How to Navigate a Dating App If You’ve Never Used One Before

Five months ago, I was a dating app rookie. For a long time, I was against all forms of online dating ranging from Hinge to Tinder. I believed that I would somehow find my partner strolling through the streets of Manhattan as we just happened to bump into each other at the same coffee shop, or that I'd fall into them on the subway. However, that has not been the case, and when I was asked to stage manage a college production about Tinder and dating, I figured it was time to download this app everyone was talking about. Next thing I knew, I was swiping left and right, and accidentally super liking some people here and there. Soon enough, I was falling down a rabbit hole of other dating apps like Bumble and Hinge.

I still consider myself a dating app amateur, but I have learned some valuable lessons over the last few months, both from my own experiences and talking to friends. I’m still dreaming of meeting my person in the real world (preferably in a city, preferably at a food establishment known for its caffeinated beverages), but hey — the real world isn’t a fairytale.

However, this does not mean you can’t meet a summer fling or your future partner somewhere on the internet. If you are brave enough to download a dating app (probably from the hours of 11 p.m. to 2 a.m.) then here are some helpful tips.

  1. 1. Figure out what app you want to try

    There is a whole slew of dating apps out there, from notorious “hookup apps” to ones which pride themselves on sparking more meaningful relationships for its users, such as HingeHer and Chappy are are dating apps for LGBTQ+ folks. Bumble is regarded as the feminist dating app where women can start the conversation. There are even exclusive apps like The League, which requires you submit an application before being allowed to use the app.

    Basically, there are a lot of options out there, so just test out the one that resonates the most with you and your dating style.

  2. 2. How to select the right photos

    Regardless of which app you choose to download, each requires that you have at least one photo in your profile. I think this is both the most fun and most difficult decision when setting up your profile.

    I recommend you choose photos that describe your personality, more than even your best selfie. I know this may seem difficult, but just take the time to scroll through your camera roll and choose some pics that reflect your interests. For example, a photo of you hiking is basically a conversation-starter about your favorite outdoor hobbies! And the more you’re able to highlight the things you love and tell your story, the more happy and confident your profile will come off.

  3. 3. Create a unique bio

    Writing a bio for your profile is huge, especially because this is really the only explanation of personality besides profile pictures. I pride myself on humorous bios, because these are the fun part for me — not to mention I love responding to other witty captions and starting a conversation that way. After being on a dating app for several months, I have begun to see motifs in bios ranging from height, to “looking for a good time.” I think it's more proactive to come up with an original bio that speaks to who you are as a person, otherwise you will find yourself matching with people you don’t want to.

    Just remember that there isn’t a perfect bio structure or length; use as many characters as you need to get your point across. Although, I think it is better to keep things more concise rather than rambling. A sophomore at Connecticut College who uses Tinder agrees, advising that you should “keep your bio short. If it’s long, it’s a deterrent.” They went on to say that they prefer bios that are funny or intriguing and don’t have “any wicked dirty jokes. If there’s no bio, I usually swipe left because it’s clear that [they] didn’t put thought and effort into this.”

    I also prefer to make my bios more funny than just statements about my height, hometown, or hobbies, but again there is not perfect formula. Some things to think about when writing your bio are: What do you want from this app, a fling or something more serious? How much do you feel comfortable sharing online and what parts of your life do you want to keep private? Sometimes having a quick brainstorm session of ideas can be helpful, but remember it is only a bio, not an essay.

  4. 4. When to swipe left or right

    For dating apps like Bumble and Tinder, swiping left or right is the make-it-or-break-it moment for you and your potential date. Left means “no” and right means “yes” in dating language. Hinge defies this stereotype, asking that you “like” the answers to questions or photos people provide in their bio.

    A few factors which I consider when deciding whether to swipe right or left is age, college/occupation, selected photos (if there is a gun or gym selfie. it’s a no-go for me), and of course, the bio. Often, if the bio is a question or is particularly thought-provoking, that’s a prominent deciding factor, as it's an easy gateway to starting a conversation.

    It’s also important to remember that what people post online doesn’t always reflect who they truly are, so take everything with a grain of salt. If you come across a photo of them with their ex, don't read too much into this too fast, they might just want to show you that they have the ability to be in a healthy relationship.

  5. 5. It’s fine to make the first move

    I was swiping one night when I came across a guy’s bio which read: “If you don’t message me first, I’m not interested.” While I appreciated the honesty (despite it being a tad aggressive) it is a reminder that you can be the first to reach out. You don’t have to wait for someone to approach you if you are really attracted to them, or really want to tell them which Harry Potter House you are (that’s a popular bio). Unfortunately, not every swipe, match, or conversation will last or go anywhere, but at least you will know that you put yourself out there.

    Related: How to Make Your Dating App Conversations More Interesting

  6. 6. Ask, listen, tell

    Once you’ve matched with someone and developed a conversation, this is where things can get tricky. I have begun conversations which have ended after an hour, three days, or two weeks later. Even though you are just communicating through a screen, the thought that you put behind each message matters. As much fun as it is throwing witty comments back and forth, it’s just as important to keep things simple and ask them questions too.

    Bring up topics you are passionate about, but be mindful of sensitive topics and don't try to force a deep conversation if it isn't the right vibe. The major takeaway is to try and avoid just saying “hi” in the first message. Even the simplest questions will get the conversation rolling and help you to delve into deeper topics.

  7. 7. How to move things IRL

    After you have established an ongoing conversation, and perhaps exchanged social media handles or phone numbers, you can take it to the next level if you feel comfortable. Propose to meet in person if that is something you want. I know this is intimidating, but if you feel a connection, it may be worth exploring what the chemistry is like in person.

    I suggest choosing a neutral, comfortable and populated location to meet such as a coffee shop or local restaurant. From here, you have the ability to move the relationship in whichever direction you want, whether that means another date or not.

Ultimately, the most important thing to remember when using dating apps is to stay true to who you are. I know as you read this you may give an audible sigh at this cliche, but it’s true. Dating, whether on or offline, is a difficult game to play. If at any moment you are no longer comfortable with where the relationship is taking you, then stop. This is your dating life and it's up to you to craft the type of relationship you're most eager for.