Dating app culture is terrible but here's how to game the system

·9-min read
Photo credit: Jaime Lee - Getty Images
Photo credit: Jaime Lee - Getty Images

It’s 10 years since Tinder first launched. That means it’s also been 10 years since people started using the aubergine emoji to refer to something that’s definitely not a vegetable. That’s not the only thing that’s changed in the last decade. It’s also become normal to reschedule a date about four times before it actually happens. Meeting our life partners at the pub has been replaced by swiping right on a dating app during a TV ad break. People who use apps seem to either go out with the first person they meet on them or languish away on them for years. I’m resolutely in the second group, which is annoying, but it also means I’ve got a lot of experience in navigating the complicated world of dating apps. Here’s everything I’ve learned along the way.

Don’t kick off the conversation with something vague

If you start with a “hey how are you?”, they’ll just reply with: “yeah good, you?”. The conversation will continue down this route of dull pleasantries until one of you runs out of energy to carry on. Instead, pick out something really specific from their profile – if you recognise the pub they're at in one of their photos, talk about what happened last time you were there. Or ask about a book you can see on their bookshelf. Make your replies short and snappy so that the act of responding is easier. The long, never-ending paragraphs can come later when you’re in love and you're pissed off that they forgot to pick up milk from the shop.

Set yourself a 48-hour time limit to organise a date

When they first message you, reply immediately and try to get an instant back and forth going until you have a sense of whether or not you get on. Do this for up to 48 hours. If after that time you haven't managed to schedule a date, it’s not going to happen – trust me. They will just become one of those people who periodically send flame emojis in response to your Instagram stories. Their granny is not ill, they’re not too busy with work, or both of those things are true but they still can’t make time for you, so stop making time for them.

Photo credit: Jaime Lee - Getty Images
Photo credit: Jaime Lee - Getty Images

Men with mysterious photos are usually hot in real life

If his photo selection consists of a picture of a duck wearing fluffy slippers and a meme about Greggs’s sausage rolls, it’s not necessarily a red flag. Or maybe he does feature in some photos but his face is partially covered (by orange smoke in the first one, by a plant pot in another). For some reason, men with these sorts of profiles are extremely hot IRL, especially if you’re into slightly ill-looking people with small hoop earrings and shaved heads.

Don’t stalk people online

He’s got his full name on his profile, so you find his Instagram page. You scroll through his tagged pictures which show him at work grinning under artificial light and wearing a lanyard and trousers that his mum definitely bought him from M&S. You look at his Facebook page and, after flicking through the photos of him with his university debate team, you go right back to when side fringes and drainpipe jeans were a thing. He asks you out for a drink but you’ve given yourself the ick. He could have been the one.

Reduce your scrolling

When I’m on dating apps all the time, the people the app shows me get worse and worse until I’m genuinely offended that the algorithm is insinuating that we’re in the same league. If this happens, I log off for two or three days. When I come back, the people the app shows me are much hotter, presumably because the app thinks you’re leaving so it tries to lure you back in. So if you’re not attracted to anyone on the app, log off, and read a book or something. Or go rock climbing! I dunno, do whatever it is you used to do before your attention span turned to mush.

Photo credit: Jaime Lee - Getty Images
Photo credit: Jaime Lee - Getty Images

If you’re struggling to write a funny response to a Hinge prompt, steal from someone else

If you need some inspiration, look at the “standout” tab on Hinge – it’s where all the good profiles are. I once saw that a guy had answered the question “What are you looking for?” with “Captain Tom merch”. I copied it because it made me laugh. Also bear in mind that sometimes the most generic answers work best. It’s not that interesting, but on my profile under “What I order for the table”, I put “More gravy”. That answer gets by far the most responses. So don’t be afraid to make a reference to your go-to McDonald’s order or how much you like tacos.

