Selena Gomez, one of the great philosophers of our time, once said that the heart wants what it wants. Of course, the head is a different beast altogether, and it’s got a lot of priorities to juggle, but finding love is certainly in there somepalce. In the era of the internet, that means dating apps. They’re topsy-turvy places because what or, rather, who you get out of these apps may not match up with the effort you put in. Sometimes, that effort also includes a good sum of money. Now, I’m no Dear Abby, but I think it’s worth taking the time to figure out some principles to using these services before you try and find your next friend, bedmate, or life partner.
I’ve been on the apps for more than 8 years—mostly on OKCupid and Hinge—and while I haven’t found The One™ just yet, I have had some success, and gotten plenty of experience with dating apps. I’ve picked up a membership for a month every so often back when they cost as little as $10. That’s definitely not the case anymore, though: Match Group, which owns both OKC and Hinge as well as more than a dozen others, revved up monetization in the past few years by offering one-time visibility boosts in the sorting stacks while jacking up the price of these feature-rich memberships to $40 for a single month. And sure, there might be some extras you’re willing to pay for, but just how exactly do you plan on going about dating when you’re being nickel-and-dimed before your first date?
Figuring out what you want from your counterpart can be fun, especially when you’ve got a you-against-the-world mentality. Filters will be your way to do it. Most of them will be the same between all the apps like sexuality, age, drug and alcohol habits, distance, politics, and religion. Thing is, different apps may make you pay to use them in a certain way. Hinge straight-up paywalls filters like height, education, and family plans behind its expensive Preferred membership. OKCupid is a little different: it opens up every filter it has to you, but then allows you to pick the most important ones as “dealbreakers” when you buy a Basic membership ($30 for a single month). And that sucks because the app was feeding suggestions that were outside of my “preferred” age range.
If you’re in the general dating marketplace, it’s easy to jump between apps and leverage more control over your experience. However, if you’re on the “narrowcast” apps like BLK, Jdate, or Her, it’ll be that much harder, and you may end up having to make compromises or resort to the mainstream options.
Ultimately, you are the last line of defense. You’re going face-to-face with these cards. Take some time and make sure you like the people on them.
Didn’t I say to take some time? Ugh. I blame Tinder for popularizing the modern design language for dating apps, but in all honesty, most of our digital culture that involves reading and processing images inherently pushes attention spans toward the vanishing point. Hinge, Coffee Meet Bagel, and a few others might be exceptions to the rule where the linear profile reading experience is emphasized, but I get it: you don’t have half an hour a day for this. Conversely, you only have seconds to leave an impression. So, yes, you’re going to need to be tactical and just a bit performative about it.
Get your best solo picture on top and make sure you’ve got a good mix in your roster — you with friends, you on a trip, you at work, you being your most self. Don’t do half a dozen shots from the same bathroom with different filters. As for your text blurbs, keep them short, but just as expressive. Don’t say you’re sarcastic, show it. You probably don’t need to tell people that you’re an animal person or that you love sports and beer unless you’re able to define it (whoa, you own 20 cats?). Find two sentences to write on the most outside-the-mainstream bit about you. Jokes are a good idea but only if you know how to write them.
Opening up on these apps requires you to start with low standards. The less you write altogether, the less people will either forget or ignore. You’ll explore your commonalities and their secrets gradually. Just remember to make it clear that you want more if and when you do so and start raising the bar or cut bait.
Invest in yourself
I mentioned that I used to spend a chunk of change for a membership on and off. Depending on what one gets with said membership, I’d recommend the same to you, even at current prices for most of these services. I wouldn’t work towards saving money for them as a goal, only if a fancy dinner date canceled on you.
Don’t pay for a membership to see who likes you. You’ll come across them in your recommendation pile anyway, so follow your gut (or heart, whatever). Do go for the visibility boosts so that you have more of a chance to be seen at the right times. Also do it for the extra match filters, more features in chat, and access to finer profile settings.
Don’t rush off the app
As cynical as I can be about these apps, they also provide for a fairly closed and limited environment to communicate with strangers you might or might not want to get intimate with. It’s why I hesitate to recommend integrating your social media presence or dropping your handles in your bio. I would recommend Discord or a similar messaging app as a relatively anonymous parallel platform if you want to share personal pictures or include them in your existing friend groups, but other than that, maybe save your phone number or Facebook contact for after the first date, ideally. Of course, depending on your personal faith and trust that you’ve built in your partner, your mileage may vary.
Communicate your commitments (All. Of. Them.)
I’m writing this in 2022, and we’re seeing rampant inflation at levels not met in 40 years. You might be going out shopping or to your favorite restaurant less often. Do you think you can add on the costs of a relationship? Again, we’re talking about investing the time and money to travel and hang out with your partner.
Good communication is table stakes for any relationship, but financials can be shaky ground sometimes. I think that’s the one facet you’ll want to bring up when you decide how you want to spend your time with someone you like-like. Make sure you know what’s going on with your budget and theirs, too, including some of those nasty externalities (well, external to stuff you haven’t talked about yet) like income and upcoming bills. Maybe you’re all just okay with keeping it to chat and supporting each other through the daily grind, but if you’re not into long-distance relationships, just know that going in.
Prepare to feel Feelings™
You are putting yourself out there a person who wants to be loved for who you are. “Out there” is a multitude of people. There are ups and downs, but there’s also just the straight-up fatigue of having to interact with people. You’re going through the introductory pablum with your prospect while carrying hopes in your back pocket and those can get weighty whether you recognize it or not. Dating and yearning for romantic fulfillment are very different things. You are in control of one of them. Take a break when you need to, and try to enjoy it when you’re on.