looking for, but it can be done.
Finding these magical, mystical beings requires patience, effort, and being somewhat magical and mystical yourself. From my very scientific studies, there are a few clear plays that put the odds of this game in your favor.
Post more than one photo.
In fact, post all the photos you can. Give people a chance to get some idea of what you look like — otherwise, you’ll risk coming off as either creepy or a fake account.
Post actual photos of yourself.
You are not a car, your dog, your cat, a hunting conquest, a fishing conquest, a mountainous landscape or a flower. Nor are you a mob of so many people that picking you out takes more than 2 seconds — also known as the average length of an online dating attention span. The goal is to present yourself, so actually present yourself.
Be more attractive in real life than you are in photos.
This sounds shallow and kind of awful, but bear with me. People often post photos of the way they wish they looked — as in selfies for which they prepared, dressed up, found just the right lighting and used an Instagram filter. If that’s not what you really look like, meeting your matches in person could be awkward. But if you look awesome in person and aren’t the most photogenic, you’ll blow your date away. Generally speaking, the best photos are the ones that show you happy, having a good time and doing things you like to do. That’s what really draws people in.
Spend some time on the “About Me” sections — but not too much time.
Shockingly enough, “Go Hawks!” doesn’t say much about you as a person. Write a couple sentences on what you do for a living, your favorite weekend activities and other things that are important to your personality. On the flipside, don’t go overboard with thousands of words about your favorite books and movies. Highlight what you love and move on.
Bring the non-negotiables up front.
If you’re hard set on joining the Army and wouldn’t date someone who didn’t at least respect that, it’s important that your prospects know that. They’re going to find out sooner or later anyway — why wait until a third date face-to-face to have a honey tell you it’s a deal-breaker?
For the love of all that is good, abandon the pickup lines.
Unless someone specifically says they enjoy them in their “About Me” section, just don’t. They’re corny at best and degrading at worst. Instead, ask an actual question that shows you looked through their photos or read the biographical info they put effort into making perfect. For example: They mention they love the outdoors. Ask, “What are your favorite outdoor activities?” It’s simple and it shows you’re interested.
Don’t let your first message be “Hey,” “Hi,” “Hello,” or any iteration thereof.
It’s my personal belief that messages like this are the Internet’s form of catcalling — whoever’s asking them obviously wants a response, but feels entitled to one without putting in any effort. “Hey” is not the way to start a conversation. Chaste, friendly compliments are often much more effective. And questions are even better.
If you’re morally against hunting, but the cutie on the screen is holding up dead ducks, pass. If you’re a literary grammar nerd and a certified stud has never met a comma or a capital letter, pass. The things that are important to you aren’t magically going to change just because a person is attractive.
Don’t expect too much.
It’s online dating, and people generally do present themselves differently on the Internet than they do in real life. Look at the date as an opportunity to meet someone new, and maybe make a friend. If things go way better than that, it’ll be a gleeful surprise. And if not, then you’ve tuned up your social skills and done something different. Either way, changing things up is all to your benefit.
Never, ever, ever become a “ghost.”
“Ghosting” is the latest in the ever-growing list of bad ways to end things with someone. A text message is actually preferable. “Ghosting” happens when someone just stops all communication with you without giving any reason or warning. Some will “ghost” immediately, while others will pull the well-known “slow fade,” taking longer and longer to respond to texts or other messages until eventually they just don’t. Either way, this is the worst. It’s impolite, immature and impractical in small communities. If you don’t want to risk the awkward interaction of running into someone you “ghosted,” be brave and tell the person if you’re not interested in seeing them anymore.
The playing fields
What it’s all about: Photos of a person, along with their age, pop up on the screen. You swipe left if you’re not interested and right if you are. If both of you swipe right, congratulations. You can now chat with each other.
Who it’s for: The smartphone app has a reputation of being used to find random hookups. Those people are still there, but so are people looking for friends, casual dating and serious relationships. I know this to be true because I have actually made a friend on Tinder. I’m serious. His name is Jesse.
What it’s all about: You create a profile for yourself with a user name that can be as close to your real name — or as far away — as you want. There’s a biographical section to fill out, including what you’re doing with your life, your likes, your hobbies, what you spend a lot of time thinking about and what you’re looking for. There’s also a huge series of survey-like questions you answer that determine your match percentage with any given person on the site.
Who it’s for: That whole “dating website” moniker can make people believe it’s just for serious relationships, but nowadays, it is also used for casual dating and random hookups. The website says it can be used for making friends too, but I have yet to see that happen and therefore don’t believe it.
Bonus moves for OkCupid:
Answer the match questions.
Then answer some more. These questions cover a huge range of topics, including politics, religious beliefs, sex, odd habits and life experience. And they’re the only way to determine how well you’d potentially get along with another person — otherwise, you’ll be a floaty zero percent hovering in a hottie’s Quick Matches.
Consider match percentages, but don’t let them be the end-all be-all.
The match questions let you rate which things are most important to you, so if a cute 50 percent agrees with you on those things but has wildly different opinions about things neither of you think are deal-breakers, then go for it.