Don’t judge people too much if they sound cringe-y (because everyone does on apps)

Recently a friend of mine was ready to cut off a guy she’d been talking to for weeks because, seemingly out of nowhere, he asked her: “What’s your favourite animal?”. She, understandably, felt like she was being spoken to like a child. Later on in the conversation when she mentioned she was moving house, he tried to sell her a mirror. “It’s really long,” he said. “And you can just lean it against the wall”. My friend wanted to back out of the date, but I told her not to because how he messages will likely have very little bearing on how he is in real life. In person, the way he asked about her favourite animal might be funny, delivered with a theatrical eyebrow raise so she’d know he was half-joking. Or maybe it still wouldn’t be funny but she could take the piss out of him and then he’d laugh back at her when she snorted a bit and then they’d develop this cheeky back and forth. This is what makes dating on apps really difficult because it’s essentially a lottery (see my next point).

It’s a numbers game – so be prepared to go on a lot of dates

A couple of months ago I went out with this guy who was very boring. When we left the pub, he lunged in for a kiss. I dodged it and then we had to endure a very awkward walk to Shoreditch High Street station together. A few weeks later I went on a date with a guy who I really liked and who told me he “hadn’t connected like this with someone in a while”. I saw him a few nights later in an Indian restaurant and he completely blanked me. I was just about ready to check into the nunnery. But as my friend who found love on an app pointed out: “It’s a numbers game, the more dates you go on, the more likely you are to find someone”. The unfortunate irony is that the more dates you go on, the less likely you are to want to keep going on dates.

Photo credit: Jaime Lee - Getty Images
Photo credit: Jaime Lee - Getty Images

Don’t go on a date with anyone who only has selfies on their profile

There are certain signs that usually mean you should definitely not go on a date with this person. The selfies thing is one of them. As is anyone who replies to the “Worst idea I’ve ever had” prompt with “Downloading this app”, or anything else that makes it sound like they’re above all this. Do you think I want to be here either, pal? Rom-coms had me thinking I’d meet my husband in a café as we both reached for a sandwich at the same time, but here we are. Avoid women who reference gin and men who reference Peaky Blinders. Ditto anyone with too many pictures in the gym, unless you also think discussing macros is an interesting conversation topic (my friend broke this rule and ended up on a date with a guy who blended up chicken in a Nutribullet and drank it). Anyone who corrects something on your profile is not worth your time – I don’t care that there’s meant to be an apostrophe there, okay? Avoid actors. And people who are trying too hard to plug their travelling stories. And people who use their famous friends to get matches. Avoid people with a dog, it’s a trap! They’re not sensitive – they’ve worked out women’s weak spot and are exploiting it. Actually, there might not be anyone else left if you follow this advice, so maybe ignore me.

Use the “We Met” feature

This feature is triggered if you share your phone number when chatting on Hinge. A few days later, the app will send a notification asking if you met up, whether you enjoyed the date and if you plan to go on a second one – and it won’t notify the other user of your responses. I’ve always thought it was pointless but it turns out that if you respond, then your algorithm will get a better sense of the sort of person you actually want to go out with and send you similar profiles. For me, that means documentary filmmakers who look like they need to wash.

It’s not you, it’s not them, it’s just… dating apps

When nothing is going right in your love life, it’s easy to think there’s something wrong with you. That the soft downy hairs on your face are unattractive, that you need Invisalign and to stop talking about J-Lo and Ben Affleck. But they won’t have noticed the hairs, your teeth are totally fine and J-Lo and Ben Affleck’s reunion is a love story for the ages, so obviously you will be talking about it. The problem isn’t you, or them, it’s that apps give us so many options that no one ever seems like the right one. We’re constantly seeking the endorphin rush of another match. It’s easy to ghost people because they likely don’t know any of your friends or don’t work at the same place as you, so they can easily disappear without any accountability. But there are ways to beat the system, to jump, skip and break through the many issues the apps place in your way. There has to be, because how else are you going to meet anyone? Go up to them in a bar and say hi? Come on, let’s be realistic.

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